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Qawalangin Tribe hosts event to help Alaska’s coastal communities with climate contingency plans

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Chandra Poe
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Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska
Fisheries biologists, climate researchers and Indigenous knowledge-holders discussed changes in the Bering Sea, collapsing fish stocks and Indigenous-led land stewardship.

Alaska’s coastal communities face pronounced threats as climate change creates new hurdles around the globe.

The Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska hosted an event in early November, designed to help local, regional, statewide and national partners share knowledge about how to face those challenges.

The event was mainly virtual, but there were also group gatherings in Unalaska, Akutan and Sand Point. Around a dozen people attended the in-person event at the Grand Aleutian Hotel in Unalaska.

The 2021 Coastal Communities Forum aimed to bring communities together to develop climate change resiliency plans.

Shayla Shaishnikoff is the tribe’s resilience coordinator and environmental assistant. She helped organize the forum and said it’s important for coastal communities “to jump ahead of some of these changes we're seeing in our environment, so that we can continue to steward the lands and practice our traditional ways of life.”

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Jenny Renee
The 2021 Coastal Communities Forum aimed to help local, regional, statewide and national partners share knowledge about how to face climate change.

Fisheries biologists, climate researchers and Indigenous knowledge-holders discussed changes in the Bering Sea, collapsing fish stocks and Indigenous-led land stewardship.

University of Alaska Anchorage Alaska Native studies instructor Haliehana Stepetin spoke about the importance of subsistence to Indigenous culture.

“Eating our foods from the lands and waters we have always obtained them from, we know that we are and will be healthier. Eating our native foods fills our soul up,” Stepetin said.

Lottie Lekanoff-Roll, an Unalaska resident and retired health aide practitioner, said she learned a lot from the in-person meeting she attended.

“I care about the island and our way of life and the food my sisters and my brothers and family catch and they're been so kind and given to me all these years. I've been too busy working. I haven't subsistenced at all,” she said.

Lekanoff-Roll said she’s seen a lot of things — like plastic pollution — that are bad for the environment. She said she is shocked at how much plastic waste has increased during her time on the island.

Shaishnikoff says about 70 people participated each day during the three-day conference. She said that while the small group discussions and panels were a success, the bigger takeaway is the importance of connecting “with other people, other communities, other entities, and [continuing] to really work together on these things.”

“[By connecting with other communities] we can gain new perspectives and new ideas,” Shaishnikoff said. “I think that's the most effective way to move forward.”