Videos from Kivalina Community Center Renovation

Watch more video segments of our days in Kivalina this September and October renovating the Kivalina Community Center with JADE and the Kivalina Crew.


Three Degrees Warmer and Re-Locate Awarded EPA Environmental Justice Grant to Support Kivalina Biochar Project

Kivalina has developed the first human waste biochar reactor for the Arctic. It arrived by barge in Kivalina in July. The pioneering Kivalina Biochar Reactor is an initiative of the Kivalina Native Village and the Kivalina City Council to innovate a pipe-less and relocatable sanitation system to eventually replace the honeybucket and to reduce the cost of village relocation. High costs of relocation have imposed a formidable barrier to village planning, with sanitation infrastructure comprising a major portion of village relocation costs. Centralized sewered sanitation systems, with comparable capital costs of $70 million in neighboring villages to Kivalina (which doesn’t include operation and maintenance costs), not only are prohibitive cost-wise, but centralized infrastructure is also vulnerable to climate impacts, including permafrost melt, flooding, and coastal erosion that affect Kivalina today and that will continue to impact Kivalina into the future as climate change continues unabated.

The Kivalina Biochar Reactor was engineered to convert solid human waste separated by Urine Diverting Dry Toilets into biochar—a carbon-rich, pathogen-free, value-added byproduct. Biochar can be used to filter odor, boost plant growth as a soil amendment, and remediate pollution at contaminated sites. The concept for Kivalina’s bioreactor emerged from investigations by Three Degrees Warmer’s Re-Locate project and the Climate Foundation (with support from a NAPECA Community Grant) into how new forms of non-sewered, haul-based sanitation systems from around the world could be adapted to serve communities in Alaska like Kivalina.

The Kivalina Biochar Reactor is an Arctic adaptation of technology the Gates Foundation first built in India as part of its 2011 Reinvent the Toilet Challenge—an international competition to bring sustainable solutions to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to safe, affordable sanitation.

In 2015, the Kivalina City Council and the Native Village Council passed a Joint Resolution to fund, design, and build a relocatable human waste bioreactor for Kivalina modeled off the Gates Foundation’s India model. The Kivalina Biochar Reactor is designed to support existing local waste collection and hauling practices, relocate easily to new locations by fitting entirely within a single shipping container, and to run off its own energy after start up. (The goal is to eventually run Kivalina’s system entirely off grid.) It uses a process of pyrolysis—combustion at high temperatures in a low oxygen environment—to render a charcoal byproduct that is free of harmful pathogens. Unlike the Gates system, the Kivalina cold-weather system uses forced air instead of a boiler to dry the waste. Another difference is that wipes, toilet paper, cardboard, and other limited dry municipal wastes are preprocessed by a heavy duty grinder before pyrolysis.The reactor’s architecture was designed and fabricated to feature task-specific insulation, ventilation, safety and health measures, and a custom exterior graphic designed by the Seattle design firm, Civilization, with support from ArtPlace America’s Creative Placemaking Grant.

At the request of Kivalina’s Joint Councils, NANA’s Village Economic Development program (under the leadership of Dean Westlake) and Teck Resources, Ltd. invested in the reactor’s development and provided the needed funding to build the prototype the project. Biomass Controls, the engineering firm that built the India reactor for the Gates Foundation, built Kivalina’s Biochar Reactor. Re-Locate LLC—a small business set up to develop relocatable, decentralized infrastructure—designed and managed the project. (Jen Marlow, Three Degrees Executive Director, is a co-owner.) And Three Degrees Warmer will continue to support the project with the EPA Environmental Justice grant by educating and training local operators to run the unit, and providing initial operator salaries once the reactor is running. The reactor will be operational in Kivalina as soon as the permitting phase is finalized.

Biochar sanitation technologies could be transformational in communities like Kivalina where the infrastructural, environmental, and funding challenges to deploying centralized sanitation systems are well documented. Technologies like the biochar reactor offer opportunities to prototype and test alternative, world-class sanitation solutions to these challenges both in, and for, Alaska. Newly developed technologies like the Kivalina Biochar Reactor can reduce the volume of solid human waste disposed at landfills, offer an alternative to piped infrastructure, lower monthly homeowner fees, transform waste from a health hazard into a resource, and substantially lower the cost of village relocation. Kivalina has been trying to relocate the village for over 30 years as a way to improve inadequate water and sanitation, address overcrowding, create more opportunities for economic integration, and adapt to the accelerating impacts of climate change.

Villages in Alaska need not wait for world-class sanitation. Real alternatives are possible now. Please visit and Re-Locate’s Facebook page for updates. Share this story as part of World Toilet Day 2019.


Center for Kivalina Territorial Planning and Global Responsibility for Climate Displacement

The renovation of the Kivalina Community Center took six weeks to complete with the support and committed dedication of the local Kivalina crew (Reppi Swan, Charles Adams, Oran Knox Jr., and Robert Hawley), JADE Craftsman Builders (Dan Neumeyer, Taz Squire, and Micheal Cox), and Re-Locate directors (Michael Gerace and Jen Marlow). Funding for the renovation was made possible by ArtPlace America’s Creative Placemaking Grant.

See also photos of the community center in winter taken by architect Klaus Mayer on March 3, 2018.

The community center renovation, while directed by the process of architecture and design, was a community-making project. And a political project. Its purpose, as stated by the Kivalina Relocation Planning Committee Chairman Enoch Adams, Jr., is to “give our community its first visible, viable evidence of our endeavors towards relocation, and our effort the beginning of its confirmation.”

The space will house village relocation planning meetings, a physical and digital Kivalina Relocation archive, beds for guests and relocation collaborators, and includes a space to test innovative components of an end-to-end nonsewered water and sanitation system, which the City and Tribe initiated by collaborating on the development of the Kivalina Biochar Reactor.

Here are before and after photos of the community center:

See our Facebook page for more photos here. Watch video clips of the renovation in progress here.


Renovation of Kivalina Community Center Underway

This September, Three Degrees Warmer and Re-Locate are working with carpenters from Kivalina and JADE Craftsman Builders to renovate the Kivalina Community Center. For decades, Kivalina people have gathered in the Kivalina Community Center to play games, dance, sing, eat, and welcome guests. It has also been a place where Kivalina leaders, together with their neighbors and partners, come together to discuss the future.

Today, because the building is in partial disrepair and not designed to support specific community needs such as village relocation planning, it is not regularly used as a civic or decision making space. It is in need of an update and redesign. Re-Locate architects Michael Gerace and Klaus Mayer and partners have been working with both Councils and people from around Kivalina for the past four years to develop a design that responds to specific community needs, and has successfully fundraised capital costs from ArtPlace America to renew and rebuild the building.

The need for an updated building is urgent. Much of Kivalina’s relocation planning has historically been done in Anchorage, such that community participation in meetings and day-­to-­day planning activities is not always possible. Renovations create an updated space for the important historic and contemporary uses of the Kivalina Community Center while re-centering relocation planning in the village and housing numerous platforms designed in support of the relocation process. The space will house a range of locally progammed events to informal and highly curated engagements centered around Kivalina’s planning process and its implications for responses to climate change worldwide, including:

  • A Kivalina Archive of the village’s relocation history (physical and online archive)
  • Local Area Network (LAN) (a local internet that will make the Kivalina Archive and other prospective locally specific sites available village-wide)
  • Large-scale maps, models, and drawings
  • In-­village summits and residencies with Kivalina, artists, guests, and transdisciplinary partners
  • Village workshops and community meetings
  • Office and computer workspace
  • Coffeehouse and potlucks
  • Dancing and music
  • Traditional craft and practices workshops
  • Kivalina programming for Easter, 4th of July, and other community events
  • After school programming
  • Water and sanitation technology demonstrations, training, and testing

Between September 5–September 29, 2017, the Crew will:

  • Renovate the kitchen to include custom designed cabinets, a fridge and an electric stove, and a full set of fixtures;
  • construct a Front Entry Ramp, which will include a ramp, storage, and hallway spaces.
    Install a Skylight over the gathering space;
  • construct a Planning Space on the west end of the building. The crew will install a long wall that includes bunks, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The relocation planning space will house the objects, meetings, and materials needed for furthering relocation planning efforts. The space will also include work and gathering tables and a custom-designed long desk;
  • construct a storage space for the Kivalina Archive: At the northernmost wall, a custom cabinet will be installed to house the planning documents (Kivalina Archive) that relate to Kivalina’s long-term planning efforts. The digital archive will run off of a computer stationed in the Planning Space; and
  • construct a Back Porch Entry, which will include an entry door and a Planning Space Entry Porch at the west side of the building. The Entry Porch will include storage, stairs, and hallway spaces.

The building renovation will be completed by 4 Kivalina Crew members (Charles Adams, Repogle Swan, Sr., Oran Knox, Jr., and Robert Hawley) and JADE Craftsman Builders from Whidbey Island, WA, led by Dan Neumeyer, Taz Squire, and Micheal Cox.

JADE Craftsman Builders’ Owner and Principal Dan Neumeyer is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley Architecture Program who brings over 30 years of residential and commercial Project Management and urban and suburban construction experience to the renovation. JADE’s involvement in Three Degrees Warmer and the Re-Locate project also ties Dan’s current work with that of his lifelong mentor, Bill Coperthwaite. In 1971, Bill Coperthwaite visited Kivalina and 19 other villages while on a trip to Alaska to learn about Native heritage and artifacts. He visited the schools in each village and his tour came to be known as A Traveling Museum of Eskimo Culture. Jen Marlow of Three Degrees Warmer was also a student of Bill Coperthwaite’s.

Michael Gerace and Klaus Mayer, an architect based out of Anchorage and Berlin, designed the renovation and served as project architects.

Michael Gerace will also be joining the crew, along with Jen Marlow. After working for the past few four years to manage the process of community organizing, fundraising, design, logistics (with help from Teck and AML), hiring, Jen and Michael will be on site for the construction of the renovated community center and relocation planning space.

We are grateful to ArtPlace America’s Creative Placemaking grant program for its generous support of the Re-Locate project, and would also like to thank the members of Architecture without Borders Austria for their early organizing support and their assistance with developing design concepts for a reprogrammed community space.

For more information and project updates, please visit the Re-Locate Kivalina Facebook Page, the JADE in Kivalina website, and ArtPlace America Creative Placemaking Grant. Watch videos of the renovation in progress here.


It’s Time to Take Mesh Networks Seriously (And Not Just for the Reasons You Think)—Wired Magazine Article

“The problem is that we are focusing too much on the technical and legal challenges of mesh networking as opposed to the social benefits it might bring in terms of user autonomy and community-building. Or have we not yet realized that we have finally reached a competitive point in communications where we can deploy more than one internet? Instead of trying to create one perfect network that will satisfy us all, we can, instead, choose between several networks to find the one that best suits us.”

Read More

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Application of Ground-Penetrating Radar Imagery for Three-Dimensional Visualisation of Near-Surface Structures in Ice-Rich Permafrost, Barrow, Alaska

Application of Ground-Penetrating Radar Imagery for Three-Dimensional Visualisation of Near-Surface Structures in Ice-Rich Permafrost, Barrow, Alaska

ABSTRACT Three-dimensional ground-penetrating radar (3D GPR) was used to investigate the subsurface structure of ice-wedge polygons and other features of the frozen active layer and near-surface permafrost near Barrow, Alaska. Surveys were conducted at three sites located on landscapes of different geomorphic age. At each site, sediment cores were collected and characterised to aid interpretation of GPR data. At two sites, 3D GPR was able to delineate subsurface ice-wedge networks with high fidelity. Threedimensional GPR data also revealed a fundamental difference in ice-wedge morphology between these two sites that is consistent with differences in landscape age. At a third site, the combination of two-dimensional and 3D GPR revealed the location of an active frost boil with ataxitic cryostructure. When supplemented by analysis of soil cores, 3D GPR offers considerable potential for imaging, interpreting and 3D mapping of near-surface soil and ice structures in permafrost environments. Copyright # 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Urine Recycling in Scientific American

Gee Whiz: Human Urine Is Shown to Be an Effective Agricultural Fertilizer

DSCN1891 (1)

Relocatable Infrastructure

For communities like Kivalina who are looking for ways to relocate and spread out into their land more easily, movable and self-sufficient water and sanitation systems could be very helpful. These same systems can also be designed for use at current village sites where water and sanitation infrastructure is usually in urgent need of improvement, and they are generally far less expensive than traditional infrastructure. Decentralized and relocatable systems, like the Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge (AKWSC) system being developed by the Summit Group, can be built in existing villages planning for relocation and their owners can move with them when the time comes.

