How Climate Change Impacts Indigenous Communities

Members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe living in the Pyramid Lake region in Nevada depend strongly on the health of this freshwater ecosystem. A study to investigate these impacts was funded by the US DOI Southwest Climate Science Center. (Photo credit Dan Mosely)
Members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe living in the Pyramid Lake region in Nevada depend strongly on the health of this freshwater ecosystem. A study to investigate these impacts was funded by the US DOI Southwest Climate Science Center. (Photo credit Dan Mosely)

Two University of Arizona researchers have contributed to a special issue of the journal Climatic Change that centers on the impacts of climate change on tribal natural and cultural resources.
 
The issue, released online on Sept. 15, represents the first time a peer-reviewed scientific journal has devoted an entire edition exclusively to climate change and its impacts on indigenous communities across the United States.
 
Benedict J. Colombi, an associate professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, co-edited the issue, and Karletta Chief, assistant professor in the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, co-authored two papers in the issue on impacts on water resources and socioeconomic vulnerability. Colombi and Chief both have appointments in the UA's American Indian Studies program.
 
Fifty authors from tribal communities, academia, government agencies and non-governmental organizations contributed to the issue, which explores climate-related issues in indigenous communities in the U.S., including loss of traditional knowledge, forests and ecosystems; food security and traditional foods; water issues; Arctic sea ice loss; permafrost thaw and relocation. The issue also highlights how tribal communities and programs are responding to the changing environments.

 "Indigenous communities are in a unique situation because they have a very deep connection to environment, not only because of their history and culture, but also because they have a greater dependency on natural resources for food, shelter and ceremonial life than the average American," Chief said.
 
Colombi said: "Climate change has been a concern for tribes for a number of years, and this special issue is important because it is published in an interdisciplinary, high-impact and open-access journal. Indigenous groups worldwide are looking to the U.S. for indigenous leadership, and many implications apply to tribal communities across the world."
 
According to Chief, key threats native communities are facing in terms of water-related issues include water scarcity, lack of access to quality water, land subsidence and erosion – with floods and droughts amplifying these problems, as well as damage to homes and infrastructure like water treatment systems or wells.
 
"In many places, existing infrastructure is taxed over capacity, but with the added impact from climate change, the damages to infrastructure are likely to be huge," Chief said. "Already, we are seeing water-borne diseases in some areas, algae blooms impacting water treatments and changes in the migration cycles of wildlife and plants on which native people depend. All those pose threats to health, and that is going to be another big impact on tribes."

Read the rest of this October 28 UANews article at the link below.

Date released: 
Nov 5 2013
Contact: 
Karletta Chief