Cultural Resources and Traditions Sector in the Blackfeet Climate Change Adaptation Plan

Chief Mountain that came with description from Kim
Ninnastako (Chief Mountain) is many different things to the Piikani people. The mountain is revered as a holy place, where our people have gone since the beginning of time – to fast, seek answers to prayers, make or complete vows, leave offerings, seek visions, smoke pipe, sweat, or to come together in an effort to protect our holy sites from the oil exploration and production industries. Some believe Ninnastako is alive, in Spirit form our Protector. Some believe it is just “a pile of rocks.” Our Creation Stories include Ninnastako. Photo by Tre Harwood.

The Cultural Resources and Traditions chapter of the 2018 Blackfeet Climate Change Adaptation Plan (BCCAP) is one of eight chapters created for the first formal, multi-sector climate change adaptation planning effort in the Blackfeet nation, following the process described here. The Cultural Resources and Traditions chapter was developed through research with consultants and in a working partnership with the Blackfeet Environmental Office’s Climate Change Coordinator, a tribal member, and after consultation with the Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Office. The first two sections, observed impacts and expected impacts, are sets of working hypotheses about climate change that are based on a review of climate change literature (e.g. the Montana Climate Assessment) and cultural impacts literature. These hypotheses were formed for the purposes of assessing climate change vulnerability and then strategizing adaptation goals and actions. This and other sections of the plan will be revisited and updated periodically as action items are implemented and adaptation efforts produce insights for future planning.

Cultural resource management is under the jurisdiction of the Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Office.

The goal of the Cultural Resources and Traditions Sector within this Climate Change Adaptation Plan, is to support the sustainability of traditional lifeways. In doing so, we honor the goals of continued preservation of our true heritage, including cultural resources within our community, the broader landscape, and, when applicable, in museums. As traditional practices and belief systems are lived and shared by knowledgeable community members, elders, Society members, Medicine People, Bundle and Pipe Carriers, etc., we understand that “cultural preservation” is a way of living, thinking, honoring, and believing. These are actions and choices, not just words on a page.

Again, this is a beginning.  A foundation, that as a joined community, we can build together.  The following are potential impacts from changing weather patterns which could adversely affect our cultural resources and traditions.  Certainly, as we continue to shape and build this plan together, with continued input from our rich and diverse community, we will learn together the best ways to protect all that was given us by Creator.

Pikuni Lodges at Sunset - Mya Davis.jpg
Pikuni Lodges at Sunset. Photo by Mya Davis.
Observed impacts

Climate change is shifting the ranges of plant and wildlife species.1 Shifting ranges pose a problem as political and jurisdictional borders are not shifting with species.2

Expected impacts

The impacts described in this section come from a review of literature on climate change impacts to tribal cultural resources and traditional lifeways. It is divided into two sections:

1) Impacts to traditional lifeways and impacts to artifacts

2) The recognition that impacts to artifacts will impact traditional lifeways and vice versa. (Note: “Artifacts” is a term from western science and is used here simply as a placeholder for describing items integral to Blackfeet culture and history.)

Impacts to traditional lifeways

Many Blackfeet gather plants for medicinal, ceremonial, subsistence, economic, and/or artistic purposes.  Further, all forms of life (four-legged, winged, water and sky-beings) are honored in holy, traditional ceremonies.  They are our “Medicine,” our protectors, our guides, and healers.  Finally, some roots, wild potatoes, onions, berries and wild game have provided sustenance for thousands of generations. For many present-day Pikuni families, they are still the primary sources of food during the relevant seasons for each. Climate change is predicted to impact the availability of plants and animals, increasing the availability of some species and decreasing the availability of others. This means it will impact the ability to hunt, fish, and gather in traditional Blackfeet territories.3 Climate change would likely make it more difficult to access traditional foods, and could increase food insecurity.4 Furthermore, such rapidly changing ecological conditions could erode traditional knowledge and cause confusion and uneasiness.5,6 This could be translated as “The changing seasons could make it harder to get our winter meat.  In addition, as each ceremony begins or ends with the berry soup of 10,000 prayers (Gramma’s Words), climate change could rapidly change our ability to gather berries for our spring and fall openings, Okaans, and other Medicine Lodges, which in turn could have a negative effect on our ceremonies and the ability to teach the values of these ceremonies to each next generation.”

Beargrass at Upper Two Medicine - Mya Davis.jpg
Beargrass at Upper Two Medicine. Photo by Mya Davis.

