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Tribal Leaders: It's Time to Bolster Native Community Climate Resilience

As members of the President’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, Chairwoman Karen Diver and Mayor Reggie Joule highlight supplemental recommendations that focus on the specific and unique perspectives of Native communities.

Ed. Note: This blog introduces you to Chairwoman Karen Diver and Mayor Reggie Joule.

Tribes and Alaska Native Villages feel the brunt of a changing climate in direct and significant ways that undermine their cultures, economies, and the overall general welfare of their citizens.  Unfortunately, they are too frequently left out of Federal and state climate preparedness and resilience efforts, both in terms of planning and disaster response.  And they generally lack sufficient governmental capacity and financial resources to prepare for and respond to major climate-related events on their own.

These are the overriding messages we heard from tribal leaders across the country while serving on the President’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. Hundreds of tribal leaders provided their input and recommendations through a number of listening sessions, webinars and questionnaires.  These outreach efforts were facilitated by the fine network of Federal agency tribal liaisons.

We are extremely pleased that the Task Force acknowledged a wide range of tribal needs and recommendations in its report submitted to President Obama on November 17.  Early on in the process, it became clear that responding to climate change has to be a shared responsibility that shouldn't be constrained by our respective political boundaries, geographical locations or cultures. The report reflects the Task Force’s collegial efforts to find common ground, mutual interests and consensus solutions to the challenges that tribal, state and local governments face in preparing for climate change. 

From a tribal perspective, the Task Force’s recommendations affirm that, while Native communities are affected by climate change in ways similar to other communities, Tribes and Native Alaskan Villages feel the effects of a changing climate in ways that are unique to their lifeways, geography, and relationships with the Federal Government.  Accordingly, the Task Force offers recommendations that are consistent with government-to-government relationships, Federal treaty obligations and trust responsibilities, and the fact that Native communities are inextricably tied to their places for meeting their subsistence, cultural, spiritual and economic needs.

The Task Force’s recommendations mark the beginning of a process, not the end. President Obama’s commitment to addressing the impacts of climate change is clear, and we are encouraged by the readiness of Federal agencies to digest these recommendations and determine what they can do to implement them. To aid in these implementation efforts, we are pleased to offer a set of supplemental recommendations focused on the specific and unique perspectives of Native communities.  They provide greater detail and fully integrate the wide range of input and recommendations that we received from other tribal leaders. 

Our hope is that these broader and more detailed recommendations will inform the work of the White House Council on Native American Affairs and its newly formed Climate Change Subgroup.  It has been an honor serving on the Task Force.  The needs of Native communities in relation to climate change are urgent and significant.  The time to act to protect and assist our communities is now.

Karen Diver is Chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Reggie Joule is Mayor of the Northwest Arctic Borough.