Cultural Change Exposed Indigenous Peoples to Catastrophic Floods

Lead Author Viktoriya, Filippova
Institution Contact Institute for Humanities Research and Indigenous Studies of the North, SB RAS, Yakutsk, Sakha Republic, Russia
Co-Authors Sharon Hildebrand, University of Alaska Southeast, USA Tuyara Gavrileva, North-Eastern Federal University, Russia
Theme Theme 1: Vulnerability of Arctic Environments
Session Name 1.4 Vulnerability of Arctic Communities to Natural Disasters
Datetime Wed, Sep 14, 2016 04:15 PM - 04:30 PM
Presentation Type Oral
Abstract text Indigenous Peoples of Yakutia and Alaska required access to water for cattle, horses, sled dogs, fish, and transportation. They understood the environment and chose high locations for their settlements. River sites were temporary camps, occupied when flood risk was low. Even if flooding, did occur the loss of property was minimal.

Larger, permanent settlements appeared with the arrival of Russians in Yakutia and Russians and then non-Native Americans in Alaska. Large permanent towns were founded on rivers - Yakutsk on the Lena and later Fairbanks on the Chena and Tanana. Records of catastrophic floods begin with Yakutsk in the 19th century.

Soviet collectivization enlarged the typical size of Yakut settlements but reduced their number. Areas at high flood risk were selected for housing. Edeytsy is a typical traditional Yakut community whose people came from the hills to the site on the Lena in 1930.

Galena was first a military base used to support the USSR’s war effort through Lend-Lease. After the Cold War, the town used the base for a regional school and airport. An extensive levee protects it, but not the town. Galena is a regional airport hub for supplies and travel. An important difference from Edeytsy is lack of roads, increasing importance of the river.

To a village child, the Yukon is life. In winter it is a highway from one village to the next. In summer it provides boat travel to summer fish camp. When ice is breaking up in spring and forming in fall, there is a trapped, restless feeling of nowhere to go. Alaska Natives can’t migrate as they did, so they choose the river, despite outside recommendations to move after a flood. These are ancestral grounds that have been used from time immemorial.
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