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Portraits of Resilience: "...that old sea wall is no longer there..."
Cancun, Mexico

Portraits of Resilience: "...that old sea wall is no longer there..."

“…that old sea wall is no longer there…”

The Old Sea Wall

When I was a small child, my friends and I used to go on top of the sea wall and play.

Our parents didn’t want us to go out there but we would rather play there than be at home.

The sea wall was made out of cement blocks. They were one-foot by one-foot square.

The blocks were laid against the shore in an attempt to keep the ocean from washing the sand out from under our houses. Since our land is made of three layers – permafrost, loose sand and sod – it is very dangerous when the sand washes away.

The Army Corps of Engineers built the sea wall because our village was slowly being washed into the sea. The sea wall I played on as a child was the second such wall used to stop the erosion. The first wall was made of sandbags. How are sandbags going to help us? We’re made out of sand!! We had such high hopes for the second wall made of cement blocks.

Recently, I tried to go see where I played as a child. Unfortunately, that sea wall is no longer there, it is 15 feet out into the ocean behind the current sea wall and 10 feet below the surface layer we walk on. At low tide, if I stand on the new seawall, I can still see some bricks sticking up out of the water. Hopefully, this new seawall made of large rocks will stand.

Heather “Anunuk” Sinnok


“…to be like a green land”


(What will happen when the Greenlandic Ice melts away?)

Greenland’s inland ice is melting.

Maybe Greenland is going to be like a green land.

Maybe there will be strange animals and new vegetables.

Maybe the life of Greenlanders will change in the future.

Maybe the fish will disappear and new fish will come instead.

Maybe Greenlanders cannot fish anymore.

They have to look for new jobs.

Maybe there will be no ice.

Aqqa Lange


“…the soil here is being washed away.”

Our Sinking Heritage

At the edge of Namata Village, in amongst the mangroves, we waited for our transport to arrive. The sky was dark and cloudy. We would travel by boat, as it is one of two ways to get to Bau Island; the other is on foot at low tide.

Coming out of the mangroves we saw the island of Bau lying still in the distance, waiting patiently, as if she was expecting us for thousands of years. The rain pelted down on us as we visited Mateiweilagi, the residence of the Vunivalu (High Chief) who is from the Cakobau Family. Unfortunately, the soil here is being washed away.

A sea wall had been constructed around the island. It is now damaged and chunks of the wall are broken off. It looked as if it had battled thousands of waves and is now weathered by time. I also learned that their fishing grounds have changed. There aren’t any fish in the usual fishing areas. Now they’re forced to move out into deeper waters.

Bau Island, which is a symbol of respect, chieftainship, and high authority, is slowly being erased by the effects of climate change. If things continue this way, I’m afraid there won’t be anything left of Bau Island.

This island has witnessed centuries of traditions, ceremonies and events. Its people will eventually evacuate and move to the mainland and a change in culture will be inevitable.

For the generations to come, Bau Island will be a home no more.

— Siobhan Turner

Portraits of Resilience, exhibited in Cancun, Mexico during the UN climate summit, illustrates in a personal and poignant way the ethical dimensions of climate change.

The project trains children in regions most affected by climate change to use photography and other digital media to bring their personal stories showing the human face of climate change to the attention of the public and to decision-makers at international climate change negotiations. It is important, they say, that the world be able to see not only effects of climate change, but the efforts people are making to both combat and adapt to it.

Indian Country Today is grateful to the Earth Journalism Network for their U.S. 2010 Climate Media Fellowship that is sending environmental reporter Terri Hansen to Cancun, Mexico Nov. 29-Dec. 10 to cover the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Originally published in Mother Earth Journal and Indian Country Today