A key part of movable systems, designed to work in current and future villages, may be Urine Diverting Dry Toilets (UDDTs). Re-Locate has deployed UDDTs in Kivalina, the Summit Group included UDDTs in our AKWSC prototype design, and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) has deployed 10 UDDTs in Kivalina as part of a recent in-home water and sanitation test program. The ANTHC pilot system also features a gravity-fed in-home water system for the bathroom and kitchen where it was doable.

Nearly every family in Kivalina who volunteered to install the ANTHC pilot systems in their homes has said that they observed fewer incidents of illness after it was installed. Households with a family size of 6 are emptying the UDDT solid waste bucket about once per week as opposed to two or three times a day for honeybuckets. Far less waste is piling up outside of their homes (honeybuckets are 80 percent urine), hauling to the dump costs are greatly reduced (UDDT waste is significantly less in weight/volume than honeybucket waste), and toilet odor is virtually eliminated when the system is operating correctly.

Responses to UDDTs are generally very positive but users have also reported that several design changes would make UDDTs more appealing and work better in their homes. Almost every family we spoke to in Kivalina reported that the UDDT urine discharge pipe backed due to freeze-ups during winter. For this reason, our Water and Sewer Challenge prototype is testing urine evaporators, located within the warm envelope of the home, which would remove pipes from the ground entirely. The issue of freeze-ups would be avoided and homes would become more mobile since they would no longer be tethered to their site by pipes. Disposing of urine, and potentially wastewater, at the home is important in villages like Kivalina where there is neither a wastewater treatment plant nor a sewage lagoon. Odor management is another concern. UDDTs rely on internal fans to manage odors. When the power goes out, as it does from time to time in Kivalina, it smells. Users have been suggesting that toilets be installed with a battery backup for the fan and ventilation to keep them running during occasional outages. The plastic hardware used in the Separett Villa 9200 model we are testing has been failing in Kivalina with regular use too easily and quickly. UDDT toilets may be more reliable and sanitary if they were made from more robust materials like aluminum or stainless steel.

Although people have reported that UDDTs are far more sanitary than honeybuckets (partly to the elimination of liquids from solid waste stream), many sanitary improvements have been suggested as well. The current design stores raw waste in a plastic-lined bucket beneath the seat. When emptied, the bag is carried through the house, stored outside, and is later hauled to the dump. Users have asked us to explore ways to access UDDT solid waste from collection points outside the home. This innovation would eliminate transportation of solid human waste through the house. Those responsible for removing waste could service houses much more efficiently from the outside, and fewer individuals would need to handle equipment and waste.

In-home water storage, distribution, and recycling systems are fundamental elements of relocatable and healthy water and sanitation solutions in communities that currently haul their water. We visited several families in Kivalina to learn about ANTHC’s pilot system, how they were operating it, and to ask about any improvements they made, or would like to make. One Kivalina resident added a small electrical pump to increase water pressure to the bathroom sink (low flow is a common complaint) and mounted an electrical on-demand hot water heater to supply hot water to the bathroom sink and shower. Both are relatively simple and low-cost modifications that would greatly improve the function and experience of the ANTHC system and both are planned into the Summit AKWSC prototype in Tok.

Physics Doesn’t Negotiate

Physics Doesn’t Negotiate: Notes on the dangerous difference between science and political science

Some notes from Bill McKibben on about President Obama’s trip to Alaska.



Re-Locate Receives 2015 ArtPlace America Grant

July 16, 2015

$500,000 Grant Will Fund Village-Based Territorial Planning Process in KIVALINA, ALASKA

Anchorage, Alaska – Re-Locate announced today that it is among 38 recipients of ArtPlace America’s 2015 National Grants Program. ArtPlace, one of the nation’s largest philanthropies dedicated to creative placemaking, is investing $500,000 in Kivalina, Alaska, to further integrate arts and culture into the field of community planning and development. Re-Locate will work to co-create a village-based territorial planning process with individuals, families, and institutions in Kivalina that makes visible and brings action to their strategies and plans for relocation and for a world where particular subjectivities and cultural practices can endure and flourish. ArtPlace selected Re-Locate from a pool of nearly 1,300 applicants. Three Degrees Warmer, a nonprofit climate justice organization, will serve as Re-Locate’s fiscal sponsor.

“While the strategies and projects these resources will activate and materialize are only part of the latest developments in Kivalina’s multi-generational struggle to relocate—a persistent need the community continues to live with and skillfully act on every day—they do mark a turn toward Kivalina-based decision making, voluntary partnership, local history, and political exchange. Artplace funding and support for this turn, one that we’ve imagined with Kivalina while living and making together over the past 4 years, is fitting and timely. We are tremendously grateful.”

With ArtPlace support, Re-Locate will co-create of a series of projects with Kivalina and a collective of artist, state, corporate, non-governmental, and international partners that recognize and support community-led strategies for village expansion. These projects—including a living archive, large-scale models and drawings of Kivalina’s traditional territory, in-village summits, people’s maps, interactive online platforms, prototypes of decentralized water and sanitation technology designs, immersed artist residencies, and an intranet mesh network—will compose a village-based master planning process housed in the Kivalina Community Center, which we are adapting to become the Center for Kivalina Relocation Planning and Global Responsibility for Climate Displacement.

This is a process that “belongs to the people of Kivalina,” Kivalina IRA President Millie Hawley said. “We’ll visualize where we’re at, where we can be, and how we can move in that direction. There are 229 Tribes in Alaska. Five villages have the same climate change issues, some worse than ours. If you do this project in Kivalina, you do this work for them. They would all benefit from this in their villages,” she said.

“[These projects] empower the people to make the decisions,” City Councilwoman Colleen Swan said. “The people know what to do. Otherwise, plans are developed by people who don’t live here. It’s the only way I believe we will get anywhere.”

“Re-Locate can elevate recognition, attract visibility, and visualize our learning,” said Enoch Adams Jr., Kivalina Relocation Planning Committee Chairman.

“Investing in and supporting the arts have a profound impact on the social, physical, and economic futures of communities,” said ArtPlace Executive Director Jamie L. Bennett. “Projects like these demonstrate how imaginative and committed people are when it comes to enhancing their communities with creative interventions and thoughtful practices.”

“The National Grants Program is actively building a portfolio that touches each of the sectors and stakeholders that make up the community development field,” said ArtPlace’s Director of National Grantmaking F. Javier Torres. “Last year, ArtPlace developed a Community Development Matrix to help us better evaluate our success on this front. So, we’re thrilled that this year’s 38 grantees represent a dynamic spectrum of creative approaches and partnerships in community development that expand the dimensions of our portfolio.”

This year’s ArtPlace America grantees were selected from nearly 1,300 applicants across 48 states and the District of Columbia. Grants range from $50,000 to $500,000 with an average of $265,000.

“Each one of these grants supports a geographic community: a collection of people who live, work, and play within a defined circle on a map,” continued Torres. “In each case, a community development challenge or opportunity was identified by local stakeholders; and these 38 grantees are serving as conduits for their community’s desires by leading arts-based solutions through their projects.”

To view the complete list of 2015 ArtPlace grantees, go to

Download a PDF of the Press Release here.


About Re-Locate

Re-Locate is a collective of immersive ethnographic artists and transdisciplinary partners co-creating a community-led village expansion planning process in Kivalina. Re-Locate projects are making the economic, political, and environmental issues underlying relocation visible to global audiences; supporting community discussion and exchange; locating, connecting, and educating new relocation partners; creating spaces where people from displaced communities can share original media and ideas about local ways of life; developing platforms for managing local to global networks of support; hosting collaborative design processes that synthesize project knowledge into culturally specific planning and architecture; contributing to global efforts that are shaping the discourse on climate displacement; and developing practices for working in partnership with climate-displaced communities worldwide. Read more at

About ArtPlace America

ArtPlace America (ArtPlace) is a ten-year collaboration of foundations, banks, and federal agencies that exists to position art and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development in order to help strengthen the social, physical, and economic fabric of communities. Visit for more information.



Seattle University’s Just Sustainability: Hope for the Commons Conference, 2014 Saturday morning panel on Climate Displacement and Indigeneity: The State, “Governance-beyond-the-state”, and Prospects for Re-location

On August 9, 2014, Re-Locate curated and prompted a roundtable discussion at Seattle University’s Just Sustainability: Hope for the Commons Conference titled Climate Displacement and Indigeneity: The State, “Governance-beyond-the-state”, and Prospects for Re-location.

Roundtable Participants included:

Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda (moderator), teaches theological ethics. She has lectured or consulted in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and many parts of North America in theology and matters of climate justice and environmental racism, economic globalization, moral agency, eco-feminist theology, and public church. She holds a doctoral degree in Christian Ethics from Union Theological Seminary, affiliated with Columbia University. Her most recent book is Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation.

P. Joshua Griffin, doctoral candidate in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Washington, an episcopal priest, and co-curator of Re-Locate.

Jeff Hou, Associate Professor and Chair of the Landscape Architecture Department at the University of Washington, who’s practice focuses on community design, design activism, and cross-cultural learning around the world.

Micah Mcarty, special Assistant to the President for Tribal Government Relations at The Evergreen State College, former chairman of the Makah Indian Nation, and board chair of First Stewards, a coalition of indigenous communities working to advance adaptive climate change strategies.

Bob Mugerauer, professor of Architecture, Urban Design, and Planning, at the University of Washington, a phenomenologist who brings qualitative and participatory methods to bear on the complex, multi-scalar issues underlying environmental health and well-being in social urban ecologies.

Christina Roberts, associate professor of English and director of the Women and Gender Studies program at Seattle University; a woman of Gros Ventre (A’aninin) and Assiniboine ancestry, her work focuses on and the “poetics of displacement” and the importance of indigenous narratives especially for indigenous youth.

Kalani Young, Native Hawaiian transgender woman scholar-activist, an organizer with United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance, and a doctoral candidate in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Washington considering resistive home-making and indigenous survivance among houseless and home-free Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) communities in Waianae, Oahu.

After a framing of these questions, we asked the panelists:

Based on your experience, practice, and scholarship, how might emerging alter-global political formations capacitate and support demands for particular subjectivities, built environments, forms of cultural practice, and politics to endure and flourish in a “Common World”?


How might global collectives like Re-Locate join in the composition of these networks, with justice, without the replication and furthering of displacement?

Video of the prompt and discussion in development.



Re-Locate at the Creative Time Summit, Venice Biennale

Re-Locate has been asked to speak and host a roundtable discussion at the 7th Creative Time Summit, “devoted to expanded notions of ‘curriculum.’” This year, the Summit will take place from August 11th to the 13th and within Okwui Enwezor’s exhibition for la Biennale di VeneziaAll the World’s Futures.

“Since 2009, the annual Creative Time Summit has operated as a convening, a discussion, and a platform for the intersection of art and politics. La Biennale offers a unique opportunity to gather an international, interdisciplinary community to consider how knowledge is produced and how it comes into contact with civil society.”

