Indigenous communities are adapting to climate change

Entrance into Standing Rock_Kim.jpg
Photo by Larry Ground.

Imagine watching the sea rise closer to your home each year, fearing it will flood your home or erode the shore so much that your home collapses. Yet this very challenge caused the Native Alaskan village of Shishmaref to decide to relocate to a new place. Many Alaskan communities, like the Yupik, are seeing a loss of traditional foods and an erosion of their culture as ice melts and sea levels rise.

Sea level rise, Arctic ice melt, and displacement are only three of many climate change impacts facing indigenous communities in the United States. According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, overarching impacts also include loss of traditional knowledge, increased food insecurity, changes in water availability, thawing permafrost, and relocation. These impacts require creative planning and action by communities who want to be resilient in a changing climate.

Recognizing the threats posed by climate change, indigenous communities are adapting, and many are leading the way in adapting to climate change and building resilience.

Here are four examples of tribal climate change adaptation initiatives:

  • Wetlands restoration helps protect water and wildlife habitat as climate change increases drought risk. The Yakama Nation’s  recent wetlands restoration project had the co-benefit of bringing a traditional food, called wapato, back to their lands. Their work shows how climate-adaptative efforts can combine with with other goals, like supporting access to locally-based foods, improving health care, and strengthening culture.
  • Several departments in the Blackfeet Nation are embarking on a joint project to increase protections of beaver and to restore riparian areas. These efforts will increase natural water storage and increase resilience against drought.
  • In October 2015, the Confederates Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) created the EAGLES Program to engage community youth in sustainability projects, asking youth to take leadership in environmental sustainability and climate change adaptation. EAGLES are junior high and high school students who serve as “Environmental Advocates for Global Logical Ecological Sustainability” in local schools. As of September, 2017, there were 40 EAGLES in Arlee, Montana and about 45 active members in St. Ignatius, Montana. Chapters have recently begun in other area schools. EAGLES have built a school and community garden and a greenhouse to encourage local food production, educated school staff about how to reduce energy consumption in schools, cleaned parks, improved school grounds, increased environmental awareness among students, and have initiated and overseen school recycling programs.
  • The Mescalero Apache Tribe has undertaken a variety of adaptation initiatives, including constructing a pond to serve as an alternative water supply to the fish hatchery, adding protection in the event of severe flooding (see more here).

Many other adaptation initiatives are underway, especially as more tribes complete their climate adaptation plans.

Next, learn about the Climate Warriors Internship Program, here in the Blackfeet Nation.

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