William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review


Climate change has had significant impacts on lands and communities across the United States, and particularly on Alaska Native Villages (“ANVs”). These Arctic and sub-Arctic indigenous communities, which are often remote and rural, depend on the land and water for their nutritional and cultural survival. My research draws from 153 interviews and conversations with ANV residents and those who make or influence policy for ANVs, along with local, state, and federal plans and laws relevant to ANVs and climate change. I consider the current and potential role of the federal and Alaskan governments in assisting ANVs and other communities to adapt to climate change, as well as the role that ANVs themselves could take. In the interviews, I found general agreement that the federal and state governments have some responsibility to assist with adaptation. But this responsibility does not mean that a new overarching federal or state law or agency devoted to adaption would be successful. There are already many laws that can facilitate adaptation and should be better understood and utilized. Also, there are already many agencies and programs related to adaptation that need to be better-coordinated, perhaps by a coordinating entity without a regulatory role. Given the unlikeliness of sweeping change at the state or federal level, it is important for ANVs to exercise a role in their own adaptation. Constraints on this role include laws limiting actions that ANVs can take, and the lack of capacity to carry out largescale adaptation actions on their own. ANV adaptation may require greater self-reliance as well as partnerships with government and nongovernment entities who can help ANVs build their capacity.