Impacts to culturally significant vegetation

Climate change is predicted to impact plant life through a variety of pathways. Rising temperatures and decreasing precipitation and drought in the late summer may lead to the decline of some plant species while favoring others.7 High heat from fires may cause a loss of soil fertility, impacting vegetation.8 Changes in seasonality and phenology could mean that there is a loss of synchronicity between species and that landscapes could be altered as plant blooming times shift.9 A loss of pollinators could impact the landscape by reducing plant fertility.10 More frequent drought and warming temperatures are projected to cause dieback of tree and plant species like birch and sweet grass.11 While species have evolved with frequent wildfires in this landscape, increasing fire frequency and severity can threaten culturally important species.12,13 Additionally, ceremonial sites may change in appearance as species ranges shift.14 The Blackfeet have witnessed the marginalization of sweet grass as a result of so many lease cattle being on a favorite “secret coulee,” or sweet grass picking location.  Now, as weather patterns are changing there is a predicted dieback of some holy plant species.

Wildlife - Sadie Lyn Harwood.jpg
Wildfires in Blackfeet Country. Photo by Sadie Harwood.

Impacts to culturally significant wildlife

As with plant species, climate change is expected to change the prevalence of culturally significant wildlife. Climate change may change wildlife distribution and possibly decrease local population sizes by driving habitat losses, increasing disease threats, decreasing wildlife food sources, increasing invasive species, and pushing wildlife to migrate north.15,16,17 More frequent and intense fires may change the migratory patterns of traditionally hunted animals and significantly alter landscape features used for navigating while hunting (or gathering).18

Impacts to aquatic species

Climate change will impact aquatic species that are important for subsistence and culture, and it will impact tribal sovereignty and rights associated with water resources, hunting, fishing, and gathering.19 Declining fish and loss of water supplies are directly impacting aquatic species.20

Impacts to ceremonies

Climate change could impact traditional ceremonies by changing the timing of plant life cycles.21 More and/or heavier precipitation could impact ceremonial cycles as well.22 Changes in snowmelt timing, glacial melting, and climate extremes like drought and flooding could jeopardize water used for ceremonial purposes.23 Flooding and fires could prevent access to ceremonial sites.24

IMG_0680
Climate change has the potential to impact traditional ceremonies, such as Pow wows like Native American Indian Days and Heart Butte Indian Days.  Photo by Libby Khumalo.

Impacts to artifacts

Climate change is expected to increase the exposure and deterioration of artifacts in the landscape. More artifacts could be exposed as glaciers melt.25 Decreased precipitation could expose submerged cultural sites in lakes, make sites more vulnerable to fire and wind, and increase exposure as vegetation is lost and erosion increases.26 Exposed artifacts and cultural sites are more likely to deteriorate faster with rising temperatures.27 Increased wildfires could damage structures and archaeological resources and increase susceptibility to erosion and flooding, as well as increase risk of looting after a fire.28,29 Heavy precipitation in the late winter and early spring could increase flooding and increase risk of artifact exposure.

Climate change could also impact museum collections. Increased temperatures could mean more stresses on heat, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in storage facilities and an increased need for environmental controls.30 In collections without appropriate climate controls, there may be an increased rate of chemical decay and greater stress on artifacts as temperatures warm.31 Increased precipitation and/or heavier precipitation could increase the risk of facility leaks or floods and potential wetting of museum pieces.32

Cultural Resources and Traditions Assessment

The location of concern is Blackfeet Nation-wide, and also includes traditional territories. The Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Office will also consider Pikuni items (artifacts) housed in collections outside of the Reservation. The timeframe begins now and extends into the future, as impacts are already occurring.

Probability of impacts to cultural resources and traditions
High

Confidence
High

Potential consequences of impacts
Potential consequences are high. Many Amskapi Pikuni believe that Creator has blessed us with tangible items (artifacts) that provide food security to our families (inniskim), protection and healing and answers to prayer (our paints, bundles, pipes, rattles, and other holy gifts from Creator).  Even at the very least, without a belief in the spiritual powers of these artifacts, they give many people a sense of purpose and meaning and a connection to our ancestors. In addition to providing a source of healing, protection, provision, strength, courage, peace, ability to escape the enemy, etc. sacred items and sites are irreplaceable.

Vulnerability:

Exposure
The exposure is high for impacting traditional lifeways and for impacting cultural resources like artifacts and sacred sites that reside on the landscape.

Sensitivity
High

Adaptive capacity
The adaptive capacity is medium. Political boundaries are rigid and not readily changeable, making it difficult to adapt to shifting plant and wildlife ranges and changes in abundance. Traditional lifeways were jeopardized by centuries of colonization and concerted efforts to suppress and eliminate native religious and traditional practices, with the result that many tribal members express concern about an ongoing loss of traditional knowledge. At the same time, years of effort by the tribe to repatriate bundles and other sacred beings from distant museums have resulted in a resurgence of traditional and ceremonial practices. The National Historic Preservation Act “gives” the tribe some level of control over cultural sites and artifacts outside the Reservation’s political borders. Reserved treaty rights allow access to specified public lands for wood and timber cutting, hunting, fishing, and gathering.

