The browser or device you are using is out of date. It has known security flaws and a limited feature set. You will not see all the features of some websites. Please update your browser. A list of the most popular browsers can be found below.
But the effects of climate change span much farther than the arid Southwest. It’s an issue that has been affecting indigenous peoples everywhere. That’s according to Sue Wotkyns, program manager for the Institute of Tribal Environmental Professionals, an organization that supports tribes in the management of their environmental resources.
“Alaska is already being impacted quite severely. The temperature increase up there has been greater than the global average, and it’s affecting the permafrost,” she explained. Wotkyns added that the impacts weren’t just confined to the country’s cold climates. “We have colleagues in the Midwest who have voiced concerns over the fact that there’s sort of this rapid shift northward for certain species ranges.”
In the Pacific Northwest, tribes like the Nooksack Indian Tribe have concerns over the health of area salmon populations, while farther east, tribes like the Pointe-au-Chien are grappling with a steady loss of land due to erosion and sea level rise.
Wotkyns added that while climate change affects everyone, Native American communities are particularly vulnerable thanks to their heavy dependence on natural resources and a general lack of funding to support things like emergency response and infrastructure.
But she said, times are changing. In the last few years, she has seen more interest among tribes to actively address the impact of climate change.
Assistant secretary of Indian affairs
The Obama administration is also well aware of this growing interest. As part of the president’s national climate action plan, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, also known as the BIA, has awarded about $625,000 worth of grant money to 19 tribes and tribal consortiums, to support them in addressing the challenges of climate change.
Tribes know best what they’re facing, said Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn.
“Let’s put the money in the hands of the people who know how to respond,” he said.
Washburn acknowledged that the funding was rather humble in comparison with other initiatives, but he believed the money could go a long way in Native America.
“Ordinarily, I think the way we’d like to deal with climate change is to introduce a lot of bold, very expensive new initiatives to try to deal with it,” he said. “But in a fiscal scenario where we have the Murray-Ryan budget caps and a very divided Congress on fiscal issues, and also a very divided Congress on climate change issues, we’ve had to be more modest.”
But modest or not, it was funding that Jeff Hetrick, the director of the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, Alaska, will gladly put to good use.
“The funding is extremely important,” he explained. “It’s not like there’s funding just sitting around.”
The Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, in coordination with its parent company, the Chugach Regional Resources Commission, received about $58,000 from the BIA through the grant system. Hetrick said the commission planned to use this funding as seed money to begin a three-phase project aimed at revealing the vulnerabilities that exist within the Prince William Sound region’s seven Native communities, such as the salmon resources.
“The marine environment is likely to change,” he said. “In fact, we’re seeing these changes already.”
Because these Native communities live among such unforgiving conditions in Alaska, knowing what to expect from climate change and having a good plan in place for when it happens is vital to their well-being, Hetrick said.
Nicholas Reo, an environmental and Native American studies professor at Dartmouth College, added that the rest of the country could learn a lot from how tribes adapt to their fluctuating environment.
“Indigenous peoples have a lot of experience adapting to rapid change, so there’s a certain amount of experience and wisdom there,” he said. “It’s going to be important for communities and could be important to broader society. “
In a recent issue of the peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change, Reo, along with about 50 other Dartmouth researchers, concluded that the traditional knowledge held within tribal communities could ultimately help the rest of the nation adapt to climate change.
At this point, Reo said, there’s no turning back the clock.
A sentiment Chavez said he knows all too well.
“Mother Nature has its own schedule, and we’re at her mercy,” he explained. “We have to be prepared.“
3-PT SERIES: DROUGHT IN INDIAN COUNTRY
If dry conditions continue, the state’s animal populations could suffer irreversible damage
Native Americans tune in to an old-fashioned technology that keeps languages and communities alive.
Thousands of workers could be laid off as land is left fallow and farm owners seek to save their businesses