Karen Diver is the first woman to head the tribal council for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. In November she hit another first: She and Mayor Reggie Joule of the Northwest (Alaska) Arctic Borough, were the two Natives appointed to President Barack Obama’s White House Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, which he announced in November along with his sweeping climate change plan.
Diver has held her post with Fond du Lac since 2007. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 1987 with a degree in economics and in 2003 received a master in public administration degree through a Bush Foundation Leadership Fellow at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. Diver graciously took time out during the holiday season to respond to several questions about her hopes for this task force’s work and how Native voices are critical to these issues.
How did you come to be appointed to this task force; have you done climate-change work in the past?
I was appointed following a nomination by the Great Lakes Intertribal Council. The Fond du Lac ratified the Kyoto Protocol in early 2007. We have undertaken numerous projects to deal both with climate change and preparedness. Some examples include reducing energy usage in commercial buildings, installing solar and building a more resilient community.
Given the 2012 flood that forced evacuations on the reservation, what do you see as important preparations that other communities—tribal or not—should be considering?
Fond du Lac is assuming that we will be dealing with increasing climate events. We replaced a damaged road with a bridge, understanding that standard culverts will not handle increasing flooding events. We are also doing work to help our homes be more resilient with water management, installing gutters, and the like.
How dependent are Fond du Lac members on locally harvested produce or game? Is this one of the concerns as you consider the changing climate?
Fond du Lac has a quite successful community garden program, supporting families with tilling, plants, community education or gardening and nutrition. We have been implementing farm to school programming. We need to do more with commercial sourcing.
What are the benefits of melding traditional indigenous knowledge with modern science? Where do the two intersect, and in the end, are they all that different?
Our community gardening program is doing more with heirloom seeds and traditional planting and gardening care without the use of chemicals. Being in northern Minnesota, we are further challenged by a short growing season. Our resource management division also is also using elders for decisions on managing natural resources. For example, the elders advise us on managing water levels in wild rice lakes. There are occasionally differences between science and elder advisors. We have found that when traditional knowledge is melded with science, better decisions are made.
What would you like to see the task force tackle, what are you going to push for/emphasize?
The Task Force needs to tackle preparedness for not only what communities are experiencing now, but also for increasing levels of impact that may occur if we fail to stop climate changes from worsening. From the tribal perspective, figuring out the processes needed for tribes to deal directly with FEMA following the passage of the Stafford Act [1988 Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, amended in 2013].
What do you consider would be the most important outcome of this task force? What strengths do Native voices bring to the conversation of climate change?
Tribes are in a unique position. We are so tied to traditional lands, that as climate change continues to occur, it is not an option to move where we live and where our territories are. Those are treaty based. Changes impact traditional food sources. Tribal voices are important in the push to halt increased climate change and advocate multi-jurisdiction preparation for climate events.