This first major collaboration between AP’s Religion and Climate teams produced striking visuals and poignant text evoking the tenacity and spirit of a remote Alaska Native community resisting climate evacuation.
More than 600 Inupiat Natives live in the village of Shishmaref, just a few miles from the Arctic Circle, watching climate change slowly shrink their small Alaskan island home. In early October, reporter Luis Andres Henao and video journalist Jessie Wardarski, both of AP's Religion team, and Los Angeles photographer Jae Hong, visited the village to document how the warming world inexorably threatens their way of life.
The project was part of an ongoing AP series exploring the lives of people around the world who may be displaced by rising seas, drought, searing temperatures or other effects of climate change.
Through advance, long-distance outreach, and tactful overtures after their arrival, the journalists earned the trust of residents and civic leaders who have sometimes been wary of visitors. The ultimate result: a moving tribute to the villagers’ resilience and community spirit. The visuals included hunters setting out in their boats at dawn, schoolchildren learning early words in their elders’ Inupiat language, a pastor bottle-feeding his infant child, and drone video dramatically depicting the island’s precarious setting.
Climate team photo editor Alyssa Goodman showcased Hong’s photos and Wardarski’s video, embedding the visuals with Henao's text — edited by Religion team leaders David Crary and Holly Meyer — to produce a striking and engaging presentation. Henao also contributed text to a separate photo gallery highlighting Hong’s distinctive environmental portraits of islanders. And a must-see, Wardarski gave thousands of Instagram users a behind-the-scenes look at in-the-field journalism, shooting and editing a captivating Instagram reel, refined with feedback from the digital team’s Alex Connor and featuring Henao’s voice-over.
The package — the first major look at how Shishmaref is determined to stay put as long as possible since villagers voted some six years ago to relocate — was given prominent online display by major news outlets in the U.S. and abroad, including Spanish and French translations. It also earned play close to home, landing on the front pages of Alaska’s top newspapers, and among the most-read pieces on the websites of the Anchorage Daily News and others.
For this first major collaboration between AP’s Religion and Climate teams — an all-formats project vividly evoking the tenacity of a Native village threatened by climate change — the team of Henao, Wardarski and Hong is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.