This Creative Time Summit asks: “How is knowledge formed within a person and transmitted through time, space, and social relationships? What learning practices reinforce colonialist views, leave out essential narratives of history, or otherwise support dominant power structures? How do new technologies effect the way information is controlled and disseminated? By asking questions such as these, we ultimately reiterate questions that arose from the tremendous hope, passion, and ambition that accompanied many of the key populist movements in the last few years, from the Arab Spring to the revolts in Greece, from Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Hong Kong: Who do we—as a world community—want to be, and what forces shape who we are?”

Our section, The Geography of Learning, is focused on issues “(r)anging from indigenous communities living under the rule of foreign governments to the creolized forms of knowledge produced in migrant conditions, this section highlights forms of knowledge informed and activated by its direct correlation to the politics of geographic space.”

In Memory of Etok Edwardsen: “One Bad-Ass Eskimo”

There is a legend told among the Inupiat Alaskans who live above the Arctic Circle, “Etok Tames the Green People.” It goes like this:

In the Old Days, as today, the peoples on the edge of the Arctic Sea killed whales. It’s just what they do. It’s what they eat. But the Green People didn’t like that, and so the Green People set out one day in their fancy-ass black powerboat to stop the people of the Arctic Sea from doing their whale killing thing….Read more here.

Re-Locate in Huffington Post

Interior Secretary Has ‘Much to Learn’ from Kivalina’s Inupiaq Elders and Hunters about Climate Change and Village Relocation

Last Monday morning in Inupiaq Alaska, at Kivalina’s McQueen School gymnasium, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell stood from her seat at a table surrounded by community elders, hunters and search and rescue volunteers. “For the elders that are willing to open up,” she gestured, “I’d be very interested in hearing about the changes you’ve seen on the landscape, how that’s impacted your subsistence… [and] where you’d like to see things go for the future.”

Those who gathered shared a wide range of climate concerns ranging from melting permafrost and unstable river travel to ocean acidification and disruption of critical migration routes. Community members talked about intense fall storms, which, because of the late-forming sea ice, have led to severe coastal erosion since 2004. Whaling captains alluded to the spiritual importance of the spring bowhead hunt, made difficult by unstable ice conditions in recent decades.

Jewell welcomed these observations of environmental change as helpful “to supplement the work that the scientists are doing,” adding, “You are experiencing things here in Kivalina that we can learn from… so thank you for sharing this with me.” Read more here.


Palestine: Cartography of an Occupation, Creative Time Reports, Michael Hardt

Artist-activist collective MTL’s clickable collages connect disparate aspects of Palestine’s geographical and political landscape, offering provocative insight into “how Palestinians suffer and struggle in ways that are parallel to those elsewhere” according to philosopher Michael Hardt.
-Creative Time

“Palestine is unexceptional, then, in the sense that it shares some of the primary axes of domination that characterize the current crisis across the globe. And Palestinians are discovering new means to rebel against them. In this way, rather than an exception, we can see Palestine and the struggles of Palestinians as exemplary—a lesson and inspiration for those fighting back around the world.”
-Michael Hardt




An Attempt at a “Compositionist Manifesto”, Bruno Latour

“In this paper, written in the outmoded style of a ‘manifesto’, an attempt is made to use the word ‘composition’ as an alternative to critique and ‘compositionism’ as an alternative to modernism. The idea is that once the two organizing principles of nature and society are gone, one of the remaining solutions is to ‘compose’ the common world. Such a position allows an alternative view of the strange connection of modernity with the arrow of time: the Moderns might have been future-centered but there is a huge difference between the future of people fleeing their past in horror and the ‘shape of things to come’, that, strangely enough, now appears suddenly in the back of humans surprised by their ecological crisis.”

-An Attempt at a “Compositionist Manifesto”, Bruno Latour

link to pdf

Go Speak Out

Go Speak Out

Kivalina hunters and elders went to Go Speak Out on Monday, with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell present, listening, and in dialogue as part of her short visit to Kivalina earlier this week. Re-Locate helped set the table for intimate conversation in the McQueen School gym, turning down the overhead fluorescent lights except for one strip directed down onto a rectangular table for fifty covered in white paper.

Kivalina hunters and elders shared firsthand accounts of climate change’s impacts on Kivalina, and joined other residents and village leaders to deliver summaries of longstanding attempts to relocate the village and accounts of life lived despite endless emergencies. Re-Locate worked with residents, whaling captains, and village leaders to gather video footage from Kivalina’s archives to play during the meeting. Two screens juxtaposed scenes of vibrant celebration and climate change and its impacts. The videos looped alongside each other for the length of the meeting, both scenes equally real.

So often, reporters fly into Kivalina for a few hours and post a dramatic account of the village’s impending and helpless “disappearance,” one that is far removed from the Kivalina peoples’ actual understanding, everyday life, and experiences. Kivalina’s history of media performance, litigation, planning, and partnership building together frame relocation not as an escape hatch but as an opportunity to build worlds where Kivalina’s particular culture, practices, and politics can endure and flourish.



ArtPlace Names Re-Locate a Finalist for Creative Placemaking Grant

Re-Locate is one of 90 finalists for an ArtPlace America grant, an award that would fund immersive social artists and transdisciplinary partners working with Kivalina to reframe and support a community-led master planning process for village expansion.

ArtPlace invests in “‘creative placemaking’ projects that involve cross-sector partners committed to strengthening the social, physical, and economic fabric of their communities.” Forty out of nearly 1,300 nationwide applicants will receive grants.

If Re-Locate and Kivalina are selected for an award, ArtPlace America will join us in creating a Kivalina territorial master plan—an assemblage of encounters and conversation pieces that register, recognize, and re-present decisions made by local institutions in Kivalina related to community demands concerning global climate change, governance, and indigeneity.

This multimedia Master Plan will make the decisions made in Kivalina about village expansion, and the issues underlying these decisions, visible to potential supporters, funders, and communities in similar situations from around the world.

nyt end of nature

The End of Nature, Slavoj Zizek

From the paper The End of Nature published in the New York Times by Slavoj Zizek:

“So what might the future hold? One thing is clear: We should accustom ourselves to a much more nomadic way of life. Gradual or sudden change in our environment, about which science can do little more than offer a warning, may force unheard-of social and cultural transformations. Suppose a new volcanic eruption makes a place uninhabitable: Where will the inhabitants find a home? In the past, large population movements were spontaneous processes, full of suffering and loss of civilizations. Today, when weapons of mass destruction are available not only to states but even to local groups, humanity simply can’t afford a spontaneous population exchange.”


Climate Justice: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation, Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, of Seattle University, at Luther College

The Luther Lecture was established by Luther College at the University of Regina in 1977 with the purpose of making a distinctive and stimulating contribution to the life of the University and the general community. Annually, a distinguished scholar or leader of note is invited to give a public talk on matters of spiritual and social importance.

Although the speakers have included such outstanding minds as Northrop Frye, Helen Caldicott, John Ralston Saul, and Margaret Somerville, the lectures are aimed at a general audience, and feature topics of interest to communities in Saskatchewan and beyond. In this way, Luther College aims to express more fully its objective to encourage wise thinking and constructive action in the service of humanity.

The 2014 Luther Lecturer was Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, of Seattle University. She gave the lecture entitled “Climate Justice: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation” on Monday, September 22, 2014.

see the lecture here


Tradition and Modernity: The Feasibility of Regional Architecture in Post-Modern Society, Juhani Pallasmaa on Fluxwurx

“The diversity of building in traditional societies is brought about by the impact of local conditions and the specificity of culture. In our own culture the sheer force of industrial technology, combined with mobility, mass-communication, and uniformity of life-style, is causing cultural entropy that minimalizes diversity. What is the feasibility of regional culture and architecture in a world in which two billion people gather simultaneously around TV sets to watch the same football match? Are we not gradually becoming detached from our foothold in geographic and cultural soil and going to live in a fictitious and fabricated culture, the culture of simulacra that Umberto Eco has written about? Are we not moving towards a worldwide consumerist folklore, a mosaic of impacts and information detached from their origin. Isn’t our culture doomed to lose all its authenticity and turn into a planetary waxworks-show?”

Tradition and Modernity: The Feasibility of Regional Archicture in Post-Modern Society, Juhani Pallasmaa. 


Collaborative Systems: evolving databases and the ‘conditions of possibility’ — artificial life models of agency in on-line interactive art.

This paper will discuss interactive on-line artworks modeled on cellular automata that employ various types of agents, both algorithmic and human, to assist in the evolution of their databases. These works constitute what will here be referred to as “Collaborative Systems,” systems that evolve through the practice of inter-authorship.

- a paper authored by Sharon Daniel

EPA Issues Letter of Congratulations for Biochar Project

On March 4, the international Commission for Environmental Cooperation awarded an $85,000 grant to Climate Foundation and the Re-Locate project to work with the Tribal and City Councils of Kivalina, Alaska, to develop a shovel ready project to provide biochar sanitation to the village.

The project received a letter of congratulations from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Ms. Gina McCarthy, on being chosen as a recipient of the 2013-15 North American Partnership on Environmental Community Action grant for the biochar project.

In her letter, Ms. McCarthy wrote: “Your work to improve sanitation for Arctic villages across North America will strengthen communities and complement efforts under way at the EPA. The EPA is proud to support The Climate Foundation as you address environmental challenges at the community level.”

“Local relationships, roles, and responsibilities are critical to understand, visualize, and integrate into the design of any new waste management plan,” said Michael Gerace, founder and chief curator of Re-Locate. “Biochar systems and dry toilets play an important role, but the success of the technology depends on its effective integration with and support of the autonomously functioning practices that are operating in the village already.”

Working together with Kivalina, partners will improve upon, engineer, and adapt Biochar Reactor technology developed for sub-Saharan Africa by the Climate Foundation to Arctic conditions. These reactors process human waste into energy, biochar briquettes, and useful raw materials.

The biochar project addresses sanitation as the most critical opportunity to improve public health in Kivalina. Residential homes in Kivalina lack toilets and running water, and people use honey buckets (paint buckets lined with plastic trash bags and covered with portable seats) to store and haul human waste. Located on a barrier island, Kivalina is highly susceptible to erosion and the impacts of climate change, and has had limited investment water and sewer services.

Kivalina to Turn Waste into Energy—The Arctic Sounder

In the next year or so, Kivalina residents might get to say farewell to the honey bucket.

Earlier this month, two organizations, Re-Locate and the Climate Foundation, were awarded an $85,000 grant through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation to work with tribal and municipal governments in the community to revamp the village’s sanitation system. Read more. (See also article in Alaska Dispatch.)

International Funding Grant Awarded to Re-Locate and the Climate Foundation

Kivalina, Alaska – On March 4, the international Commission for Environmental Cooperation awarded funding to the Climate Foundation and Re-Locate to work with the Tribal and City Councils of Kivalina to develop a shovel ready project to provide biochar sanitation to the village. Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo community in the Northwest Arctic, is among seventeen other communities that received an award out of a total pool of 589 applicants.

The biochar project addresses sanitation as the most critical opportunity to improve public health in the village. Residential homes in Kivalina lack toilets and running water, and people use honey buckets (paint buckets lined with plastic trash bags and covered with portable seats) to store and haul human waste. Located on a barrier island, Kivalina is highly susceptible to erosion and the impacts of climate change. Plans to relocate the village have limited investment in basic water and sewer services.

Kivalina Tribal and City Councils are partnering with the Climate Foundation and Re-Locate to co-design a pilot project to address these issues. The project will include designs for community-scale waste management systems, dry toilets, and a biochar reactor that converts human solid waste into charcoal and substrate for fertilizer.

