Overview of U.S. tribes Adaptation to Climate Change

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Overview of U.S. tribes Adaptation to Climate Change


Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals - Northern Arizona University, USA

My presentation will highlight my work with  tribes in the US to adapt to climate change impacts. As the executive director of the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) at Northern Arizona University (NAU), I oversee five programs that serve all 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States. www.nau.edu/itep  ITEP has served 86% of all the US tribes in the last 23 years.

The Climate Change Program (CCP) is the fastest growing program.

Some climate change impacts on Native communities have already been harsh. I will give an overview of ITEP’s CCP and highlight some of the tribes we are working with to begin the adaptation to climate change.

I will also give the audience background information including the 2015 U.S. Global Change Research Program issued the Third National Climate Assessment, which is the official report for the U.S. Congress, and dedicated an entire chapter to tribes and Native American Resources Committee, August 2015 8 indigenous peoples (chapter 12).

http://nca2014. globalchange.gov/report/sectors/indigenouspeoples.

Briefly, it concludes that Indian tribes and other indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted by climate change, due in large part to a highly subsistent lifestyle. Many tribal people still live off the earth by hunting, fishing, and planting and gathering. For example, in Alaska, many of the 223 Alaskan Native villages rely on the natural environment for an estimated 85 percent of their diet.

ITEP’s Climate Change Program offers many resources including training (both in person and via webinars), technical assistance, monthly newsletters, educational resources, tribal profi les, and a toolkit to build tribal capacity to address climate change impacts. All of these services are free to federally recognized tribal environmental professionals. A steering committee composed of tribal environmental experts guides the CCP. The newest resource available is the CCP staff's ability to facilitate the process of tribal adaptation planning by tribes. Tribes have started to request the assistance of the CCP staff to help them navigate through the process of developing an adaptation plan, from impact and vulnerability assessments, to identifying adaptation strategies, to writing an adaptation plan. Several tribes have completed their adaptation plans, but many more are in the beginning phases. In the last couple of years, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has begun funding tribes to conduct this work. One of the biggest concerns for tribes in developing their adaptation plans is whether to include their traditional knowledges (TKs). How TKs are defined varies significantly, but, in general, the term means the collective knowledge of the tribe or tribal members. A tribal elder’s knowledge about the location and usage of medicinal plants is an example of TK. Each tribe is unique in what it considers its TKs. However defined, a common concern has arisen over incorporating their TKs because of the threat of exposure, theft, and general misuse of the TKs. An example of possible misuse would be vandalism of a location where medicinal plants grow. I will also cover the work I did on the US Department  of Interior’s federal advisory committee, the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science (ACCCNRS) along with my colleagues, Gary Morishima, Ph.D., and Susan Wotkyns (my alternate).  We established a subcommittee entitled “Tribal Matters.” In this subcommittee, an informal group of indigenous persons, staff of indigenous governments and organizations, and experts with experience working with issues concerning TKs was organized and named the “Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup” (CTKW). The 17-member CTKW felt compelled to develop a framework to increase understanding of issues relating to access and protection of TKs in climate initiatives and interactions between holders of TKs and non-tribal partners. Within a year, the CTKW published a set of guidelines. Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup, Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges (TKs) in Climate Change Initiatives (2014) (TKs Guidelines), available at https://climatetkw.wordpress.com/. The CTKW intends the TKs Guidelines to be an informational resource for tribes, agencies, and organizations across the United States interested in understanding TKs in the context of climate change. The CTKW intends to continue to develop the Guidelines and to accept comments. In March 2015, the ACCCNRS addressed TKs in the eighth of its nine recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior, saying: “The Committee recommends that the NCCWSC [National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center] and CSCs [Climate Science Centers] promote the use of both Western science and traditional knowledges of tribal and indigenous people when providing decision makers with relevant information.” ACCCNRS, REPORT TO THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR 8 (Mar. 31, 2015), available at https://nccwsc.usgs.gov/sites/default/fi les/fi les/ACCCNRS_Report_2015.pdf. The TKs Guidelines can be seen as the first official step in the United States to address the use of 9 Native American Resources Committee, August 2015 TKs.

I also had the honor of attending one of the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) workshops on the protection of TKs in Geneva, Switzerland. The workshop covered the traditional intellectual property tools. The workshop also introduced the newest approach—a sui generis tool that is currently being developed by the UN’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore in order to protect TK. It is an ongoing effort. ITEP will keep working with WIPO’s Traditional Knowledge division to train the U.S. tribes on current and emerging intellectual property tools to protect their TKs. ITEP’s Climate Change Program will continue to listen to tribes and build strong programs that empower tribes to create their own climate change adaptation plans. It is ITEP’s goal to aid tribal nations in adaption to the climate changes that are occurring at an ever-increasing pace. An elder once told me that tribes know how to adapt, we have been doing it since contact with non-Natives."


Ms. Chischilly is the Executive Director at the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP).She is a national speaker on tribes, climate change and traditional knowledge.

At ITEP, she is responsible for managing ITEP's work with Northern Arizona University, state and federal agencies, tribes and Alaska Native villages. Before coming to ITEP, she served for over ten years as Senior Assistant General Counsel to the Gila River Indian Community (Community), where she assisted the Community in implementing the historic Arizona Water Settlement Act and founded the Gila River Indian Community Renewable Energy Team.

At ITEP, Ms. Chischilly oversees four environmental programs (climate change, air quality, solid waste and educational outreach) and established the ""Tribal Clean Energy Resource Center"" to assist tribes in transitioning from fossil fuel based energy to sustainable/clean energy solutions. ITEP celebrated 20 years in the fall of 2012 and has served over 540 tribes and Alaskan Native Villages nationwide (86% of all US tribes).

Ms. Chischilly currently serves on the Arizona Attorney magazine Editorial Board, Indian Law Section Executive Board of the Arizona State Bar, Arizona Energy Consortium-Tribal Liaison and First Stewards Founding Board. She served on the National Tribal Water Council, Native American Connections Board and is a graduate of the Arizona Bar Leadership Institute and Northern Arizona University Leadership Program.

In May 2013, Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell appointed Ms. Chischilly to the Federal Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resources Science (ACCCNRS).

Ms. Chischilly is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation (Diné). She earned her Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree from St. Mary's University School of Law and a Masters in Environmental Law (LL.M) from Vermont Law School. She is licensed in Arizona and has practiced in state, district, and federal courts.

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