Draft:Native American Responses to Climate Change

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  • Symbol opinion vote.svg Comment: This reads like advocacy and the effects of climate change on Native Americans rather than solely their responses. This can be merged into the Climate change and indigenous persons section on North America, which covers these groups in general. AngusWOOF (barksniff) 01:39, 28 May 2019 (UTC)

Native Americans respond to climate change through a variety of factors, including education, technology, negotiations, and agriculture. However there are also restrictions on these responses, both market and state driven, which restrict the adaptive capacity of Native Americans and increase their vulnerability.


Education is considered by Carrie Billy of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium to be the most important responses to Climate Change, as it is the most immediate and an investment into the future.[1] Education is then a prerequisite to other responses, such that people who want to cause change in their environment must first be educated in the events taking place. From increased education levels, the concept is that Native Americans would be more equipped to combat the symptoms of Climate Change, and adapt to them accordingly. Statistically, the US 2010 Census recorded that 13% of Native Americans have at least a bachelor's degree, which is 15% less than the national average in USA.[2] To increase education levels, schemes have been put in place such as the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), Indigenous Governance Program (IGP), and education in Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK).

The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) was a group established in 1973 that currently consists of 37 Universities and Colleges, with each being a private tribal institution. The focus on the group is the general education of Native Americans, in what they call the ‘Tribal College Movement’.[3] In particular the AIHEC places emphasis on comparing Traditional Ecological Knowledge with a standard western view of Climate Change, and how the two might interact.[4]

The Indigenous Governance Program (IGP) is a smaller educational program based in Arizona and initiated in 2012. It involves a partnership with the local University of Arizona, but aims to provide free education to candidates that make entry. The IGP quantify that they have attracted a cross section of Native Americans from more than 50 tribes, and a cross section from over 100 tribes have completed online modules.[5]

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEKs) in contrast to the mainstream education system, is the concept that over thousands of years Native Americans have developed their own knowledge of the land and how to survive. The idea suggests the will to live with nature and unionize with nature rather than to seek to control or change it in any real way, with TEK's being considered the basis of Native American's adaptive capacity.[6] Utilizing as such, they seek to economize their usage of the land, and combat Climate Change in this way.[7] Del Laverdure of the Crow Tribe in Montana is of the opinion that TEKs should also be incorporated where possible into national legislation, and that this body of knowledge that Native Americans have accumulated should be implemented at a national scale in response to Climate Change.


Melting of Arctic Ice Over Time

Investment as a response to Climate Change is a direct action, aimed at improving technology in some capacity to weather the symptoms of the evolving climate.

In Alaska, Ice caps are melting, and temperatures are heating. People are recognizing that the ice is no longer as safe as it was. This is crucial due to the Native Tribe’s usage of ice, such as housing, refrigeration; and furthermore in terms of safety, where ice cracks may lead to a loss of resources, harm, or in the extreme case, death.[8] The response is one of infrastructure investment, and the production of structures made to withstand and combat the symptoms of climate change. Mike Williams of the Akiak Tribe says the response for his tribe has been that people have to travel further north to obtain safe ice, with the investment being one of time, risk, and cold. Mike Williams hopes the long term response will be one of permanent movement north for his tribe.[9]

More generally, Native Americans on average have access to inadequate water supplies or structures, with the implication being that they are more prone to waterborne diseases, and extreme events such as flooding. The response being undertaken is the production of such infrastructure as waste water treatment plants and improved drainage systems for storm water.[10] Jeff Mears of the Oneida Tribe says his government is looking towards the future and attempting to improve structural integrity and design where possible.[11] As well as tribal responses, nationwide funds have been put in place such as the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which aims to raise $45 million annually to the cause; and the Indian Health Service (IHS) which aims to raise $3.39 billion for the construction of sanitary facilities.[12]


Agriculture as a response to Climate Change is one of causality. Native Americans in their necessity to live off the land have had to respond directly to impacts on their land, whether that be through revitalizing the land or changing it in some way.