“This world will never run short of compassionate people who see the through their hearts the communities that struggle for what everyone sees as the simple things in life and for that, we are grateful,” said Janet Mitchell, Kivalina City Administrator. “While governments wait for some communities to relocate and refuse to fund projects because of that, others move forward to address little things that would make living conditions in rural communities better, and improve health and wellness.”

Stanley Hawley, Tribal Administrator for the Native Village of Kivalina, recognized that “[g]aining international attention to Kivalina’s human waste issue is no small feat. The Re-Locate Project deserves the highest credit for this achievement because historically, the village, regional, and State’s efforts to address the sanitation issues have become hampered by policy that restricts investment in communities with aspirations to move, resulting in high rates of infection from untreated sewage and solid waste. Although still in the planning stages, addressing the human waste issue in our village can finally realize some gains with this new development. We are thankful for the time, work and dedication that the Re-Locate Project put into addressing our village issues, and will extend our hand to the new partners.”

Partners will improve upon, engineer, and adapt Biochar Reactor technology developed for sub-Saharan Africa by the Climate Foundation to Arctic conditions. These reactors process human waste into energy, biochar briquettes, and useful raw materials. Biochar is free of biological pathogens and may help reduce the rates of communicable disease in villages currently using honey buckets. A winner of the Gates Foundation dry toilet challenge, the Climate Foundation will work with Kivalina leaders and Re-Locate to apply its success at developing innovative waste management technology around the world to benefit Kivalina and other Arctic village communities.

Other benefits include the entrepreneurial potential for biochar to be sold in the region and the system’s resilience to climate change. “Biochar reactors require no underground pipes, generate their own energy as a byproduct, and are easily transportable by shipping container to possible future village sites being planned in response to the impacts of climate change on Kivalina,” said Dr. Brian von Herzen, physicist, inventor, and founder of the Climate Foundation, a nonprofit with offices in Oregon and Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Re-Locate, a transdisciplinary and global collective, will continue working with Kivalina’s City and Tribal Councils on this project, which it initiated two years ago. The collective is collaborating with Kivalina to support village relocation away from the threats of climate change. Re-Locate projects locate, make visible, and bring action to the political, social, and environmental issues underlying relocation. It will use the award to coordinate efforts to co-design the new waste management system with leaders and residents in Kivalina, government agencies, and expert consultants across the state of Alaska and around the world. International collaborators include Dr. Guenter Langergraber, who heads the Institute of Sanitary Engineering and Water Pollution Control at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna.

“Local relationships, roles, and responsibilities are critical to understand, visualize, and integrate into the design of any new waste management plan,” said Michael Gerace, founder and chief curator of Re-Locate. “Biochar systems and dry toilets play an important role, but the success of the technology depends on its effective integration with and support of the autonomously functioning practices that are operating in the village already.”

The Council of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), composed of the highest-level environmental authorities from Canada, Mexico, and the United States, funded $1.2 million in grants under CEC’s North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action program to address environmental problems at the local level.

Read more about the award here.

Learn More:

Re-Locate Featured at SF MOMA

Last Friday, Re-Locate participated in the weekend-long Visual Activism symposium curated by SF MOMA. The symposium explored ways that art takes the form of political and social activism, and ways that activism takes on specific, and sometimes surprising, visual forms.

SF MOMA asked: How is our broader visual culture shaped by activist practices that circulate in public space? How can we better understand forms of communication that take place under threat of war, revolution, or repression? What strategies can be deployed to transform our engagement with the built environment and broader ecologies? How do embedded social hegemonies, such as racism, figure in the larger efforts to engage with activism visually? Scholars, artists, and activists address these and related questions in a series of presentations, performances, and interactive projects.

Re-Locate participated on Friday, March 14, 2014, on a panel titled Environment, Justice, Inequity. Panelists presented on their artistic and activist projects related to environmental racism, the depletion of resources, global climate change, pollution, and toxicity—highlighting strategies of resistance and engagement. View schedule and participants.

Panelist’s short presentations were followed by a live-streamed roundtable discussion, moderated by Julie Sze, director of American studies at UC Davis, author of Noxious New York: The Racial Politics of Urban Health and Environmental Justice. Panelists include visual and performance artist Nathalie Mba Bikoro, whose practice converges arts and sciences and is deeply influenced by her ten-year battle with leukemia during childhood; artist Mel Chin, whose “green remediation” artworks Revival Field in St. Paul, Minnesota (1991–present) and Operation Paydirt/Fundred Dollar Bill Project in New Orleans (2007–present) use plants to remove toxic heavy metals from the soil; artist Veejayant Dash, whose work in Odisha, India, focuses on artistic approaches to community engagement with water politics; artist and architect Michael Gerace, a curator of the ReLocate Project, a multidisciplinary group of partners working with residents of Kivalina, Alaska, and other climate-threatened communities to support community-led and culturally specific relocation processes; and artist and curator Sofia Varino and Brooklyn-based photographer Syd London, who have worked collaboratively on the projects Sandy versus NYC and Unfiltered: The Sandy Edition, which examine the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and its effects on New York City’s public health and housing.

Visit SF MOMA to learn more.

The Modelling Kivalina Project

I. Interviews

The Modelling Kivalina project hopes to locate and make visible a variety of political perspectives on the erosion of Kivalina’s shoreline, and to place future discussions about the village’s relocation within the broader context of issues contributing to climate displacement around the globe.

At the end of June, from our base in London, we built a model of the village of Kivalina. We decided to concentrate our work on four elements: 1) the surface of the island and village infrastructure, 2) the ocean and lagoon, 3) the geological substrata, and 4) the shoreline in its past, present and projected future conditions. The model was designed so that it could be continuously taken apart, reassembled and modified, in order to adapt to the conversations taking place around it.

With some effort (and excess baggage) our team made its way to Anchorage carrying the model. In Anchorage, we conducted interviews with over a dozen agency representatives and policymakers who have been involved in relocation efforts or are responsible for protecting the village’s current infrastructure.  Each time we carried the model into the office and placed it on a conference table. We began the interview by asking each person to place him or herself on the model. We posed questions about the history of Kivalina’s shoreline with an emphasis on erosion, storms of the past, and construction of the rock revetment wall. The shoreline became the entry point through which we tried to understand how each agency relates itself to the future of the island.

We then travelled to Kivalina and set up our base at the community center with the rest of the Re-Locate group. We started meeting the residents, introducing ourselves and our work.

We asked the same set of questions about the shoreline and the past, present, and future conditions of the island in relation to its ongoing erosion. We soon realized that the model was far from being a complete representation of Kivalina, and started to make additional parts and objects with any available material. The model took on a much larger scale, becoming a stage. As the conversations took place, and accounts of past events unfolded, we moved through it to add and subtract objects and scribble information on and around it, all in real-time according to each person’s storiesl. Every interview left the model in a different configuration, which we documented through film, audio recording, and photography.

As we familiarized ourselves with local life, our interviews became more and more compelling. Joe Swan Sr., a respected Kivalina elder, spoke with us for over two hours, recounting stories about the village, the history of erosion and land ownership, and the changing patterns of subsistence life.

II. Maps

Throughout our stay in Alaska we compiled an audio archive of almost forty interviews. What could we do with them? We needed to take the next step and find a way to turn their temporary display on the model into something more permanent. How could this information become a visual tool that would play a role in the discussions between the village and governmental actors?

Each of the interviews presents a different vision of Kivalina’s changing shoreline, of its shifting layers and boundaries, of the way space is understood by different actors, and of the different uses of language to describe it. Some of the agency representatives and planners we met in Anchorage talked about challenges with cost-benefit analysis, funding allocation and state and federal emergency aid. Residents brought up a much more complex vision of the space, a surface continuously rewritten by both the practices of subsistence and governmental action.


Nearly everyone who looked at the model pointed at something that had been erased, or buried, or forgotten, such as the old graves near the present water tanks. Colleen Swan told us that she “would like to see evidence of [historic sites] on the map… That’s my big issue right now. Trying to go back, trace those things.”

What we collected were not just interviews, but different visions of the same space. Our next move was to draw a base map of the Kivalina region to display its geographical features. Using tracing paper, we started drawing a different map of each interview. We only marked the places and structures that people explicitly mentioned. We also traced the lexicon of words used in the conversation, writing down the terms and institutions mentioned more frequently around the edges of each map.

III. Shorelines

We concentrated our study of the island on the shoreline, the ever-changing borderline where land and sea meet. Mapping the coastline was then an important part of our fieldwork—and it could be done both from the point of view of the island, looking out, and from the sea, looking inland.

One of the most obviously striking aspects of life in Kivalina is the sun, which in early July never sets. Every night from 23:55 to 00:05, as it was still very bright, we went out by the rock revetment and filmed the shoreline. One afternoon, we took a boat ride around the island to film the length of Kivalina’s coast from the sea. Adding this additional perspective, our video footage documented different ways of viewing the shoreline.  The resulting film, together with the scale model and the maps, are the forms of media we are using to contribute to the discussion.

Our project does not only aim to model Kivalina—it proposes to think of Kivalina as a model for the increasing number of communities that will face hardship and risk because of climate change. Global warming is already drawing a new geography of frontier regions from the Arctic to the Sahel. These zones of shifting climate lines, once remote from the centers of Western society, are now brought in the spotlight, as some of the places already experiencing the effects of unprecedented global change.

Video: Elinor Ostrom at NYU: The Role of Culture in Solving Social Dilemmas

“The Role of Culture in Solving Social Dilemmas” — Elinor Ostrom

Outcomes of Nansen Initiative’s Pacific Regional Consultation

link to the YouTube video

Read about the Nansen Initiative Pacific Regional Consultation: Human Mobility, Natural Disasters and Climate Change in the Pacific. 

Racism’s Frontier: The Untold Story of Discrimination and Division in Alaska

Having been born a Native, raised in my village and having lived my life in Alaska, I can say with conviction that there has not been a worse moment in Alaska’s recent history for Alaska’s Native peoples than now. In spite of all the gains Natives have made for themselves in virtually every area of public and private endeavor, the result is a society in Alaska that only dimly comprehends their existence and seems more and more unwilling to accept, let alone celebrate, the Native place in Alaska.

the story

United States General Accounting Office Testimony and Re-Locate government-structural origins

In conclusion, Alaska Native villages are being increasingly affected by flooding and erosion problems being worsened at least to some degree by climatological changes. They must nonetheless find ways to respond to these problems. Many Alaska Native villages that are small, remote, and have a subsistence lifestyle, lack the resources to address the problems on their own. Yet villages have difficulty finding assistance under several federal programs, because as currently defined the economic costs of the proposed project to control flooding and erosion exceed the expected economic benefits. As a result, many private homes and other infrastructure continue to be threatened. Given the unique circumstances of Alaska Native villages, special measures may be required to ensure that these communities receive the assistance they need to respond to problems that could continue to increase.

However, adopting some of these alternatives will require consideration of a number of important factors, including the potential to set a precedent for other communities and programs as well as resulting budgetary implications. While we did not determine the cost or the national policy implications associated with any of the alternatives, these are important considerations when determining appropriate federal action.

Alaska Native villages have difficulty qualifying for assistance under the key federal flooding and erosion programs, largely because of program requirements that the project costs not exceed economic benefits, or because of cost-sharing requirements.

…according to the Corps’ guidelines for evaluating water resource projects, the Corps generally cannot undertake a project when the economic costs exceed the expected benefits.

According to state of Alaska officials, historically the state has provided the nonfederal matching funds for most Corps of Engineers (and other federal) projects, but with the extreme budget deficits currently faced by the state of Alaska, matching funds have been severely limited.

While each of these entities recognized the need for improved coordination of federal efforts to address flooding and erosion in Alaska Native villages, none of them provided any specific suggestions on how this should be accomplished or by whom.

(2) direct the federal agencies to consider social and environmental factors in their cost benefit analyses for these projects, and (3) waive the federal cost-sharing requirement for flooding and erosion programs for Alaska Native villages.

