Mertarvik ribbon cutting ceremony

Jimmy Charles and Paul Charles (in center) cut the ribbon along with other dignitaries during the ribbon cutting ceremony for Mertarvik, nine miles from Newtok on Nelson Island. photo by Simeon and Marla Fairbanks

by Greg Lincoln

The community of Newtok hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Mertarvik and celebrated with Yup’ik dancing, a feast, and a tour of the Mertarvik site.

Mertarvik is where the village is planning on relocating to be safe from erosion and flooding. There are already some folks living in Mertarvik, they are the Pioneers.

The celebration took place on Thursday, August 10th, 2017 beginning with lunch at the Newtok School followed by Yup’ik dancing and singing. Newtok Village Council President Paul Charles gave his opening remarks. Also in attendance were representatives from state and federal agencies and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium who gave a short presentation. Afterwards, folks traveled by boat to Mertarvik which is located on Nelson Island across the Ningliq River 9 miles from Newtok.

At Mertarvik there was a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. Paul Charles and Jimmy Charles participated in the cutting along with other dignitaries. Everyone cheered when the ribbon was cut.

Folks in Newtok, which has a population of approximately 400, are anxious to begin moving to Mertarvik. The river keeps getting closer and closer to their homes and buildings. Fall and spring storm surges bring on severe floods.

Back in 1994, the Newtok Traditional Council decided that the best solution was to relocate to the Mertarvik site on Nelson Island. A land exchange with the U.S. Department of Interior took place in 2003 that allowed for the relocation plans to move forward.

There are other rural Alaskan communities in addition to Newtok that are facing problems of erosion. Those include Kivalina, Koyukuk, Shaktoolik, Shismaref, and Unalakleet.

We wish the people of Newtok success in their future plans for Mertarvik and know that this process of relocating will strengthen their community, quyanaq.