In the Midwestern America, Climate Change has caused increasingly arid and infertile land, as well as an increased prevalence of sand dunes which in turn affects agricultural, farming, and even housing space. In response to this, there was been attempts to restore indigenous flora which are resistant to the harsh conditions of the American Midwest, and aren’t as susceptible to desertification. Further initiatives have been put in place with the same motive, such as reforestation.[13] The concept behind replanting and reforestation is an abstract response to Climate Change itself, aimed at lessening the carbon in our atmosphere through the natural process of respiration and photosynthesis and thus converting it clean oxygen. Utilizing such a method is geared at keeping climate change below those levels set at the Paris Agreement, and prolonging adaptation time. The Jamez Tribe in northern Mexico works towards this concept of reforestation through fire regimes and policy.[13]

Coral Bleaching in Hawaii

In Hawaii, local tribes have had to respond to Climate Change’s effect on coral, and coral bleaching. This has been necessary as Native tribes in Hawaii find sustenance off the fish living amongst the coral, and yet the bleaching and subsequent death of local coral drives away their food reserves. A current method being utilized is the replanting of coral to areas not as effective, where they can then thrive. Kitty Simonds of the Hawaii Tribe and member of the Western Pacific Regional Management Council (Wespec) advocated this coral replanting method, and is scrutinizing contemporary attempts by the Trump administration to remove the commercial fishing bad in Pacific waters and allow US fishermen to enter the area.[14][15]

In Alaska, Many of the Climate Change problems stem from the unstable condition imposed by warmer temperatures. This poses the problem of salmon reserves, where warmer water conditions cause the early migration of salmon, upsetting a natural food reserve. There is also increased potential for flooding due to melting of the ice caps, leading to the destruction of estuaries, which habitat Native Alaskan food reserves such as Salmon and assorted Shellfish.[10] Micah McCarty of the Makah Tribe expressed his concern over this issue, and suggested possible responses such as improvement and regulation of catchment areas, and infrastructure to protect estuaries. A longer term response might be the change of food sources.[16]


Negotiations have been a major response to Climate Change, and in particular the Native American push for federal or even global negotiations to be inclusive of tribal leaders. This stems from the fact that they feel they are a directly affected party,[17] and thus feel that they should be part of negotiations that aim for some kind of change. Jerry Pardilla of the Penobscot Nation and member of National Tribal Enviornmental Council (NTEC) is very vocal on this, and states national efforts to combat climate change should be inclusive of the people that Climate Change affects.[18] This has led to the establishment of a multitude of groups such as The National Congress of American Indians, The Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the previously mentioned American Indian Higher Education Consortium.[4] Bureau of Indian Affairs member Del Laverdure as mentioned above is pressing for legislative inclusion of Native American, as is Jose Aguto, member of the National Congress of American Indians.

Negotiations as well as those with Native Americans and the Federal Government also take between between the two entities with regards to Sovereign Nation Rights. There has been an ongoing push for Sovereign Nation Rights to be recognized for Native American tribes, which would in turn grant greater negotiating power, as well as increased access to financial resources to combat the symptoms of Climate Change on their land.[4] This is known as the Tribal Sovereignty Movement that begun in the 1970s and still plays out today in courts, where the result of a case is either a step forward of a step back from complete sovereignty for Native Americans. In the 2009 case Narragansett Indian Tribe v Rhode Island Department of Transportation,[19] the Narragansett was denied sovereignty and the majority of judges held that their land was under not under the Federal Trust and sovereignty by the Narragansett tribe was denied. Negotiations for sovereign rights as a prerequisite to combating Climate Change is a slow movement at present.[20]

Limitations on Adaptions[edit]

Despite the wide variety of responses, many problems still exists that prevent the potential of these responses from being realized, and imposing limitations on their adaptive capacity.

State Based Factors[edit]

In terms of state based factors, this is the concept that Native Americans more often than not did not choose the location of their reservations. This can be seen firstly through the Indian Removal Act (1830), which legislated the concentration of Native Americans into Mid-Western America, and then through following events such as the Louisiana Purchase and the subsequent Indian Wars which imposed conditions upon the local residents.[21] Today, Native Americans are still restricted through the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. The act is on aimed at giving traditional lands rights and sovereignty back to tribes, however the mechanism and qualification for such as determined in court cases. The trend in general has been a denial of rights by the state, and in turn a restriction of where the tribes might be located.[22]

Market Based Factors[edit]

