Indigenous People Plan to Honor a Treaty that Trump Won’t – Lyndsey Gilpin Jul. 17, 2017 1:51 PM


They are committed to the Paris Agreement.

An abandoned home in Shishmaref, Alaska, sits on the beach after sliding off during a fall storm in 2005Diana Haecker/AP Photo

This story was originally published by High Country News and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community started planning for climate change a decade ago. Located on the southeastern peninsula of Fidalgo Island on Puget Sound in Washington, the reservation is surrounded by water and at high risk for sea-level rise. A destructive 100-year storm event in 2006 led tribal leaders to research and fund climate programs, and the Swinomish became the first tribal nation to adopt a climate adaptation plan.

So when President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the United Nations’ Paris climate agreement, the Swinomish reacted swiftly and, together with other tribes, publicly committed to uphold the accord.

In the West, where many tribal communities and reservations are on the frontlines of climate change, tribal leaders are determined to move forward on climate action as sovereign nations despite budget cuts, climate denial, and inaction. “We came together with one another to raise the level of environmental awareness,” said Debra Lekanoff, governmental affairs director for the Swinomish. “We can’t just pick up and move the places where we live.”

Though Indigenous communities have a small carbon footprint, they are often the most severely impacted by climate change. There are 567 federally recognized tribes in the U.S.—40 percent of them in Alaska—and climate change threatens many of them. In California and the Pacific Northwest, tribal nations are at increased risk of sea-level rise. Coastal communities like the Quinault Indian Nation in western Washington and at least 31 Alaska Native villages, including the Shishmaref village near the Bering Strait, face the danger of coastal erosion. Already, several have been forced to relocate.

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