The village of Newtok is located on the Ninglick River, almost 100 miles away from Bethel. The community shares a unique history with the nearby villages of Nelson Island – both of their ancestors have lived and subsisted on the coast of the Bering Sea for at least 2,000 years. Today, residents are faced with a significant obstacle — relocation to a new site so they can escape the melting permafrost on which the settlement is built.
The Qaluyaarmiut, or “dip net people,” experienced little contact with the western world until the 1920s. In the 1950s, a school was built, and the village relocated from its original location, called Old Kealavik, to its present location to escape seasonal flooding. Despite influences from outside, the settlement has retained many of its customs. The community is a traditional Yup’ik village and its residents are very involved in subsistence activities year round.
In addition to hunting, fishing and gathering, some residents work seasonally to supplement their subsistence lifestyles. Work is available locally through the school and clinic, and many are involved in commercial fishing and trapping.
In recent years, the community has been the focus of media attention due to the local effects of global warming, including erosion. The village’s current site, once used only as a winter camp, is situated on softening tundra. Residents recently voted to move their community nine miles up the Ninglick River to escape seasonal storm surges.