While most Alaska Native villages are affected to some extent by flooding and erosion, quantifiable data are not available to fully assess the severity of the problem. Federal and Alaska state agency officials that we contacted could agree on which three or four villages experience the most flooding and erosion, but they could not rank flooding and erosion in the remaining villages by high, medium, or low severity. These agency officials said that determining the extent to which villages have been affected by flooding and erosion is difficult because Alaska has significant data gaps. These gaps occur because remote locations lack monitoring equipment. The officials noted that about 400 to 500 gauging stations would have to be added in Alaska to attain the same level of gauging as in the Pacific Northwest.

the testimony

Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 12.38.58 PM

Alaska Village Erosion Technical Assistance Program

This report was prepared as a response to legislation that directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to investigate issues surrounding erosion at several Alaska Native villages. As part of this effort, the Corps examined erosion rates and control, potential relocation, and impacts to Alaska Native culture and tradition. The Alaska Village Erosion Technical Assistance (AVETA) program is a compilation of efforts in numerous communities funded through the Tribal Partnership Program and subsequent legislation.

the report

Screen Shot 2013-10-26 at 12.05.26 PM

Alaska Baseline Erosion Assessment

the Corps designated 26 communities “Priority Action Communities”—indicating that they should be considered for immediate action by either initiating an evaluation of potential solutions or continuing with ongoing efforts to manage erosion. Sixty-nine communities where erosion problems are present but not significant enough to require immediate action were designated “Monitor Conditions Communities.” Eighty-three communities where minimal erosion-related damages were reported or would not be expected in the foreseeable future were designated “Minimal Erosion Communities.”

the assessment

United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues: Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods

Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges: 

Indigenous peoples are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change, owing to their dependence upon, and close relationship with the environment and its resources. Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by vulnerable indigenous communities, including political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination and unemployment. 

link to pdf
link to United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 

Chantal Mouffe in Art&Research Journal: Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces

To be sure the modernist idea of the avant-garde has to be abandoned, but that does not mean that any form of critique has become impossible. What is needed is widening the field of artistic intervention, by intervening directly in a multiplicity of social spaces in order to oppose the program of total social mobilization of capitalism. The objective should be to undermine the imaginary environment necessary for its reproduction. As Brian Holmes puts it, ‘Art can offer a chance for society to collectively reflect on the imaginary figures it depends upon for its very consistency, its self-understanding…


Architecture: A New Conversation in Kivalina

Architecture without Borders Austria is designing a new Re-Location center in Kivalina. The Re-Location center will be owned by the people of Kivalina as a space where the village and its collaborators can discuss and design relocation possibilities. Their participatory design process is creating opportunities for the village and related agencies to co-develop models for buildings in Kivalina to be designed more specifically to reflect climate, site, and social life in the village.

While in Kivalina this past July, Architecture without Borders began work on the Re-Locate Center by building a 1:1 building model, opening an on-site studio, and workshopping architectural designs with people in Kivalina. This series of projects marks the beginning of an ongoing collaboration to explore practices and methods capable of producing culturally specific and situational architecture in Kivalina.

The drawings and design work produced on site in Kivalina are celebrated as a part of an ongoing conversation about architecture and the full context of issues that influence Kivalina’s built environment, and are not intended to represent finished products. The team of architects continues to work back home in Vienna to further the design work they began in Kivalina and to invite feedback and critique to ensure that participatory design processes are more fully understood and reflected in their architectural methods and building systems studies are conducted with the expertise of local scientists and engineers.

This blog entry documents aspects of each of the four “tools” Architecture Without Borders used to initiate a participatory design process with the people of Kivalina.

1-1 Model

Architecture without Borders Austria installed a full-scale architectural mockup of a new Re-Location Center next door to Kivalina’s city and tribal office building—the future site of the proposed Center. The 1-1 model simulated main aspects of the Center’s design, such the installation of a second floor and the framing of ocean and street views.

To build the 1-1 model, Architecture without Borders Austria used materials found on site and around Kivalina, in combination with imported materials made available by state and federal agencies. Weather conditions, such as cold temperatures and a steady wind, posed extra design challenges.

The construction and design process attracted a constant crowd of kids and lots of friendly people interested in and open to talking about the model’s proposals.Architecture without Borders was excited to create a space for conversation about architecture in the village, to listen and share ideas, and discuss ways to develop the design in new directions.


The Studio

The team of architects from Architecture without Borders Austria transformed an old Search and Rescue building that is currently not in use into an office, meeting space, and on-site design studio.


They tidied up the room and repurposed old items and materials to create work surfaces and gathering places. The old washing machine became a presentation table. A slide found outside of the building was transformed into a counter.

Old yellow insulation tubes were used as chairs and legs for a table outside and an old steel-door became a table-board. Gypsum boards were used to build a division wall and an access ramp was fixed up in order to provide a safe entrance to the studio.

Because of the harsh weather conditions, the group was happy to have a protected space on the building site where they could work, install their design workshop, host meetings, hang drawings, and open their process up to people in the village.

Architectural Design

In addition to the 1:1-model and the studio, Architecture without Borders Austria developed a building concept through traditional architectural design methods that included sketches, drawings, and models. The concept for the new Re-Location Center building suggests an orientation toward the south in order to make use of solar gains for heating and hot water.

The building is separated into two different temperature zones, an inner shell for colder months surrounded by an outer shell with lower heating requirements.

The ground floor consists of a core-area surrounded by a semi-public, H-shaped area where spaces could be grouped or separated from each other according to different specific needs. The upper floor features a semi-public area for more communal activities and a private area for temporary living. Views to the south-lying sea create a connection to the outside.

This building concept serves as a starting point for an open and participative design process conducted with and for the people of Kivalina in order to start a discussion about architecture that more specifically reflects Kivalina’s climate, site conditions, and social and cultural life.


Architecture without Borders Austria presented and discussed their design concept for the new Re-location Center in several face-to-face-meetings with the people of Kivalina. They held design workshops in the on-site studio with Kivalina’s craftsmen, teenagers,  members of the city and tribal councils, and various others interested in the concepts and design of a new Re-location Center.

These meetings generated a vital exchange of knowledge and enabled Architecture without Borders Austria to learn from people in Kivalina about traditional housing, construction methods, current building practices, village life and living conditions, and construction financing and planning.

The conversations held in Kivalina over models, sketches, and drawings have affected the overall design process in noteworthy ways. For example, a big kitchen and sufficient space for storing tools—two needs important to homeowners—informed discussions that helped the concept design evolve to respond  more specifically to life in Kivalina.

Finally, the Re-Locate Project invited the community of Kivalina to attend an “Open House” in the studio at the old Search and Rescue Building, where all the Re-Locate Project partners presented their work in order to share and discuss it with the people of Kivalina.

In the end, the studio at the old Search and Rescue Building has already begun to simulate the new Re-location center as an open space for communication and exchange for the people of Kivalina and its partners, where everybody can join and participate in discussing and planning Kivalina’s future.


“The Role of Culture in Solving Social Dilemmas” — Elinor Ostrom

“The Role of Culture in Solving Social Dilemmas” — Elinor Ostrom

NANA Comprehensive Plan

Link to NANA’s Comprehensive Plan from 1982

NWAB Comprehensive Plan

Click to open the Northwest Arctic Borough’s Comprehensive Plan prepared in 1993.


Camp Two: July 2013

On July 25, 2013, Kivalina will host an open house to exhibit works of the Re-Locate Project ( There will be a project review at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage on July 30, 2013, with members of the Kivalina city and tribal councils attending.

The Re-Locate Project is a multidisciplinary group of partners working with Kivalina to support a community-led and culturally specific relocation process. The international collaborative has brought fifteen people including architects, urban planners, water engineers, artists, anthropologists, and social justice advocates to the village for a two-week camp. The four groups represent six countries and three universities.

Together with the city and tribal councils, the people of Kivalina, and representatives from governmental agencies, Re-Locate is making the social, political, and environmental issues related to relocation visible to global audiences; supporting community discussion and exchange; locating, connecting, and educating new relocation partners; creating spaces where people in Kivalina can share original media and ideas about local ways of life; and developing an infrastructure for managing local to global networks of support.

The Applied Foreign Affairs Lab, University of Applied Arts Vienna; Architects without Borders Austria; the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London; and anthropologist Rev. Joshua Griffin will be in Kivalina from July 12 to July 30. Architects without Borders Austria is designing a new re-location center; the Applied Foreign Affairs Lab is visualizing data related to water supply, distribution, consumption, and disposal in the village; and the Centre for Research Architecture is building a model that maps the spatial and political relationships underlying the village’s relocation process.

This July marks the second in a series of Re-Locate Project camps in Kivalina that identify village relocation as one of the most pressing issues in the state of Alaska. The first camp, which built solidarity and engagement with villagers, was curated by artist and architect Michael Gerace and produced by the Alaska Design Forum, an Anchorage-based nonprofit, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. The camps build off the knowledge and experience of those previous and shape the intentions of those that will follow.

Formed in response to the stalled village relocation process, the relationships built between the Re-Locate Project and the people of Kivalina are creating new possibilities for a community-led and culturally specific relocation.

Camp One: August 2012

At the invitation of people in Kivalina, Anchorage-based artist and architect Michael Gerace invited fourteen international researchers and artists to visit Kivalina for a 10-day work camp last August. Re-Locate was co-produced by the Alaska Design Forum with initial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and other partners. The camp launched the Re-Locate Project, a multidisciplinary group of partners working with the village to support a community-led and culturally specific relocation process.

Together with the city and tribal councils, the people of Kivalina, and representatives from related agencies, Re-Locate projects are making the social, political, and environmental issues related to relocation visible to global audiences; supporting community discussion and exchange; locating, connecting, and educating new relocation partners; creating spaces where people in Kivalina can share original media and ideas about local ways of life; and developing an infrastructure for managing local to global networks of support.

During the 10-day camp, Re-Locate Project members met with community delegates in government offices and private houses, in public spaces such as the school and native store, for walks and bonfires at the beach, and over shared dances and boat-trips upriver. The Re-Locate project launched, assisting Kivalina youth with documenting day-to-day life in the village, and hosted a nightly radio show on the VHF, a form of broadband radio that people use regularly to announce news, call children home at night, sell donuts, and offer prayers. Filmed interviews with people in Kivalina collected stories and opinions about politics, justice, and climate change.

While in Kivalina, we learned that relocation responses focusing on predicted impacts of erosion and climate change misses important opportunities to address critical deficiencies in the current village site. Relocation creates space to make visible the basic infrastructure that is currently lacking in the village, and opens up the potential to “re-locate” the village within the existing relationships that determine and surround village life. Improving access to clean water, remedying substandard housing options, and amplifying Kivalina’s voice in global conversations are all re-location projects.

As a multidisciplinary group, Re-Locate is studying methods that will help us ethically translate relocation possibilities while working across and through cultural and geographic distances. The following project partners participated in Camp One:

Michael Gerace Artist and Architect, Project Curator

Sharon Daniel Professor of Film and Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz

Teresa Baker, Chelsea Muehe, Floris Schonfeld, Jason Parizo and Steve Sanchez California College of the Arts

Jen Marlow Co-Director Three Degrees, a multidisciplinary climate justice project founded at the University of Washington School of Law

Claudia Eipeldauer, Hannah Oellinger, Alon Schwabe, and Nisan Almog WochenKlausur, international artist collective based in Vienna, Austria

Klaus Mayer Co-founder of Mayer Sattler-Smith Architects, member of the Alaska Design Forum Board

Garrett Burtner Architect and artist working in Anchorage, board member of the Alaska Design Forum



Modelling Kivalina is on its way to Alaska

The Modelling Kivalina group based out of the Centre of Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London, is happy to share the first pictures of the Kivalina model that will be presented to different agencies, stakeholders and community members this month in Alaska. In a series of interviews with different actors, the group will investigate the role and responsibility of different federal and state agencies in responding to the changing shoreline.




