Shaktoolik plans to “stay and defend” current location

This August, representatives from Shaktoolik completed a strategic management plan to protect their community from erosion and violent storms.

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The beginning of the Shaktoolik coastal berm. (Photo Anna Rose MacArthur, KYUK - Bethel)
The beginning of the Shaktoolik coastal berm. (Photo Anna Rose MacArthur, KYUK – Bethel)

The plan lists nine critical actions, including replacing the health clinic, reinforcing the berm, and building an evacuation center. All of these critical actions are part of the village’s larger goal of remaining at their current site, rather than relocating.

Kirby Sookiayak is the community coordinator for the Native Village of Shaktoolik.

“Yes, we will stay and defend,” Sookiayak said.  “We’re going to take on those storms. We’re going to do what’s necessary to stay here.”

Sookiayak is a member of the working group that has been drafting the management plan in Shaktoolik and Anchorage since May 2015. He supports the plan because he said the storms these past few years have felt more dangerous than ever before.

“I’ve seen logs thrown up in the air from my house,” Sookiayak said. “When you see some big logs being thrown up in the air by these storms, it’s frightening to some people here in Shaktoolik. I’ve seen houses that have been boarded up, because they don’t want the logs to break their windows.”

Sookiayak believes it is impossible to understand the strength of the storms without witnessing them firsthand. He has hosted visitors from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Denali Commission, but he encourages more state officials to visit.

“We want people in high places to come down and see what we go through, because we’re the only ones that are living here,” Sookiayak said. “And they’ll have an idea, ‘Well, what can we do to help these people?’”

Currently, Shaktoolik does not have sufficient funds to complete the proposed projects. Sookiayak hopes that help will come in the form of state and federal funding.