Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that Indigenous peoples of North America are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change. The most vulnerable industries, settlements, and societies are generally those in coastal and river flood plains; those whose economies are closely linked with climate-sensitive resources; and those in areas prone to extreme weather events. Nearly all tribes fit into one of those categories, and most Alaska Native communities fit into all three.

Alaska Native villagers are among America’s first climate refugees. Temperatures in Alaska are rising at twice the rate of other parts of the world, and a federal report finds that 184 out of 213 (86 percent) Alaska Native villages are susceptible to flooding and erosion, with 31 villages qualifying for permanent relocation. The Environmental Protection Agency predicts that the next 40 to 80 years will see the loss of more than half of the salmon and trout habitats throughout the United States. These are fish that a large number of tribes rely on for subsistence, cultural practices, and economic development. Native foods and fisheries are also declining, and tribal access to traditional foods and medicines is often limited by reservation boundaries. The large role of climate change in separating tribal people from their natural resources poses a threat to Indigenous identity.

At the same time, tribal ecological wisdom and practices, acquired through the accumulation of centuries of practices, beliefs, and distinct interactions with the natural world, are increasingly recognized by the larger society’s efforts to address climate change. Tribal ecological knowledge is time-tested, climate resilient, sustainable, and cost-effective.

The uniquely far-reaching and disproportionate impact of climate change upon Native peoples, as well as the invaluable practices and perspectives Native peoples bring, merits strong and urgent action by the federal government. This action should include support for tribal efforts to build resilience and to preserve the uniqueness and diversity of tribal cultures. In the present absence of federal climate change legislation, NCAI continues to work with Congress and the Administration to ensure consistent inclusion of tribal interests and expertise across the array of climate-related laws, policies, and programs. NCAI also seeks to assist with unifying tribal efforts to address climate change.

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