Climate changes a harsh reality for many Native Americans

The Internet Press Service reports that an Inupiaq village on an island north of the Bering Strait is seeing its way of life gradually disappear due to higher temperatures, rising sea levels, declining numbers of sea animals, and shrinking shorelines wrought by climate change.

Compared to the general population in the United States, Indigenous peoples are feeling the impact disproportionately, according to a report published Wednesday by the National Wildlife Federation.

Kim Gottschalk, a staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, stated that “indigenous people . . . have a unique relationship to the natural system in which they live.” As a result, “they are the first to be affected” by changes in the climate and physical world, he added.

The average 45 percent unemployment rate among Tribes means that the added costs and damage, both social and economic, resulting from climate change only exacerbate the struggles for communities facing high rates of poverty. Some 565 federally recognised Tribes exist in the United States, which has an American Indian and Alaska Native population of 3.2 million.

In several tribal areas of the U.S., such as Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation, and sections of Washington state home to Hoh, Quinault, and Quileute Tribes, and other sections of the Pacific Northwest inhabited by Tulalip Tribes, changing water flow or glacial melting patterns leading to flooding or shifts in river flows are damaging fisheries and agricultural infrastructure, not to mention homes and buildings.

Gary Morishima, a founding member of Our Natural Resources (ONR) – a coalition of over 30 Tribes and Tribal organizations developing a strategy to conserve natural resources – pointed out in an interview that credible research has shown that “the funding that’s spent to support the efforts of indigenous communities is far more effective” than pouring dollars into government-run, bureaucratic mechanisms.

A World Bank study declared that in Latin America, lands under the control of indigenous people are less prone to forest fires than other protected areas. This example is outstanding proof, Aguto told IPS, that giving funding to indigenous peoples is an extremely effective way of preventing forest fires.

Those promoting the inclusion of Tribal perspectives in climate change discussions argue that this type of knowledge of indigenous peoples should be applied in other areas of environmental protection.

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