Kenaitze Tribe receives grant to assess graveyard stabilization

people stand at a gravesite outside
The late Dr. Alan Boraas (left), professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College, leads a tour of the Kalifornsky Graveyard in 2015. (Jenny Neyman/The Redoubt Reporter)

The Kenaitze Indian Tribe will receive $230,000 in federal funds to look into stabilizing an ancestral gravesite on the Kenai Peninsula against the threat of bluff erosion.

The project is one of dozens in Alaska to recently receive funding, as part of the Department of Interior’s investment in climate resiliency projects. The department announced the $45 million in funding for projects earlier this month. The money is spread among almost 80 tribes nationwide and funded in part by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“Indigenous communities are facing unique and intensifying climate-related challenges that pose an existential threat to Tribal economies, infrastructure, lives and livelihoods,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are making an unprecedented investment in Indian Country to help ensure that Native communities will have clean air, drinkable water, fertile soil and an overall good quality of life for generations to come.”

The Kenaitze Indian Tribe plans to assess erosion at the Kalifornsky Village graveyard. According to the project description, the graveyard is home to 17 ancestral gravesites, “precipitously close to the cliff edge facing Cook Inlet.”

The $230,000 grant will be used to explore options to preserve the sites, which could include protecting the graves where they currently are or relocating the affected gravesites altogether.

Other Alaska-based projects include:

• The Native Village of Saint Michael is receiving funding to assess the stabilization of two cemeteries, as well as a school, residential homes and the tribal office building. Saint Michael will use the grant to determine how permafrost degradation is affecting structures in the community.

• The Native Village of Kipnuk will complete a long-term erosion and flood assessment to help the village create its “long-term adaptation plan.”

• The Native Village of Tuntutuliak will develop a permafrost vulnerability assessment to predict the future impacts of permafrost melt and recommend solutions.

Alaska Public Media contributed to this story.

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