Adaptation is not new to the Blackfeet. For example, the Blackfeet have already adapted their spiritual practices under extreme circumstances. During the time when native religious practices were declared illegal, the Blackfeet moved the annual O’kaan from the late summer to the Fourth of July to mask their ceremony as a federally-sanctioned public event.33 Climate change will require similarly creative adaptive action.

Vulnerability
High.

Risk:

Estimated risk
The estimated risk is high, given that there are both high consequences and high probability.

Priority
Priority is high, given that there is high risk and high vulnerability.

Cultural Resources and Traditions Adaptation Strategies: Goals and Actions

Responsible party
All members of the Blackfeet Nation are responsible for protecting and preserving Blackfeet tribal culture and cultural properties, under the guidance of the Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Office.

Purpose (Goals)
To preserve and protect all that Creator has blessed us with, both spiritually and physically, in an effort to provide a sustainable model for future generations, no matter the stressors. With the help of the Holy Beings, Grandfathers and Grandmothers, etc. the Amskapi Pikuni have protected culture and ceremonies since the beginning of time… we continue to adapt.


Go to the next section: Fish

Go back to the Climate Change Adaptation Plan Home Page


Literature Cited

Cozzetto, K., K. Chief, and K. Dittmer. “Climate Change Impacts on the Water Resources of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the U.S.”. Climatic Change 120, no. 3 (2013): 569-84.

Curry, Renee, Charissa Eichman, Amanda Staudt, Garrit Voggesser, and Myra Wielnsky. “Facing the Storm: Indian Tribes, Climate-Induced Weather Extremes, and the Future for Indian Country.” National Wildlife Federation, 2011.

Lake, Frank K., and Jonathan W. Long. “Fire and Tribal Cultural Resources.” In Science synthesis to support socioecological resilience in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Range, edited by J.W.; Quinn-Davidson Long, L.; Skinner, C.N. Albany, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, 2014. https://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr247/chapters/psw_gtr247_chapter4_2.pdf.

LaPier, Rosalyn R. “Will Global Warming Change Native American Religious Practices?” The Conversation, 2017.

Melillo, Jerry M., Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe. “Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment.” 2014.

Mote, Philip. “Assessing Climate Change Effects on Natural and Cultural Resources of Significance to Northwest Tribes.” Northwest Climate Science Center, 2015.

Rockman, Marcy, Marissa Morgan, Sonya Ziaja, George Hambrecht, and Alison Meadow. “Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy.” Washington, D.C. : Cultural Resources, Partnerships, and Science and Climate Change Response Program, National Park Service, 2016.

The Treaty Tribes of Western Washington. “Climate Change and Our Natural Resources.” Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 2016.


Footnotes

[1] Jerry M. Melillo, Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe (2014), “Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment”, U.S. Global Change Research Program.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Treaty Tribes of Western Washington (2016), “Climate Change and Our Natural Resources”.

[4] Melillo, Richmond, and Yohe (2014), “Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment”.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Philip Mote (2015), “Assessing Climate Change Effects on Natural and Cultural Resources of Significance to Northwest Tribes”, Northwest Climate Science Center.

[7] Marcy Rockman et al. (2016), “Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy”.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Melillo, Richmond, and Yohe (2014), “Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment”.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Frank K. Lake and Jonathan W. Long (2014), “Fire and Tribal Cultural Resources,” ed. J.W.; Quinn-Davidson Long, L.; Skinner, C.N., Science synthesis to support socioecological resilience in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Range (Albany, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station),  https://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr247/chapters/psw_gtr247_chapter4_2.pdf.

[14] Rockman et al. (2016), “Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy”.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Melillo, Richmond, and Yohe (2014), “Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment”.

[17] The Treaty Tribes of Western Washington (2016), “Climate Change and Our Natural Resources”.

[18] Rockman et al. (2016), “Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy”.

[19] K. Cozzetto, K. Chief, and K. Dittmer (2013), “Climate Change Impacts on the Water Resources of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the U.S.,” Climatic Change 120, no. 3.

[20] The Treaty Tribes of Western Washington (2016), “Climate Change and Our Natural Resources”.

[21] Mote (2015), “Assessing Climate Change Effects on Natural and Cultural Resources of Significance to Northwest Tribes”.

[22] Rockman et al. (2016), “Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy”.

[23] Cozzetto, Chief, and Dittmer (2013), “Climate Change Impacts on the Water Resources of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the U.S..”

[24] The Treaty Tribes of Western Washington (2016), “Climate Change and Our Natural Resources”.

[25] Rockman et al. (2016), “Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy”.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Renee Curry et al. (2011), “Facing the Storm: Indian Tribes, Climate-Induced Weather Extremes, and the Future for Indian Country”, National Wildlife Federation.

[30] Rockman et al. (2016), “Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy”.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Rosalyn R. LaPier (2017), “Will Global Warming Change Native American Religious Practices?,” The Conversation.

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