Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series on how drought affects Native Americans and their communities. Part 1 looked at how drought can hit those communities harder.
SANTO DOMINGO PUEBLO, N.M. — On a brisk winter morning last month, Everett Chavez climbed into the driver’s seat of a dust-covered SUV he calls “the Brown Bomber,” a vehicle that helped him maneuver the dirt roads of the agricultural lands of the Santo Domingo Pueblo, affording a closer look at the tribe’s new pipe-based irrigation system.
Chavez, whose official title is tribal affairs liaison, pointed to several fields being prepped for the start of the growing season, which now support crops from green chili to corn to alfalfa, all thanks to the new system. But things in this valley haven’t always been this fertile.
“Up until we did this here, there was fallow land,” he said.
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.”