In terms of market based factors, this is the concept that sociopolitical factors such as racism and poverty inherent in society have restricted the geographical movement of tribes, and thus restricted their capacity to adapt to Climate Change. Initially this was through the above state based factors, which legislated or forced a location on Native Americans. However once these locations were established, the self-perpetuating theme of poverty can then applied to describe the reality of later generations which has in turn restricted the movement of Tribes.[21] This is important when realizing the need for Tribes to move in order to adapt; such as how in Alaska, hazardous conditions might prompt the will to move inland, however this is constrained by the cost of doing so. This can also be seen in mid-western America, where increasingly arid and deforested conditions might prompt the will to move elsewhere,[10] however the mid-west is also home to large coal and oil reserves which make up the majority of their income, such as the Navajo Generating Station.[4]


  1. ^ Peterson, Richard (2015-11-09). "Connection and Commitment: The Career of Carrie Billy". Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  2. ^ Office, US Census Bureau Public Information. "Facts for Features: American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month: November 2011 - Facts for Features & Special Editions - Newsroom - U.S. Census Bureau". www.census.gov. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  3. ^ "AIHEC: Who We Are". www.aihec.org. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  4. ^ a b c d Weinhold, Bob (2010). "HEALTH DISPARITIES: Climate Change and Health: A Native American Perspective". Environmental Health Perspectives. 118 (2): A64–5. doi:10.1289/ehp.118-a64. PMC 2831938. PMID 20123636.
  5. ^ "The Program". Indigenous Governance Program. 2019-05-21. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  6. ^ "Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges in Climate Change Initiatives". Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges in Climate Change Initiatives. Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  7. ^ Pierotti, Raymond; Wildcat, Daniel (2000). "Traditional Ecological Knowledge: The Third Alternative (Commentary)". Ecological Applications. 10 (5): 1333–1340. doi:10.1890/1051-0761(2000)010[1333:TEKTTA]2.0.CO;2. hdl:1808/16685. ISSN 1051-0761.
  8. ^ Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (PDF) (Report). Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC. 2007. p. 83.
  9. ^ PBS NewsHour (2012-07-19), Native American Communities Plan for Climate Change Future, retrieved 2019-05-31
  10. ^ a b c Cozzetto, K.; Chief, K.; Dittmer, K.; Brubaker, M.; Gough, R.; Souza, K.; Ettawageshik, F.; Wotkyns, S.; Opitz-Stapleton, S.; Duren, S.; Chavan, P. (2013). "Climate change impacts on the water resources of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the U.S". Climatic Change. 120 (3): 569–584. Bibcode:2013ClCh..120..569C. doi:10.1007/s10584-013-0852-y.
  11. ^ PBS NewsHour (2012-07-19), Native American Communities Plan for Climate Change Future, retrieved 2019-05-31
  12. ^ National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). Tribal Infrastructure: Investing in Indian Country for a Stronger America. An initial report by NCAI to the Administration and Congress. 2017.
  13. ^ a b Liebmann, Matthew J.; Farella, Joshua; Roos, Christopher I.; Stack, Adam; Martini, Sarah; Swetnam, Thomas W. (2016). "Native American depopulation, reforestation, and fire regimes in the Southwest United States, 1492–1900 CE". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 113 (6): E696–E704. Bibcode:2016PNAS..113E.696L. doi:10.1073/pnas.1521744113. PMC 4760783. PMID 26811459.
  14. ^ "Four Pacific Marine National Monuments Face Threat Under Trump Order". Earth Island Journal. Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  15. ^ "Wespac Director Blames Tourists for Decline in Reef Fish -". Retrieved 2019-05-16.
  16. ^ PBS NewsHour (2012-07-19), Native American Communities Plan for Climate Change Future, retrieved 2019-05-31
  17. ^ Broder, John M. (2011-08-03). "Climate Change an Extra Burden for Native Americans, Study Says". Green Blog. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  18. ^ "Nation's Tribes Asking Congress for Swift Action on Climate Legislation". Native American Rights Fund. 2009-03-02. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  19. ^ "Narragansett Indian Tribe v. Rhode Island Department of Transportation, No. 17-1951 (1st Cir. 2018)". Justia Law. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  20. ^ "Understanding Tribal Sovereignty: The Native American Rights Fund | Expedition Magazine". www.penn.museum. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  21. ^ a b Hooks, Gregory; Smith, Chad L. (2004). "The Treadmill of Destruction: National Sacrifice Areas and Native Americans". American Sociological Review. 69 (4): 558–575. doi:10.1177/000312240406900405.
  22. ^ "Understanding Tribal Sovereignty: The Native American Rights Fund | Expedition Magazine". www.penn.museum. Retrieved 2019-05-31.

Category:American culture