This week’s feature is by American photojournalist Tim Matsui
This body of work from Kivalina, Alaska, came about from an assignment for Der Spiegel magazine. It was five days in Alaska: one in Anchorage and four in Kivalina.
Kivalina has no means of hosting guests, save putting them up at the school which is the most modern and permanent building. Homes are government prefabs, most of which are unplumbed, and are packed with residents. There’s a small store, no restaurant, no bar (it’s a dry town) and no stoplights. I’m not sure there’s even a stop sign. What Kivalina does have is a front-row seat to climate change and a rich history and culture tied to the landscape.
Historically, the Inupiat are migrant hunter-gatherers, moving with the seasons for their food source. The town is located in a traditional summer fishing spot, on the tip of a sand and gravel spit at the mouth of a river and wetlands. Residents were forced there by the federal government as it sought to make the native population conform to western culture, education, and lifestyle.
Climate change means sea ice forms later and vanishes sooner each year, exposing the coast to violent winter storms. This town is now in jeopardy of being washed into the sea.
When I visited, the Army Corps of Engineers was in the midst of placing giant sandbags to thwart the erosion and the town was suing 20 oil companies for damages associated with their product. They had tried to get federal funding to be relocated but weren’t successful and were looking to the companies to foot the bill.
My job was to show the cultural essence of the town, part of which I felt was to get out on the ice pack and show a traditional whale hunt. With limited time in the town, and an understandable hesitance to embrace outsiders (especially journalists), it took some effort to build relationships. By the third day, I found a ride to an ice camp. No whales came by but it was still a beautiful setting and a dream for someone like myself who grew up, in northwestern USA, reading stories about indigenous cultures of the Arctic and their traditional folklore.
I asked the writer, whose company I truly enjoyed, what he ended up writing (it was in German, of course). He said it was about the loss of culture. He said, while climate change is impacting traditional culture, so much of that tradition is already gone because of the pressures of modern society on the remote native Alaskan town.
Tim Matsui is an Emmy-nominated, multimedia journalist and producer focusing on human trafficking, alternative energy and the environment. Tim’s clients have included Newsweek, Stern, Der Spiegel, GEO, Wired and many other domestic and international publications.
Today, Tim partners with editorial outlets, non-profit organizations, corporations, and self publishes, to tell meaningful stories built upon the tenets of journalism. A non-profit founder and recipient of grants from the Alexia Foundation, Open Society Foundations and Fund for Investigative Journalism, Tim seeks to inform and engage viewers through his projects, using media for social change.