Native Village 
Youth and Education News

December 1, 2013

8 Tribes That Are Way Ahead of the Climate-Adaptation  Curve
Condensed by Native Village

Climate Change Projections for the year 2100
Estimates  Sea Level Rise Temperature Change
In the year 2008: 1 - 1 1/2 feet 3°F° - 5°F°
Latest estimates: 4 - 4 1/2 feet  6°F° -  9°F°

The alarming rates of climate change are triggering efforts to develop climate-change-adaptation plans. Studies, climate models, and a re-analysis of all information point to humans as the main cause of these changes.

Among these dire pronouncements and warnings is a bright spot:

It may not be too late to turn the tide and pull Mother Earth back from the brink.

This isn't news to the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island. Their understanding of environmental issues comes from thousands of years of historical perspective. Native Americans live at the forefront of environmental changes and have been forced to adapt.

With their preexisting knowledge and ability to read environmental signs, the tribes below are leading the way with climate-change plans:

From Proclamation to Action

Swinomish Tribe
 Washington State

In 2006, a strong storm pushed tides several feet above normal, flooding and damaging Swinomish reservation property.  This spurred the tribe to find appropriate responses to climate change. Since then they have implemented a concrete action plan.

In 2007, the Swinomish became the first tribal nation to pass a Climate Change proclamation. In 2008, they began a 2-year project.  By 2009 they had issued an impact report, and in 2010 they released an action plan of “next step” implementation projects. Several of those projects are now under way,including Coastal Protection Measures, Code Changes, Community Health Assessment and Wildfire Protection.

The Swinomish won funding to help support the $400,000 Swinomish Climate Change Initiative from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the Administration for Native Americans.

“The latest reports reflect accelerated rates of sea level rise and temperature increases, among others," said Ed Knight.  “We are currently passing 400 ppm of CO2, on track for [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] worst-case scenarios.” 

More tribes are addressing climate change on their communities and resources. The Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) has received funding to conduct climate adaptation training.

Rising Sea Levels and Ocean Acidification

Jamestown S’Klallam:
Washington State

Jamestown S’Klallam tribal citizens live in an ecosystem that has sustained them for thousands of years.  Although they've adapted to climate change in the past, the current and projected climate change prompted them to step it up. 

It became apparent when tribal members noticed ocean acidification in the failure of oyster and shellfish larvae.

“Everyone who was part of the advisory group all had their personal testimony  as to the changes they’d seen,” said Hansi Hals, the tribe’s environmental  planning program manager. “Everybody  had something to say.”

Tribal members took their concerns to the Natural Resources committee and tribal council three years ago, Hals said. Th
eir climate  vulnerability assessment and adaptation plan identifies key tribal resources, outlines expected impacts from climate change, and creates adaptation strategies for each resource.

It included sea-level-rise maps are for three time frames, near (low), mid-century (medium) and end of century (high.

Bolstering Tribal Resilience

Mescalero Apache
Southwestern New Mexico


The Mescalero Apache's Tribal lands flank the Sacramento Mountains and border Lincoln National Forest. Growing  numbers of intense wildfires are destroying their drought-compromised woodlands. 

The tribe has undertaken innovative environmental initiatives to bolster tribal resilience to climate change impacts. One example is a pond built as an alternative water supply for the fish hatchery. It holds 500,000 gallons of water from a river 3,600 feet away.

“It’s all gravity fed,” said Mike Montoya, director of the tribe's Fisheries Department.  “Now, with the aid of solar powered water pumps, we are able to supply water to our community garden.”

Defending the Klamath River

Karuk Tribe
Northern California

With lands around the Klamath River and Six Rivers National Forests, the Klamath Tribe is implementing parts of its  Eco-Cultural Resources Management Draft Plan.

Released in 2010, the plan blends the best available science, local observations, and Traditional Ecological  Knowledge. From this, the Karuk will create an integrated approach that addresses natural resource management confronts the potential impacts of climate change.

Strategic  Planning

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

In 2011, the Tribal Science Council identified climate change and traditional ecological knowledge as the top two priorities for tribes across the nation. In 2013, the Salish and Kootenai adopted a Climate Change Strategic Plan. So did the Inter-Tribal Timber Council

Financial support came from groups affiliated with the Kresge foundation and from the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Next the tribes will establish a Climate Change Oversight Committee. This committee will:

Monitor progress
Coordinate funding requests
Continue researching Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Incorporate strategic planning results into other guiding document
Update the plan on a regular basis based on updated science

Preservation Via Carbon Sequestration

Nez Perce Tribe

In 1990s, the Nez Perce Forestry & Fire Management Division developed a carbon offset strategy to market carbon sequestration credits. Several years later the Tribe recognized that carbon sequestration on forested lands would preserve natural resources, generate jobs and income, and reduce greenhouse gases emissions into the atmosphere.

The Nez Perce's afforestation project is meant to establish marketable carbon offsets, promote understand of potential carbon markets, and fund implementation and administration projects.

The tribe says raising awareness and educating other tribes about carbon sales and the opportunities for more carbon sequestration projects as its biggest accomplishment of the last two years.

Attacking Greenhouse Gas  Emissions

Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians

In 1998 the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians formed the Santa Ynez Chumash Environmental Office. Their goals were to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change on tribal peoples, land and resources.

SYCEO’s many projects have had impressive results, including  major reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
One example is the Chumash Casino’s shuttle bus program. In 2009, it eliminated 800,000 car trips with 66,000 bus trips.

The casino has reduced its energy consumption, chemical waste and use of one-use materials. It also has an  extensive rainwater and gray water collection and treatment system. Many initiatives have proven economical and offer a model for tribal and non-tribal businesses to implement similar changes.

The tribe is now investigating future plans. They include opening a public compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station, replacing our fleet with CNG vehicles, installing EV charging stations, implementing an innovative home, and building upgrade training program.

Ultimate Adaptation Plan—Evacuation

Newtok Village

Newtok Village is home to some of America's first climate refugees. Sea and river cut through, then eroded, the permafrost beneath their Native Alaskan village. A 1983 assessment predicted Newtok would be endangered within 25- 30 years. In 1994, Newtok began working on the ultimate adaptation plan: relocation.

In 1996, they chose to relocate 9 miles south in Martarvik. Their efforts intensified when an
Army Corps of Engineers study said Newtok's highest point would be below sea level by 2017.

In 2006, The Newtok community, government agencies and other organizations formed the Newtok Planning Group. But Stanley Tom, Newtok's administrator, said funding has been nearly impossible to find.

He is now calling for Newtok's evacuation.

"It's really happening right now,” has said last May. “The village is sinking and flooding  and eroding."

At the time, Tom was moving his own belongings to the new, still very sparse Martarvik village site. He advised fellow villagers to start doing the same. 

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