Swinomish Tribe raising community awareness about climate change

April 28th, 2010

Charlie O’Hara, the Swinomish Tribe’s director of Office of Planning and Community Development, presented the tribe’s Climate Change Initiative on the last day of the summit and the accompanying impact assessment technical report. Here is a summary of the tribe’s initiative with links to the report.

Swinomish Tribe Water Resources Department staffers have been recognized as “Protectors of Mother Earth” for making a simple change at the annual community clam bake.

Instead of using paper plates and disposable utensils, the department brought real plates and silverware to the event held last summer at Lone Tree beach and the Thousand Trails lodge.

The tribe’s newly formed Climate Change Education and Awareness Group (CEAG) will recognize the water resources department’s effort in the monthly Kee-Yoks newsletter. The group is encouraging tribal members to make small changes that will benefit the environment and help reduce the causes of climate change.

“Our tribal leaders are at the forefront of the climate change movement,” said Shelly Vendiola, communications facilitator for the group.

The Swinomish Indian Senate signed a proclamation forming a Climate Change Initiative in October 2007 and the tribe’s Planning and Community Development Department released a climate change impact assessment report this fall, in partnership with the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group and the Skagit River System Cooperative.

The assessment found that more than 1,100 acres of Swinomish Reservation lands and about 160 residential structures are potentially at risk of inundation from increasing sea level rise or tidal surge. Traditional tribal beach seining sites and shellfish beds are at significant risk of permanent inundation and potential loss. Shellfish and salmon are at risk of higher levels of contamination from algal blooms and other diseases that may be exacerbated by increased temperature.

Not only are heat-related illnesses a concern for the reservation population, especially those who are ill or elderly, but tribal members in particular may be at risk of ailments such as asthma and toxic poisoning from the combined effects of pollutants.

“We’re looking at global issues and making the link to our local tribal community at Swinomish,” Vendiola said. “We are starting to raise awareness about climate change and its impacts, and how it’s going to affect such things as land use, transportation, housing, facilities, and natural and cultural resources such as shellfish, salmon and forested areas.”

CEAG is getting tribal members involved by informing families and youth through the tribal newsletter and raising awareness at community events such as holiday parties. The next step will bring community members together to talk about climate change and capture their concerns, which will help guide the actions of the Planning and Community Development Department.

“I’m impressed with the awareness of our young people, our next generation of leaders,” Vendiola said. “They will inherit this challenge, which in fact is a climate crisis. The strategy is to educate them now and begin to prepare them for how to adapt. The key for the next phase of the project is identifying community concerns, seasonal climate changes and ideas for adaptation.”

CEAG also can learn from the experiences of community members, especially elders, and get their input in the planning process. Already, tribal members have shared stories about roads eroding to within 25 feet of homes on the reservation, and increased concerns about sun protection.

“When I was a kid, we never sunburned,” said tribal member Brian Porter, who coaches the youth canoe club. “Now we have to keep an eye on the kids to make sure they don’t sunburn or get some skin disease.”

Support for the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative was provided through a grant from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Native Americans (ANA), which provided 80 percent of project funding.

Tips from the Education and Awareness Group include:

  • Recycle. Reuse. Renew
  • Unplug unused electronics
  • Install low-flow shower heads
  • Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs
  • Take your own bags to stores

What is climate change?

Climate change, also known as global warming, occurs from increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Changes that can be seen on the ground include rising sea levels, melting glaciers, reduced snowpacks, hotter summers, wetter winters and increased drought conditions.

Warmer climate affects salmon because it:

  • Increases water temperatures and decreases flows during spawning migrations, increasing prespawning mortality and reducing egg deposition;
  • Increases water temperatures during egg incubation stages, causing premature fry emergence and increased fry-to-smolt mortality; and
  • Increases the severity and frequency of winter floods, reducing egg-to-fry survival rates.

For more information: Swinomish Climate Change Initiative; Ed Knight, senior planner, Swinomish Tribe Planning and Community Development, 360-466-7280 or eknight@swinomish.nsn.us; Shelly Vendiola, communications facilitator (consultant), CEAG, 206-280-4079 or msvendiola@gmail.com; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 360-424-8226 or kneumeyer@nwifc.org.

Coast Salish tribes gather to define impacts of Climate change on tribal culture and sovereignty

April 28th, 2010

The Squamish Nation of British Columbia gifted specially designed blankets to tribal leaders made for the Olympics held in Canada this past winter.