Voices from the Flats ( – How Many Votes Will Lisa Murkowski Get in Kivalina?

William Takak from Shaktoolik understands the impact of climate change. The Alaska Native Science Commission quotes him in a survey of the impact of climate change[1]. “Last Spring we only got six walrus because of the weather and the ice moving out to quick. A long time ago it used to be real nice for weeks and even sometimes for months. Now we have a day or two of good weather and this impacts our hunting. The hunters talk about the ice getting a lot thinner. It is going out too quick.”

see more of the article written by Elstun Lauesen for the Mud Flats


KCRW Santa Monica and Public Radio International Interview with Colleen Swan

“Melting ice and rising sea levels are driving native Alaskans out of their homes. Entire villages are struggling with the need to move. We hear about the earliest ravages of climate change and what they could mean for other places in the US and the rest of the world.”

City council woman Colleen Swan is interviewed by Public Radio International about Kivalina’s relocation, climate change, and Re-Locate.

listen here



Early Alaska Native Land Cases and Acts

With the steady stream of outsiders coming into Alaska, demand and competition for land continued to increase. Churches sought land and acquired it through the Missions Act of 1900, which allowed a religious denomination to acquire up to one square mile of land in Alaska. Disputes over land, particularly between miners, resource developers, and Alaska Native people arose. A string of court cases concerning Alaska Native land rights began, and continued up to the settlement of the Alaska Native Claims Act in 1971. There were contradictory decisions in these court cases, but two early cases in particular held that non-Natives could not acquire land from Indian people without the consent of the federal government. In other words, Alaska Native people had an aboriginal claim to land that only the U.S. government could settle. The first such case, United States v. Berrigan (1905) was heard by Judge James Wickersham, and involved a dispute over land near Delta Junction. The second was United States v. Cadzow (1914), involving a land dispute near Fort Yukon.

Continued here with links to US Law including Alaska Native Allotment Act, Alaska Native Townsite Act, and Reservations in Alaska


Culture as Corporation – Juneau Empire

Culture as CorporationNANA shareholders adapt corporate life to the ways of the people. By LORI THOMSON, THE JUNEAU EMPIRE

At 23, Jimmy Baldwin, has racked up a sum of money most villagers only dream about. He’s poured about $100,000 into his snowmachine shop in Kiana by working behind the steering wheel of a front-end loader at the Red Dog zinc mine, owned by NANA Regional Corp.

For people such as Baldwin, NANA is fulfilling one of its main goals: offering work to shareholders. That’s especially important in the region’s 11 villages in northwest Alaska, where jobs are scarce and groceries are expensive…




Newtok to Mertarvik Relocation Plan

RELOCATION REPORT:: Newtok to Mertarvik
by the Community of Newtok and the Newtok Planning Group, August 2011.
Prepared by by Agnew::Beck Consulting with PDC Engineers and USKH Inc.
for the State of Alaska
Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development (DCCED)
Division of Community and Regional Affairs.
Coastal Impact Assistance Program, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation,
and Enforcement, U.S. Department of the Interior.
DCCED Project Manager:
Sally Russell Cox, Planner
Division of Community and Regional Affairs
Project Advisors:
Greg Magee, Program Manager, Village Safe Water Program,
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
Stanley Tom, Tribal Administrator, Newtok Traditional Council
Editorial contributions from:
Carolyn George, Secretary, Newtok Traditional Council
Andrea Elconin, Program Manager, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
George Owletuck, M.A. Rural Development, Angall’kut Inc.,
Contractor to the Newtok Traditional Council
Guy McConnell, Biologist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Participants of the July 7, 2011 Newtok Planning Group Meeting
With special acknowledgement to
the Newtok Community and the Newtok Planning Group


ANTHC – “Climate Change in Kivalina, Alaska – Strategies for Community Health”

“This is the second in a series of community specific analyses describing climate change effects in Northwestern Alaska. It was prepared by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Center for Climate and Health with funding from the United States Indian Health Service. The first report focused on Point Hope, the northern most community in the Maniilaq Association’s health service area. Assessments in other communities are on-going and will ultimately contribute to a comprehensive report for the Northwest Arctic region.”



Is the future behind us? An interview with Kenneth Frampton and Juhani Pallasmaa

Link Here to the article.

“So I would say that we don’t even need to speak about stylistic issues or aesthetically different architectural approaches – just simply, architecture as a human endeavour is in opposition to the prevailing ideas of industry, economy, and commerce. Which means that any profound, sincere work of architecture is a force of resistance. It’s bound to be a cultural resistance. Because we have abandoned architecture as a means of organising society and re-distributing the benefits of wealth, in the sense of creating dignified settings for collective life. Even in times when architecture was used for displays of power, it created environments that had a dignifying message at large.”

Juhani Pallasmaa


How Stuff Works – Barrier Islands

How Stuff Works Barrier Islands


Get to know Kivalina

Kivalina Infrastructure Map


Section 3.9 - Alternatives, Igrugaivik Site

2006 Army Corps Kivalina Relocation Master Plan

Link to the Corps’ plan.


Mapping the Political and Economical Entities

The area where Kivalina originated from is rich both in soil and in subsistence. Over hundreds of years the people in Kivalina have been living of hunting, fishing and picking. The rich grounds filled with Zinc and Iron have led to the opening of the Red Dog Mine. The Red Dog mine is the largest Zinc mine in the world and is a huge source of income to the NANA region. The mine bought the land out of NANA back in the 1980 and is expected to keep on working till 2031.

This maps tries to follow the political and economical entities involved in the region and their effect on local economy, social structures and nature.

View Kivalina Re-Locate, Alaska in a larger map

NANA Kivalina

NANA Kivalina Information Page


the camp in evening

Spring Whaling Camp

Kivalina_Consensus_Building_Project_Final_Report_July_2010 copy

Kivalina Consensus Building Project 2010




final_annotated_bibiliography_July 2010

fish drying racks 2

Traditional architecture

People in the Kivalina region were historically nomadic and lived in various types of seasonal housing. The longest time people would stay at the same place was three months in mid winter and three months during spring. Location was dependent on seasonal subsistence practices.

Along the coast people lived in sodhouses, at the river they used willow branch and moss structures, and in the hills they stacked rocks to build housing. People also used willow and caribou hide tents and ice and snow dome shaped buildings when they were regularly mobile. Willow, abundant in the region, becomes very rigid when dried and was woven into dome shaped structures. Families of up to 25 people would live in housing complexes up the Kivalina and Wulik Rivers during the winter. Some of these houses would be connected by tunnels (Those living in this type named “Qaqiaqtuat”). Others were autonomous but would be close enough to see (Those living in this type were named “Silaliuut”). Traditional construction materials were: driftwood, willow, whalebone, sod (to cover the roof), intestine (for skylights-windows), rocks, moss (to put in the cracks). After Kivalina permanently settled on the island around the school and churches and until the 1960s, sod houses were the most prevalent housing type in the village. Today most have forgotten how to build with local materials. There is still a tradition of creating art and tools in the village today. Carving (mostly whale bone), and tanning of hyde, are both practiced but most vernacular building knowledge has not been passed on.

People still use underground storage refrigerators, “Siglauq”, (as seen here). Two of them remain half a mile on the coastline off Kivalina, one of which is still used and needs to be cleaned annually by because of the melting ice. The people also use mammal and fish drying racks, “Ikiqaks” (see left), made out of drift wood to dry fish. Some fish racks are located outside of town on the coastline because the sand and dust around town might spoil the drying meat. Fish racks in town are best located between houses so that no wind will carry sand onto the meat. Fish racks out of town are at risk from bears who might ruin the harvest.

We were told by quite a few people that even nowadays almost everyone knows how to build a house, because “already children help their families. That’s where they learn.” There are a lot people who would work as carpenters. Electrical engineers and plumbers is what they’re lacking in Kivalina. On site, there is a lot of driftwood and bulky waste, pallets and cut waste from construction. People also go to the landfill to collect parts which can be of use for building. All the construction wood is usually flown in or brought on barges.

There is not much vegetation which would be used for construction, but sod and soil could still be used for roof coverage.

With the exception of dogs, no animals are currently kept. The people used to keep caribou herds prior to the late 60s on the mainland.

Fishing cabins, which are located a few miles from the village and copy the structure of the houses in Kivalina are used by everybody, and are shared in the community if somebody is in need. People stay there for only a couple of days during summer to hunt and fish.

kivalina 2

Ownership Structures

The following section is focused on the ownership-structure in Kivalina. According to the 2010 census, 374 people are living in Kivalina in 99 houses, of which 85 are in use; in 2012 we counted 112 houses in the village. The housing units are located on the southern end of the peninsula, because the landfill and the airport (property of the state) to the North do not allow room for community expansion. Two streets, Channel and Bering, run through Kivalina and there is plenty of natural gravel covering the village’s surface because of the sod eroding away over the last decades as a result of people driving over the grass. As residents mostly live on low or no income, they fund their houses through public housing programs. In the past, B.I.A. were responsible for the housing in Kivalina, apparently then the housing authority Northwest Inupiat Housing Association was in charge until 1999. The NIHA program was an applications based grant program which often resulted in a long processes of being rejected and resending the forms again. People mostly “rent to own” their houses; they eventually own their houses and then also pass them on to their children and relatives. You have to first qualify through being of Inupiat origin and having a low income (see rental assistance program) in order for NWIHA to give you a positive answer on your application, middle class needs to inherit. You have to pay 15 years of mortgage to NWIHA as an administrative fee, until you finally own the house. NAHASDA (The Native America Housing assistance & Self Determination Act) is the 1996 program, the one block grant committed to the task of tribal housing of the Hud (US Department of Housing and Urban Development); NWIHA was at that time hired through NAHASDA. The native village of Kivalina broke away from NWIHA in the late 90s in order to start their own housing program administered by the tribal council. The tribal council – the IRA – then started receiving the NAHASDA funds directly. Fundings are available for construction, rehabilitation, etc. In 2012 the tribal council offered tribal members a two bedroom addition or a living room addition. The size of these additions is regulated. The city office organizes the spacial structure of Kivalina, which is divided in lots. At the moment all the lots are assigned, there are no lots available. The average house in Kivalina costs an estimated 270.000 $ (material, labour, with everything covered), this means approximately 400 $ per square footage at the moment. Today you would get a 100% grant. The first housing units, replacing the traditional sodhouse, were built around about 1970s, some were built by construction companies such as “JOMACS” and “Ashe”, the middle aged and the newer house fundings came from the NWIHA, some houses were built by homeowners. The construction companies transport the prefab construction on barges and send in people to manage the project and hire locals. They use “Davis Bacon“-wage-schedule to pay the local hire. Houses can also be sold for cash. Apparently, as long as the house is not fully payed for, the public housing program doesn’t allow people to adapt their homes and make changes, although, as one of the tennants adds, “I’d love to add a couple of bedrooms to have more intimacy.” Generally, more space is urgently needed, the lack of it also being a troublesome issue regarding the social structure. The residents are mostly organized in multi-generation families, up to 15 people are living in one house with only at an average 2-3 bedrooms. Privacy is very often sought after, although being with the family and community is very important to the people of Kivalina and is expected to be a large part of the everyday life.

An estimated 30% of the people in Kivalina own allotments in the village’s nearby aerea. These allotments are not in control of NANA.

lucy inside a 2

Residential housing conditions

Being on site in Kivalina in August and September 2012 we had to learn that the buildings are in a relatively low condition. Even nowadays, none of the residential houses in Kivalina come with a sewage and water system. Instead of using a toilet, people are using honeybuckets made of plastic. The houses’s waste and honeybucket storages on the streets are spilling over, water which is usually collected from one of the two watertanks in the city, couldn’t be provided during our stay. Rainwater is collected for washing. Only some houses gain certain comfort by owning a special selfmade construction of water buckets connected to a fosset.

