Among indigenous cultures being affected by climate change, coastal communities are in the lead. Since these cultures have been around for millennia—during which things have decidedly not stayed the same—they have had a fair amount of practice in adapting to various changes.
But climate change and its rapidity proves a formidable challenge to today’s indigenous. However, using their traditional ecological knowledge, they are finding ways to cope. Recently five U.S. tribes hosted a gathering in Washington D.C., the First Stewards symposium, to examine climate change’s impact on indigenous coastal communities and ways of life, as well as explore solutions.
Led by the Hoh, Makah and Quileute tribes and the Quinault Indian Nation tribes of Washington State, this national event took place from July 17–20, tapping into millennia of traditional ecological knowledge. Held at the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian, the symposium united hundreds of Native leaders, climate scientists and policy makers, as well as representatives from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Plans are to meet yearly.
The changes on way of life are marked. There are the Quinault Indians, whose salmon supply is dwindling. There are Native Alaskan villagers being forced to move as the permafrost beneath their dwellings melts. And in the U.S. Pacific Islands, storms are getting more intense as temperatures of both air and water increase, pushing up sea level, even as rainfall and water levels in streams decreases.
“We’ve always lived off the land and off the waters and continue to do that,” said Mike Williams, chief of the Yupit Nation in Akiak, Alaska, in an informational Senate Indian Affairs Committee that was held at the same time as the symposium. “But we’re bearing the burden of living with these conditions today.”
More on climate change’s effects on Native peoples:
Learn more about the First Stewards symposium.