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Youth Sue State Over Climate Change, AK Supreme Court to Decide Lawsuit’s Fate

Shishmaref youth Esau Sinnok
Shishmaref youth Esau Sinnok. Photo: Maddie Winchester, KNOM (2015).

Two Western Alaskans spoke out about climate change yesterday as part of a group of 16 young people currently suing the State of Alaska. The case, Sinnok vs. Alaska, was brought before the Alaska Supreme Court as the justices decide whether or not to allow the lawsuit to move forward.

Andrew Welle and Brad De Noble are attorneys representing the youth. De Noble says their argument is that the state’s energy policy, promoting the development of fossil fuels, violates the young Alaskans’ constitutional rights.

“In today’s climate crisis, it is important now more than ever, it is imperative that our courts judge our state’s policies that are causing our state to burn up, causing our waters to overheat, causing our salmon to die, causing our property and our homes to be destroyed and even wiping out entire villages”

The State of Alaska, represented by Assistant Attorney General Anna Jay, would like to see this climate change lawsuit dismissed.

During a press conference yesterday, after the Alaska Supreme Court heard oral arguments in this case, Summer Sagoonick of Unalakleet described the challenges her community faces, due to a changing climate, as they now travel two-to-three hundred miles in search of caribou.

“For the past few years we have been experiencing short and rainy winters. The snow melted early, the river never froze over completely, and this made it dangerous to travel by snowmachine. Growing up I heard stories about how people would travel about a half mile to catch a caribou, but because of climate change we have to travel about a five-day trip, considering if you could travel under the conditions of the melting snow. Subsistence is my life. I am Inupiaq and I am proud”

After Sagoonick was done, lead plaintiff for the case, Esau Sinnok of Shishmaref stepped up to the mic. Donning a seal-skin bowtie, Sinnok shared how he is affected by climate change on a daily basis.

“The very thought of losing your home because rising sea level, storm surges, and flooding is causing the island to erode, the one and only place that I get to call home… it is a really scary thought that my future generations of Shishmaref people will not be able to live on the island anymore”

And Sinnok ended his comments by sharing a poem called: Why I Am Here, which he wrote during the court proceedings earlier yesterday afternoon.

“The seals, the walrus, the whales, the land, the sea, my home. A millennia of history told and untold. The laughing, the crying, the community is what I’m here for. We protect the animals because they give their lives for us to continue the lifestyle my ancestors have lived. .I am here today because the seals, walrus, whales, land, sea, my home, cannot speak English”

Alaska Supreme Court justices must now decide if they agree with the group of 16 youth or the state in this matter.

It is unknown when the court will make a decision on this lawsuit.

Image at top: Shishmaref youth Esau Sinnok. Photo by Maddie Winchester, KNOM (2015).

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