Generally there’s a lot of draft in the buildings and most of the houses aren’t well insolated. The new housing units, the fullfoams houses, are great for the insulation, but the flooring is falling apart after a few years when the panels are moving and breaking apart the joints. In winter snow comes through the cracks and gaps in the wall and around the windows in some of the older houses.

Little mendings are done by the tennants, who try their best to keep the draft away by using ducktape, or covering the leaking spots on the ceiling with plastic bags and buckets.

Mold is a appearing in almost every household, especially if the houses are kept relatively warm inside. Even the newer buildings which are indeed more airtight, are also very likely to lead to mold. These new housing units come with a ventilation-system but the vents are seldomly in use because the housing companies didn’t care to provide people with instruction leaflets. Furthermore the unused ventilation holes are causing surplus draft. In 2011 the organization Rural Cap helped doing energy efficiency upgrades by renovating some residential housing units f.ex. in terms of putting more foam around older buildings in order to insulate them.

The newer houses are built of structural insulated panels (SIP) and come as prefab constructions, where the entire wall is delivered in one piece whereas the older housing units are are stickframe constructions. Some houses are built of lumber and mostly plywood. There are also some houses with metall panelling, the new clinic is supposed to be a construction of multiple containers joint together. There is a quite similar housing arrangement in all housing units, the open kitchen being the centre of a household organized in multi-generation-families, with up to approx. 15 people living in one building. Most of the people live in one story houses with a relatively low ceilings (high ceilings not being appreciated because the heat tends to go up), but there are also couple of two story houses. As there is a huge urge for expansion, we couldn’t find an explanation for why construction companies don’t provide multi-story houses.

Storage space is generally in great demand, people build their own storage houses or use containers to shed their snow-gos (snow gos request plug ins on the outside of the house, so that people can warm them up before they leave).

The stormsheds, “the arctic entrance”, (an entry vestibule used to shut out cold air, high wind, drifting snow after the exterior door closes and before the inside door is opened) is mostly built by the tennants themselves and should be located on the windside of the house, so that the wind carries away the snow piling up in front of the door. Old houses which have their foundation on the floor are more likely to get covered in snow whereas new houses due to the snow being able to exceed, are more easily to be taken care of. Although we were told that there is no difference between the eastern and the western side of Kivalina regarding wind and snowdrifts tell otherwise, we were also informed that houses on the eastern side of the village, on the lagoon side, were in winter oftern covered up, so that people would need to hire others via VHF to shovel.

People tend to take off their shoes before they walk into the living area because of the enormous amount of gravel in town. A best-practice example would be the houses that have metal shoescrapers in front of their entries or entry vestibules to keep their houses clean and to prevent the floors to be damaged.




Not long ago NWIHA recently started providing the elders with ramps and handreels.


The roofs can be deficient because of gasket screws which are often used to prevent leaking, but as the plastic around the screws breaks after a while it is then very likely that the leaking starts soon after. The ClipRib-system is used f.ex. at the new „Water Treatment Plant“. Also the ventilation system on this building is taking account the snow drifts and wind in this region.


When electricity came to Kivalina, lamps powered by gasoline were exchanged. Today, all the houses use flourescent bulbs, because “(…) they are more convenient.” There are only some light bulbs f.ex. in the bathroom. A few years ago, the cable connections were ended, and now every household owns a satellite and a TV. Until Facebook came up, people would send messages over a message channel.

Households spend at an average between 300 $ and 600 $ on electricity and about 800-900 $ per month on heating oil. 362 $ is the cost of a drum, which would last for 2 weeks for the average house, resulting in 800 $ bills, especially during winter time. There is heating assistance which everyone is reling on. Generally people keep their houses between approx. 68 and 75 Fahrenheit. People use laser stoves driven by heating oil, some in combination with wooden stoves – which they lit with driftwood. Driftwood is used after being air dryed a couple of days; during summer time you stock up the driftwood (either under the house or on the ice) and save it for the winter. Some people also have additional gasoline driven stoves. Most of the ovens are powered by propaine, which is kept in barrels on the outside of the house. Some houses own boiler systems with pipes filled with glycol. But as the boilers require maintenance by a specialist, the system is too expensive, the boilers would probably work fine with a specialist around. Explanations, instructions, training and coucelling are missing.

Dream housings ranged from „would want a four-bedroom house with a walk-in closet. Lots of heavy coats and jackets.“ to exercising rooms, „a swimming pool for the children, so they can take classes and learn how to swim, since we’re surrounded by water“; especially children and young adults asked for leisure and sport facilities such as a basketball court, a skate rink and a dance hall. Also a „kitchen seperate from the living room because the smells stay in there and you have to ventilate“ and a „bedroom to be away from other bedrooms“ were mentioned.

Kivalina Landfill 2


In Kivalina each household is responsible for collecting its own waste and bringing it to a 3.4 acre dump site, located just north of the airport. There is no separation system in the city. All solid and human waste ends up at a non-managed landfill. Although seeing a lot of the residents disposing their waste to the landfill, garbage is pilling up around the city, human waste spilling out of the plastic bags.

See Google Map for Location of Landfill

The “Kivalina Consensus Building Report” mentions that the dump located next to the airport is a safety issue and quotes the FAA who requires a 5,000 feet separation between landfills and airports: “The close proximity to the airport raises safety concerns for aircraft because it is an attractive nuisance for birds.” 

Human Waste: The people of Kivalina are using “Honeybuckets“. These are plastic buckets with a toilet seat. The human waste goes to a plastic bag that is being exchanged when full. See: How to empty a Honeybucket

Although some residents referred to a metal tank for the human waste, it was not possible to detect any waste separation during the site-visit of the dump on September, 1st, 2012 neither in the metal tank nor the surrounding area. Though this can be a result of the most recent flood caused by a storm in mid August 2012 when water spilled into the dump site creating a further threat to the drinking water access of Kivalina and therefore to the health of its residents.

Solid Waste: There is no waste separation system in Kivalina. We learned that until June 2012 there was a can and battery collection/recycling system in place which did not continue. Stanley Hawley, IRA Council Administrator who represents the tribe in Kivalina says: “We got no environmental training attendance.” As sponsors he names the US Environmental Protection Agency, small donors, the State of Alaska, L-Can recycling company, Maniilaq and Teck Mining Company. The collected items where shipped out, the transportation costs were taken over by L-Can. “The project stopped when the appointed local coordinator found another job,” Stanley mentions.



Public Spaces in Kivalina

The cold climate in Kivalina forces the public interactions and assemblies to be held indoors.

1. The community center and Bingo Hall

The community center, located in the center of the village, is used in special events for public gathering (f.ex. Community meetings, or when a whale is caught for a feast), but also regularly for traditional Eskimo dancing classes. Next door’s Bingo Hall is owned and operated by the municipality, but was on suspension period during our stay. Normally, there would be bingo nights five times a week.

2. The Washeteria

The washeteria is owned by the City and provides public showers. The place offers inhabitants 3 showers (15 min cost 3$), 4 washing machines (one wash cost 7$) and 4 dryers (10$).

3. The school building

The McQueen school building was opened in 1978 but was renovated for 3 million $ in spring 2012. Thhe school is fully equipped with up to date infrastructure (f.ex. wifi internet connection). The internet connection of the school is faster than on any other spot in Kivalina, because it is distributed through Kotzebue. Currently there are approximately 130 students taught in the school. A lot of classes are multi-level classes, there is also a self-contained class and a self-contained kindergarten. The building has been running out of capacity, teachers have given up their working- and storage-spaces in order to provide more room for the students. The school also functions as the community’s on site evacuation centre.

4. The U.S. post office

The square In front of the post office, the only sheltered outdoor space in town, is the main gathering point for young people. Young people also go everywhere where they can access wifi, they would, as the former school principle describes “(…) sit on the stairs to the school even hours after the school is closed or wait with their phones in front of our house, until I plug out my internet, then they all disappear.”

5. The Tribal office and the City council office

The two public authorities of the village are located in the same building. On the first floor the IRA – the native tribal council – and on the 2nd floor the City office.

6. The Clinic

The clinic is said to be a complex of containers joint together. The clinic offers various services (health care is free for people of native origin, also birthcontrol pills and condoms are provided for free) – and even a flush toilet.

7. The Native store


8. The boys and girls club (sponsored by Teck, owner of the Red Dog Mine)


On foundations

The melting of the permafrost in the North Arctic region causes a shifting of houses which eventually damages the buildings and results in cracks of walls and windows. In Kivalina, only the school’s foundation pillars go several feet below this layer of permafrost; generally  a variety of types of foundations are identified:

- Foundations on the ground

- Any kind of wood constructions on the ground, in different heights, sometimes with plywood-skirting in order to prevent the wind from going beneath it so it doesn’t get cold if they aren’t well insulated.

- Triodetic foundations, three-armed polls on the ground. The entire system would be rigid, so it can tip on one end and won’t break.

- Pilings in the ground (the only example being the school, pilings go as deep as 10-30 feet)

- The new residential houses own Post and pad-constructions which would allow the tennants to regulate the height themselves. It is flexible meaning the tennants can put more pads if it starts to sink. Leroy Adams, housing coordinator in the tribal office, says: “that’s the way you have to go down here for building residential houses” Screwpadposts are operated with screws; some pad and post constructions are operated with housejacks.

- The newest building, the new water treatment plant, is embedded in gravel and therefore moveable due to the changing of the ground; it has a heat exchanging device, a thermopile, which takes out the heat out of the ground so that the foundation won’t unfreeze and therefore move. Concrete slabs under the floor insulate the heat of the building. The insulation under the slabs has to be at least four inches. This method is expensive because there is no local gravel for the concrete and you have to bring in a lot by barges. But with the amount of weight of the water tanks inside, this is the best solution.

A few buildings are additionally tied down to the groud because of the danger of winds picking up the house.

Some of the old houses which have their foundation on the ground were lifted upon pillars a few years ago because of the snowdrift. Lifting often doesn’t really help because the construction below needs to be as high as the snow piles up during winter time.

Although located on permafrost, there is one case of gardening in a self-built coldframe-construction in Kivalina, an attempt of growing zucchini and summer squash the outcome of which remained uncertain until we left.

Fire hose to connect to Old Water Plant

Threats to Kivalinas Water System:

The Material: Part of the existing water and sewage system in Kivalina is now 36 years old and therefore at the end of its expected life span.

Apart from that the pipe-line which connects the river with the water treatment plant when being re-filled is broken. This is a result of the most recent storm in the area happening in mid August 2012:


Water Turbidity: The Arctic Sounder about Wulik river on August 23rd, 2012: „That river spiked to 15,3 feet on Thursday, the highest level ever recorded since a river gauge was installed in 1985. It beat the previous record by more than three feet.“ Within their Declaration of Disaster the City of Kivalina describes the river „being very moody, with high turbidity“. 

What is turbidity? Dirty, muddy water. What causes it? High flow in the river. What are the possibilities of high flow? Teck’s [Mining Company] discharge at full speed ahead,” Janet Mitchell, City Administrator of Kivalina explains the problem on her website: www.kivalinacity.comThe Red Dog Zink Mine discharges into the water shed of Wulik river. See: Permit to Discharge


Another threat to the villages water access coming from heavy weather in the area are floods that reach the local land fill, a non managed 3,4 acre dump site where the residents bring all their solid and human waste.

