In the effort to move a village uphill, away from a threatening sea, the Quinault Indian Nation has received a momentous financial push.
The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Wednesday the commitment of $115 million to assist 11 tribal communities, specifically those threatened by climate change-related impacts, with relocation and adaptation planning efforts.
The money comes from both the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, and will be implemented as part of a new Voluntary Community-Driven Relocation led by the Department of the Interior.
Three tribal groups — including the Quinault Indian Nation — received $25 million each in grants to begin relocation and "serve as the blueprint for future efforts." The Newtok Village and the Native Village of Napakiak also received $25 million relocation grants. Both are Alaskan villages threatened by extreme coastal erosion.
Quinault Indian Nation President Guy Capoeman said he was "overjoyed" to hear Quinault had received the grant.
"Out here on the coast, we are at ground zero," Capoeman said in an interview with The Daily World. "The tsunami that could come ashore, the rising tide, there are all of these things that could happen."
For over a decade, the tribe has planned to relocate the village of Taholah — home to roughly 660 residents — beyond the flooding zone and tsunami inundation areas. Taholah is sandwiched between the rising waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Quinault River, which floods periodically during winter months.
The Quinault newspaper The Nugguam reported in September the tribe had broken ground on the Northeast Neighborhood in an initial phase of relocation. However, much of Taholah's important infrastructure — the community center, police department, jail, courthouse and schools, among others — is still in the lower village, Capoeman said.
Capoeman said specific uses for the most recent grant are still to be determined, but it could help relocate "key buildings." This $25 million won't pay for relocation in its entirety, Capoeman said, but "this gives us a darn good start."
Capoeman said the tribe has also received American Rescue Plan Act funding to assist with water, sewer, electrical and road relocation. Earlier in November, the tribe also received $150,000 in federal funding to hire an emergency management administrative coordinator to assist with relocation planning.
The most recent grant will also allow for further collaboration between the tribal communities and federal government.
In December, representatives from the Department of the Interior and partnering federal agencies will travel to the three communities to "establish formal relationships and begin the planning process," according to a news release. Community relocation will then be staged in the coming years.
In addition to Interior's committed funds, FEMA is in the process of awarding $17.7 million to assist the three communities to "demolish, acquire, and build new infrastructure, according to the release.
The Taholah relocation — along with the other two villages — will provide "demonstration projects for future climate resilience efforts," according to the release.
"I think it's a big responsibility in that sense," Capoeman said. "The world is looking at you right now, your peers are looking at what you're doing here."
Another $40 million went to eight additional tribal communities that need "further planning support" for relocation or climate resilience measures. Those include communities in California, Arizona, Louisiana, Maine and four in Alaska.
A study from the Bureau of Indian Affairs estimated that $5 billion in the next 50 years will be needed to address tribal relocation in response to climate change. Some of that funding will come in the next five years, when the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will distribute a total of $466 million to the Bureau, including $213 million for climate resilience and $130 million for relocation.
The Inflation Reduction Act provides an additional $220 million to the Bureau for climate resilience.
"As part of the federal government's treaty and trust responsibility to protect tribal sovereignty and revitalize tribal communities, we must safeguard Indian Country from the intensifying and unique impacts of climate change," Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a news release. "Helping these communities move to safety on their homelands is one of the most important climate related investments we could make in Indian Country."
"There are 3,150 Quinaults in the world, and over half of them live in this threatened area," Capoeman said. "We need to move them. Our very existence depends on it."