Esau Sinnok of ShisHmaref was recognized on Friday as one of ten Champions of Change for Climate Equity. Each Champion of Change has been chosen from a different state across the country and was formally honored at the White House. But unlike the other communities represented during the ceremony, Sinnok says the future of Shishmaref is uncertain because of the ways climate change is impacting the community right now. In about 30 years, he says, his island of Shishmaref will be underwater and uninhabitable.
Sinnok cited a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimate that reports a cost of between $180-$250 million to relocate his community, but the resources available for Shishmaref are limited. During the ceremony on Friday, Sinnok recounted his own personal tragedy that he says was a direct result of climate change.
“My uncle, my father, and a few of his friends went out on the ice to the mainland to go duck and geese hunting,” Sinnok recalls. It was June 2, 2007. “On their way back, my uncle fell through the ice, and he thought where he fell through would be frozen like it’s been in previous years, but he fell through and lost his life on that day. He’s the main reason why I am doing this environmental work.”
Despite the personal challenges and challenges for Shishmaref’s future, Sinnok has hope for the generations to come. He has hope in “the future leaders of tomorrow, the young people, the people that are going to take over the roles of Senators and Congressmen, and Representatives in the local and the State, or the Federal jobs that they would be great in.”
According to a White House press release, Sinnok was selected along with nine other individuals because he initiated powerful changes to support those most directly affected by drastic climate conditions and helped provide resources so they can thrive into the future.
Sinnok wants to make a difference by running for governor of Alaska by 2030 so that he can represent rural Alaskan communities as well as the big cities.