The Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) is set to receive $25 million for relocation as part of funding from the Biden-Harris administration.
President Guy Capoeman shared the announcement on Thursday that QIN was one of three U.S. Tribes selected to receive $25 million as part of the launch of a new Voluntary Community-Driven Relocation program, led by the Department of the Interior, to assist Tribal communities severely impacted by climate-related environmental threats.
President Capoeman stated, “This is incredibly welcome and exciting news for our community. We have been telling our story for a long time and we deeply appreciate the support form the Biden-Harris Administration,” adding, “Our selection as one of just three tribes in the entire country to receive this funding recognizes the huge risks we face and is also a reward for the planning and progress we’ve already made. We are ready to move and now we can really step up the difficult and expensive work to get our people out of harm’s way.”
For years, the Quinault Indian Nation has sought to move the lower Taholah village to higher ground,, but the lack of funding has made relocation a piecemeal process.
“For years, it seemed as though our climate-related states of emergency fell on deaf ears,” said QIN Vice President Fawn Sharp, “Today, the United States not only listened but took a major step toward honoring its treaty and trust responsibility to the Quinault Indian Nation and supporting our vision for protecting and relocating the villages of Taholah and Queets out of harm’s way. We are truly blessed with this announcement and today many of our prayers were answered.”
The announcement was made during the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit, which provides an opportunity for the Administration and Tribal leaders from the 574 federally recognized Tribes to discuss ways the federal government can invest in and strengthen nation–to–nation relationships as well as ensure that progress in Indian Country endures for years to come.
According to President Capoeman, QIN was one of 11 tribal nations to apply for a $3 million Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) grant for relocation, but only 5 of the tribes who applied received the funds, and QIN was not one of them.
For this recent funding, there was no application and was instead awarded by BIA for tribes that already had plans in place for relocation. These awards were based on that planning, as well as the amount of risk that the tribes faced.
“As part of the federal government’s treaty and trust responsibility to protect Tribal sovereignty and revitalize tribal communities, we must safeguard Indian Country from the intensifying and unique impacts of climate change,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “Helping these communities move to safety on their homelands is one of the most important climate related investments we could make in Indian Country.”
The U.S. Department of Interior and FEMA jointly established a Community-Driven Relocation (CDR) Subcommittee as part of the White House National Climate Task Force. This interagency Subcommittee will convene agencies to explore key considerations, issues and strategies for working in partnership with communities to support voluntary movement away from high-risk regions.
The investments announced will support two types of grants: relocation grants for severely impacted communities currently ready to implement relocation and managed retreat plans, and planning grants for communities that need additional planning support in evaluating climate threats and mitigation strategies.
Through investments from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, the Department is committing $115 million for 11 severely impacted Tribes to advance relocation efforts and adaptation planning. Additional support for relocation will be provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Denali Commission.
The Newtok Village and Native Village of Napakiak, both in Alaska, as well as the Quinault Indian Nation, were selected to receive $25 million each to begin community driven relocation, for a total of $75 million in funding.
“The initial steps for these communities will serve as demonstration projects for future climate resilience efforts by providing early learning opportunities for best practices, developing standard guidelines and tools to serve as a blueprint for future efforts, and demonstrating the success of a consolidated and coordinated interagency approach to relocation and managed retreat. The demonstration projects will focus on the relocation and establishment of core infrastructure identified by the communities to create a center of gravity for full community relocation. Community relocation will be a staged process that will occur in the coming years.”
In addition to the funds dedicated by the Department of Interior, FEMA has awarded, or is in the process of awarding, approximately $17.7 million to assist the three communities in their efforts to acquire, demolish and build new infrastructure out of harm’s way.
- The Newtok Village, located on the Ninglick River in Alaska, is experiencing progressive coastal erosion from ocean storms and degrading permafrost. Multiple erosion studies conclude that there is no cost-effective way to halt this process, and that the people of Newtok must relocate to a new site. At the current rate of erosion of approximately 70 feet per year, the river is expected to threaten structures within two years and the village’s critical infrastructure within four years. Mertarvik is the site of the new village, located approximately nine miles across the Ninglick River from Newtok. The new village site has roads but only a handful of homes.
- The Native Village of Napakiak, located on the Kuskokwim River in Alaska, is experiencing serious erosion that is threatening the school, fuel farm, water supply well, airport, homes and other critical infrastructure. Severe weather, storm surges and flooding are also major concerns. The ongoing erosion is estimated to be 25-50 feet per year. Most of the current critical infrastructure is expected to be destroyed by 2030. The village has comprehensive plans for managed retreat and relocation, but implementation has been delayed by lack of funding.
- The Quinault Indian Nation, located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, seeks to relocate its Taholah Village. Taholah lies at the confluence of the Quinault River and Pacific Ocean, and is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, storm surges and river flooding. The village also faces tsunami hazards from the more frequent distant earthquakes on the Pacific rim and the more destructive local tsunamis caused by earthquakes near the western coast of the United States. The Tribe identified an area at higher elevation for relocation. Efforts have been made to begin the relocation process, but the lack of funding has made relocation a piecemeal process.
In December, the federal government will begin a community-driven 120-day planning period that will include the Interior Department and partnering federal agencies traveling to the three communities to establish formal relationships and begin the planning process with discussions on:
- the communities’ goals and needs;
- the roles and responsibilities of the communities and Federal agencies;
- the project scope and components;
- timelines, funding, and budget; and
- risk identification and management.
Three Tribal relocation coordinators funded by the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) Branch of Tribal Climate Resilience (TCR) annual grants will manage implementation at each community, oversee a local support team, and serve as the main points of contact. TCR will provide financial and technical assistance to support Tribal strategies and provide coordination to match the communities to federal financial and technical assistance.
Eight additional communities that need further planning support to reach decisions and prepare for relocation or increased climate resilience measures will receive $5 million, for a total of $40 million. These communities face significant and widely varied climate risks, including coastal and riverine erosion, permafrost degradation, wildfire, flooding, food insecurity, sea level rise, hurricane impacts, potential levee failure and drought.
Planning grants of $5 million each are being awarded to:
- Native Village of Point Lay (Alaska).
- Huslia Village (Alaska).
- Native Village of Fort Yukon (Alaska).
- Native Village of Nelson Lagoon (Alaska).
- Havasupai Tribe (Arizona).
- Yurok Tribe (California).
- Chitimacha Tribe (Louisiana).
- Passamaquoddy Indian Tribe (Maine).
Communities were evaluated by TCR using a structured interagency evaluation that ensured a thorough review of community risk, preparedness, response plans, capacity, needs and intent.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides a total of $466 million to the BIA over five years, including $216 million for climate resilience programs, provided as $43.2 million annually for five years. Of that funding, $130 million is provided for community relocation and $86 million is provided for Tribal climate resilience and adaptation projects. The Inflation Reduction Act provides BIA with an additional $220 million for climate adaptation and resilience, of which the Department anticipates spending $40 million to support Voluntary Community-Driven Relocation efforts, with the remainder supporting broader Tribal climate resilience activities.
The announcement is in addition to $45 million in Tribal Climate Resilience awards made by BIA earlier this month. With support from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, these awards will fund a variety of climate resilience efforts, including six grants for relocation.
For more information on projects funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in Tribal communities through the BIA, visit the BIA’s interactive map.