As a result of the climate crisis, people are seeking solutions to mitigate and adapt to more severe storms, loss of species, food insecurity, and increased health risks. Native communities remain some of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including extreme weather events, often times due to the lack of access to resources and infrastructure. Furthermore, Indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted by climate change (Billiot et al, 2019) because of their dependence on local ecosystems for sustenance (Trainor et al, 2007) and medicines. Therefore, the need to create and implement climate solutions that are driven by communities is urgent. Now more than ever, Indigenous knowledge should be integrated as a tool to inform climate change mitigation and adaptation (Mbah et al, 2021).
This is why First Nations is committed to supporting tribes and Native-led nonprofits in operationalizing their climate adaptation plans in an effort to increase climate resilience in Native communities. In 2022, 11 grants were awarded to support projects aimed at addressing climate resilience in Native communities through climate proofing infrastructure and services, climate risk assessments, climate adaptation plan implementation, and emergency response and preparedness. Although several projects focus on addressing climate proofing infrastructure and services and climate adaptation plan implementation, each community action looks very different based on distinct needs and risks.
Responding to change
Climate proofing infrastructure and services is a process that integrates climate change mitigation and adaptation measures into the development and management of infrastructure projects. Global warming has increased the frequency of heat and extreme precipitation events (Robinson et al, 2021) and has doubled the incidence of forest fires since 1984 (Mansoor, 2022), all of which impact traditional (e.g. energy) and nature-based (e.g. forests) infrastructure.
Approximately 40% of the Navajo Nation lacks running water, and their primary water sources are threatened by drought (Redsteer et al, 2013). Seeds of Harmony, based in Arizona, is addressing climate proofing infrastructure and services through water conservation planning. They’re leveraging the Navajo Nation’s climate adaptation plan to engage community members in harvesting and recycling water, while hosting community trainings on grazing management practices and watershed restoration of Lukachukai Creek.
Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians of California is creating a climate adaptation plan for their reservation land focused on identifying and mitigating fire-related risks, which will allow them combat the impacts of extreme weather events, sustainably expand their community housing, and reclaim the tribe’s practice of cultural burning. Cultural burning is a practice used by many California-based tribes to restore ecosystems and reduce wildfire risk (Long et al, 2020).
Co-management is a different adaptation strategy that can be considered for climate adaptation plan implementation. It is meant to encompass shared decision-making authority in land management based on meaningful tribal engagement and coordination (Mills et al, 2021). Brave Heart Society is climate proofing their community infrastructure and services by developing a co-management plan to assess water contamination and mitigate flood risk by interviewing Yankton Sioux Tribal members, local U.S. Fish & Wildlife and Bureau of Indian Affairs staff, and Lake Andes city residents. The plan will protect cultural resources in the lake and surrounding wetland areas.
Climate adaptation implementation and food sovereignty
Subsistence practices are diverse among and within tribes, and they embody the culture of tribal communities. These practices should be prioritized in climate adaptation planning as they are necessary for reducing food insecurity and maintaining local ecosystems. Communities that address climate mitigation and adaptation not only ensure food security and access to traditional foods in their areas, but also strengthen cultural identity (Kurashima et al, 2019).
Alaska is facing the most intense and immediate effects of climate change and coastal-related hazards (Hassol et al, 2006). Chugach Regional Resources Commission is working to create a nature-based coastal armoring resiliency implementation plan that will mitigate the impact of flooding events. Reducing the risk of coastal erosion will ensure the operation of the tribally managed shellfish hatchery and nursery.
On the other side of the North Pacific Ocean, Aina Momona is creating opportunities to mitigate climate -related erosion and drought while also increasing food production of subsistence resources. They are training Native Hawaiians to prepare planting sites, reintroduce native food crops, and harvest and prepare traditional food. These food crops will provide ground cover, increase water retention, and prevent erosion on target sites across the island of Moloka’i.
The path forward
First Nations is supporting tribes and Native-led nonprofits to address environmental concerns with the hope that these communities can inform climate solutions with Indigenous knowledge, and restore their Native identity. Overcoming historical injustice, namely displacement, is an ongoing and challenging process. But this restoration is necessary as cultural identity is tied to place. When Native peoples were forcibly removed from their lands a piece of their identity was stolen. As communities work to restore their cultural practices we restore our true selves. It is through this restoration that Native peoples can be change agents in bringing relevant information to the table as tribal, local, state, and federal governments work in collaboration to address the climate crisis.
Senior Program Officer
Billiot, Shanondora, et al. “Indigenous perspectives for strengthening social responses to global environmental changes: A response to the social work grand challenge on environmental change.” Journal of Community Practice 27.3-4 (2019): 296-316.
Hassol, Susan Joy, and Robert W. Corell. “Arctic climate impact assessment.” Avoiding dangerous climate change 21 (2006): 205-213.
Kurashima, Natalie, Lucas Fortini, and Tamara Ticktin. “The potential of indigenous agricultural food production under climate change in Hawaiʻi.” Nature Sustainability 2.3 (2019): 191-199.
Long, Jonathan W., et al. “How traditional tribal perspectives influence ecosystem restoration.” Ecopsychology 12.2 (2020): 71-82.
Mansoor, Sheikh, et al. “Elevation in wildfire frequencies with respect to the climate change.” Journal of Environmental management 301 (2022): 113769.
Mbah, Marcellus, Sandra Ajaps, and Petra Molthan-Hill. “A systematic review of the deployment of indigenous knowledge systems towards climate change adaptation in developing world contexts: Implications for climate change education.” Sustainability 13.9 (2021): 4811.
Mills, Monte, and Martin Nie. “Bridges to a New Era: A Report on the Past, Present, and Potential Future of Tribal Co-Management on Federal Public Lands.” Pub. Land & Resources L. Rev. 44 (2021): 49.
Redsteer, Margaret H., et al. “Increasing vulnerability of the Navajo people to drought and climate change in the southwestern United States: Accounts from Tribal Elders.” Special report on indigenous people, marginalized populations and climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2013).
Robinson, Alexander, et al. “Increasing heat and rainfall extremes now far outside the historical climate.” npj Climate and Atmospheric Science 4.1 (2021): 45.
Trainor, Sarah F., et al. “Arctic climate impacts: environmental injustice in Canada and the United States.” Local Environment 12.6 (2007): 627-643.