Interconnections between historical colonialism and the vulnerability of present-day subsistence systems to climate change impacts: a case study in the Alaska Native Village of Chevak

Authors: Nicole Herman-Mercer*, US Geological Survey, Rachel A. Loehman, US Geological Survey
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: colonialism, Alaska, climate change, Indigenous Peoples
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 49
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Cup’ik village of Chevak, located in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region of western Alaska, is subject to myriad impacts of climate change. Workshops conducted in 2017 documented and mapped residents’ observations of changing conditions across the landscape and perceived threats to the community owing to these changes. Workshop participants also ranked the magnitude of identified threats based on the community’s exposure to each threat and the severity of the impact. Observations included the disappearance of lakes, thawing permafrost, river and coastal erosion, as well as river and coastal flooding, among others. The impacts related to these changes included threats to safety, infrastructure, subsistence resources, and subsistence harvesting gear. The most severe impacts were centered around threats to either subsistence resources themselves or the ability to harvest subsistence resources. The Cup’ik people that live in Chevak today are the descendants of people that have moved repeatedly since the pre-contact era, beginning when they left the village of Qavinaq in circa 1640. Here we explore how the movement of the village to its present location, mediated by internal and external social forces, contributes to the vulnerability of harvesting practices in the face of a changing climate. We posit the colonial experience, specifically the spatial realities of the village’s present-day location and the dynamics of a state sponsored economic safety net of this region, constrain the ability of the residents of Chevak to adapt subsistence harvesting practices to the impacts of climate change.

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