Honeybuckets: Instead of flush toilets the people of Kivalina are dependent on so-called „Honeybuckets“: plastic buckets with a toilet seat – the human waste goes to a plastic bag that is being exchanged when full.  Further Research 

These used plastic bags can be seen in many places around Kivalina:

Some collect them before bringing a bunch of them together to the landfill: 

Although some residents referred to a metal tank for the human waste, it was not possible to detect any waste separation during the site-visit of the dump on September, 1st 2012 neither in the metal tank nor the surrounding area.

Re-fillement of the water tanks is limited to a specific time-slot before freeze-up.


Water Tank with Pipe

Water and Sewage System

The following section focuses on the system of water supply and waste water treatment in Kivalina based on an on-site research, done between August, 27th and September 3rd 2012: 


Kivalina relies on water coming from the Wulik River. The water is being collected about 2 and a half miles upstream. Usually the water tanks are being refilled once a year, in July or August before school starts. There is a pump station that is currently not working due to a flooding after a storm that also caused part of the pipe system to fall apart. The entire system is about 36 years old.

The following image shows the mouth of the river which empties into a lagoon east of the village:


The water taken from the river needs to be pumped to two water tanks. The water treatment plant, located right next to tank holds a water collection station. That is where residents get the water they need. It operates on a slot machine (25ct. for 5 Gallon). Other sources of portable are listed here.

One-third of residents have tanks, which provide running water for the kitchen, but homes are not fully plumbed,“ according to the Local Hazards Mitigation Plan (2007)

Still, these small tanks need to be re-filled regularly. On the left you see such an individual system at the local store. Grey water from the housing units is spilled outdoor, no approval of any collection system could be found.

The local clinic has a big water tank with a pump within their facilities (running water and flush toilets), their sewage goes to a septic tank.  The school and the washeteria are the only two buildings in town that are connected to the water tanks: 

The sewage of the school is treated by 36 year old purification system which drains into the ocean.  On-site this pipe could be found at the beach, west of the school.

In the washeteria the residents of Kivalina have access to 4 washing machines and 3 dryers, 2 showers and 2 toilets. The facility is open between 12 and 5 pm. The city wants to extend the opening hours though this is not possible due to lack of water and money. The use of the facilities at the washeteria are at cost: One shower is 3 US-Dollars, a load for the washing machine 7 US-Dollars, for the dryer 10 US-Dollars. People gave slightly different numbers on the prices which indicates a fluctuating prize systemThe sewage from the washeteria goes to a holding tank into a drain field. The following image shows one of the Water Tanks, the Water Treatment Plant and Washeteria (green building on the right) with the two accesses to the holding tank:




Janet Mitchell, Kivalina City Administrator, names an average income of 44.000 to 60.000 US-Dollars per year for the City through the Washeteria, and through the water sell (residents are charged a quarter for 5 gallons of water) the city makes between 500 and 600 US-Dollar per months.

City Officials told that re-fillment is between 20.000 to 30.000 US-Dollars. The Arctic Sounder says: „The community would normally pay to fill up the water tanks with revenue from a local bingo game held for adults. But a petition circulated earlier in the year led to the city´s bingo permit being revoked in July, according to the city website. That meant that the money that would normally got to filling the tanks with clean water wasn´t available […]“. Published on 23rd of August, page 14.

Lagoon Floods

In a recent article, Robert Martin compels the U.S. President to use his executive authority to move the village of Kivalina out of harm’s way of its landfill. Kivalina’s open dump site is about one-and-a-half miles from the village. Villagers haul their own waste, which exposes them to considerable health risks. The Indian Health Service found in 2011 that Kivalina’s open dump posed a ”high health threat.”

When it floods, the risk to the community’s health and well-being posed by the open dump site becomes severe. Leeching from the dump contaminates berry patches, fish, other traditional foods, and drinking water supplies.

The President’s authority to relocate the village away from the dump site would come from Superfund laws—technically Section 9626(b) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) established by Congress in 1980.  CERCLA created $1.6 billion in revenues from taxes on industry and established a trust fund to pay for the clean-up of abandoned or unmanaged hazardous waste sites that endanger public health and welfare.

The health risks of having an open dump in such close proximity to the village compound with other challenges Kivalina faces, which include climate change, erosion and flooding, lack of running water, and need for imminent relocation. Needed ennvironmental diagnosis remain incomplete. According to the 2006 U.S. Army Corps Master Relocation Plan, ”No record of waste taken to the landfill has ever been kept and it is not known whether hazardous waste is separated from municipal solid waste.”

Martin’s arguing that if permanent relocation authorities and funds are available under CERLCA to assist with the permanent relocation of the Village of Kivalina, the open dump issue may offer a potentially alternative remedy to support of Kivalina’s relocation. His prescient article anticipated the recent flooding that occurred in Kivalina in August.  Although the state of Alaska has not declared disaster in Kivalina due to flooding and the landfill situation, Governor Parnell is reportedly making a decision sometime this week.

The tribal government of Kivalina would need to support the pursuit of such authority. Under CERLCLA § 9626(b):

“Should the President determine that proper remedial action is the permanent relocation of tribal members away from a contaminated site because it is cost effective and necessary to protect their health and welfare, such finding must be concurred in by the affected tribal government before relocation shall occur. The President, in cooperation with the Secretary of the Interior, shall also assure that all benefits of the relocation program are provided to the affected tribe and that alternative land of equivalent value is available and satisfactory to the tribe. Any lands acquired for relocation of tribal members shall be held in trust by the United States for the benefit of the tribe.”

Read Martin’s full article here.

Kivalina from above

Water Situation in Kivalina, August 2012

Situated on a small island – the Chukchi Sea to the west, a lagoon and the mouth of the Wulik river to the east – Kivalina is surrounded by water. Potable water on the other hand is not so accessible in this Arctic town. When we arrived in late August 2012 Kivalina faced a severe lack of potable water due to another heavy storm in the area of NW arctic Alaska.

See: Residents collecting the remaining water in one of the water tanks

According to „Alaska Community Database. Community Information Summaries (CIS)“ there is an average annual precipitation of 8.6 inches of rain per year. The storm described before resulted in a flood caused by the same amount of rain water falling within 7 days.

An article of „The Arctic Sounder“ published on August 23, 2012 gives slightly different numbers, the urgency of the situation is evident in both reports: „A week of heavy rain saw portions of Northwest Alaska receive in excess of seven inches of precipation, in areas that normally experience only about 15-20 inches of rain annually.“

Part of the pipe system that is usually connected to a pump that fills water to Kivalina´s water storage system is ruined. Besides the broken pipe, the high water caused by the storm also reached the local landfill. This is a threat to the water quality as there is no sewage system in Kivalina outside of the School, the local clinic and the washeteria. The people of Kivalina are using so-called „Honeybuckets“: plastic buckets with a toilet seat. The human waste goes to a plastic bag that is being exchanged when full. Together with the solid waste it all ends up at the landfill which is situated on the same island. See Google Map for Location of Landfill

Now, the water tanks need to be filled which needs to happen before freeze-up. This would provide the village with potable water for a period of 12 months. There are only couple of weeks left to do so. On August, 29th 2012 the village had to declare a disaster for a second time within a couple of days in relation to the very same issue of not being able to fill their water reservoir in time. See: Declaration of Disaster

Rainwater Collection

Sources of Access to Potable Water in Kivalina

  • Outside the water plant building there is a coin operated machine where people buy their water (25ct. per 5 Gallon).
  • People go upstream to collect water from the river. To do so, access to a boat and fuel is needed. Usually they collect from the Wulik river. Since the Zinc Mine discharges into the water shed of the Wulik river, some people said that they prefer to take water from Kivalina river nowadays.   
  • Rainwater which is usually collected in 35 gallon plastic buckets. Recently people in the village noticed some bad taste which they reported to AVEC (Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, Inc. Power Plant). A comment made on August 30th, 2012 on the Facebook Group “Kivalina Water Situation” says:  „I’ve spoken with our AVEC plant operator. He’ll try to burn the oil only when the wind is to the South, IF he needs to burn oil. That incident was only a one occurance and it was unintentional while it was raining. We didn’t know the soot was going to get into the people’s rain water and we never thought to address that. But it didn’t go into everyones rain water, just a few who were in it’s path. Live and learn! Our apologies. The rain should be okay now.“
  • In winter they cut ice blocks out of the rivers (some tend to take it from the Kivalina river now)
  • There is a village shop where people can buy water„Spent $100 in the last week.I have 4 kids, water is an essential need for them. Collecting rain water but it’s just wash water. Not drinking the rainwater because I don’t want to get sick,“ said a Kivalina resident.

“Storms Force School Postponement in Kivalina”

A few of us from the Re-Locate Project flew back to Anchorage from Kivalina last night to start pulling together all of the information, stories, and research from our weeklong trip to Kivalina. (Photo: aerial view of Kivalina from yesterday’s flight.) Today, for the first time in over a week, we are showered and have a reliable internet connection.

We arrived in Anchorage to this headline in the Anchorage Daily News: “Storms Force School Postponement in Kivalina.”

Kivalina is currently dealing with a severe water crisis. Due to record rainfall in August, the Wulik River, the community’s source of drinking water, is flooded. Flooding broke pipes that feed both of Kivalina’s water holding tanks (which hold about 1.5 million gallons of water and get the community through the year). Due to the flooding, the Wulik River has high levels of turbidity, making accessible river water too muddy to drink. High water in the lagoon spilled into the landfill, creating a toxic soup.

On August 18, the City of Kivalina and the Northwest Arctic Borough declared a disaster “as a result of the water and landfill situation.” On August 28, the city of Kivalina  declared additional disaster and is asking for state support.

Both of Kivalina’s water tanks now sit currently empty. Kivalina has to fill them in the narrow window of opportunity before the water begins to freeze. Emergency crews arrive this week with supplies and to help make needed repairs. (Photo: Puddle as wide as the road in Kivalina.)

In the meantime, people in Kivalina are collecting rainwater to drink and to wash. Those heading upstream to find clear water must travel many miles upstream to fetch it, which is neither practical or accessible. For one, gas for the boat costs nearly $7/gallon.

During our time in Kivalina, The Re-Locate Project hosted a local nightly radio show on CB Channel 72. We heard from one caller who joined us for a conversation about water that she goes “upstream, four river bends to find the clearest spot because the water is still muddy.” Water from her trip upriver will last her family of six only three days. Another caller spent $100 in the last week on water at the store. She has four kids and “water is an essential need for them.” Her family is not drinking the rainwater “because I don’t want to get sick,” she said. Others reported that the rainwater tasted like fuel. (Photo: Setting up for a radio show at the Boys & Girls Club.)

The Northwest Arctic Borough, the City of Kotzebue, and the Red Dog Mine all donated water to Kivalina. Will it last until the water system is restored?

Given the current water crisis in Kivalina, the school is now closed until further notice. According to the Anchorage Daily article, school superintendent Norman Eck hopes to see the school open by October 1. (Photo: McQueen School in Kivalina.) During a City Council meeting, members expressed concern that Kivalina might have to fly the children out of the village to attend school. Eck told the Anchorage Daily News that students may not earn enough credits to graduate and that younger students may need to spend another year in high school. He also said that school may need to run six days a week once it resumes to avoid such consequences.

During our short visit, we spent a bunch of time hanging out with kids, who are all looking for things to do while they wait for school to open. One of my favorite moments was catching two boys lying on their backs in the road, making snow angles in the gravel. I ran up to them to check out their prints, asking them to point out the marks made by the back of their heads and feet. Next to their body prints, I drew a whale in the gravel with my finger. A bunch of kids joined me to add birds, fish, crabs, and octopus to the scene. Once we were all done, the boys erased the gravel art with their feet. (Photo: Solomon Sage, who turned 11 yesterday.)

In a way, the timing of our visit was serendipitous. Re-Locate Project’s KVAK crew spent hours and hours teaching kids to make make films and videos about their lives in Kivalina when they otherwise would have been in school. Check out film and video projects made by Kivalina’s kids here.