TULALIP, Wash.  – Imagine a Northwest without salmon. Unthinkable as that thought is, the Coast Salish people of the Salish Sea encompassing British Columbia, Canada and western Washington Tribes know from their own observation and scientific modeling that climate change could lead to such a disaster.

The Coast Salish leaders and their executive staff gathered for the past two days at the Tulalip Tribes with the common goal of sharing and strengthening their science, policy and legal experts on climate change and addressing environmental impacts on tribal natural resources, traditional rights and sustainability of the Northwest way of life.

Carbon dioxide levels could double by 2050 meaning many salmon species would move to the poles, leading to extinction in the Northwest and most of Canada.

“We thought salmon would be here forever. This is our crisis. Salmon are the cornerstone of our Coast Salish way,” said Melvin Sheldon Jr., Tulalip tribal chairman.

Having a voice in international, national and local forums to protect the environment and natural resources for the sustainability of the Coast Salish peoples is a major goal of the tribal leaders participating.

Many tribes are already assessing their risks resulting from climate change as each tribe’s risks are different. Contingency plans have to be made and the impacts to natural resources assessed.

“We made a promise – the food would take care of us and we would take care of the food,” said David Close, researcher and a Cayuse tribal member.

Close urged those gathered to continue to push for science that addresses species that are important to tribes, such as lamprey and candlefish. “The models we have created are based on commercially exploited species and there just isn’t data for many species that are important to tribes,” said Close.

Additionally, how and where salmon restoration work will occur needs to be coordinated with the impacts of climate change to be effective.

The Coast Salish Gathering provides a platform across government and national boundaries to bring tribal traditional knowledge, policy, science and legal actions to their resources, protect them and help plan for seven generations.

The Coast Salish Gathering will create scientific, legal and policy approaches to move forward in the various forums working on climate change policy and legislation within the Salish Sea ecosystem.

“By understanding changes in the waters, we can design management policies that can cope with such changes to minimize the potential ecological and social economic impacts of climate change,” said Close.


For more information, contact: Deb Lekanof, Swinomish Tribe, (360) 391-5296; www.coastsalishgathering.com;

Current fisheries management measures don’t account for expected shifts in populations

April 27th, 2010

After discussing the world model of what could happen to fish populations if carbon dioxide levels double by 2050, David Close said part of the problem is that current conservation and fisheries management measures do not account for climate-driven species distribution shifts and biodiversity changes.

“This model is designed by the availability of data which is on a world scale,” said Close. “We need better data that’s more regional and we don’t have data for fisheries that are culturally important like lamprey or eulachon (candlefish).”

By understanding changes in the ocean, we can design management policies that can cope with such changes to minimize the potentital ecological and soci0economic impacts of climate change.

Invasion and local extinction of marine species may disrupt marine ecosystems and biodiversity. Fisheries will be impacted by shifts in distributions of their targeted species.

We need to model for more refined data to improve on this model that is more world in scope than regional. “What about the sacred traditional foods? These are tied to our belief systems,” said Close.

He advocated for a number of policy and scientific actions:

  • Implement comprehensive and integrated ecosystem approaches to managing coasts and oceans, fisheries, adequate disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation
  • Reducing fishing capacity and rebuilding over-exploited ecosystesm; this could be achieved partly by eliminating subsidies that promote overfishing and excessive capacity
  • More environmentally-friendly and fuel efficient fishing and aquaculture practices (not net pens)  and integrate climate-proof aquaculture with other sectors
  • Provide climate change education in schools and create greater awareness among all stakeholders. Integrate appropriate traditional knowledge with Western science
  • Strengthen our knowledge of aquatic ecosystem dynamics and bio-chemical cycles, particularly at local and regional levels
  • Conduct local climate change vulnerability and risk assessments (of how they adapt) What’s important to us rather than only economically important to mainstream society.

Food takes care of the people and the people take care of the food

April 26th, 2010

Edie Hottowe, Makah tribal member, talks about the importance of huckleberries, one of the Makah tribe's culturally important foods. The tribe has an ethnobotanical garden behind the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay.

Teara Farrow Ferman, Cultural Resources Protection Program Manger for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, presented on climate change and the risks to first foods and tribal culture.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla are comprised of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes of Oregon and Washington and their reservation covers 172,000 acres in southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon.

Eric Quaempts, natural resources director, created the Umatilla’s approach to first foods after many interviews with tribal members. Their management program assigns natural resource management branches to the appropriate food. Quaempts noted the order of food to the table and its importance.

Water is the first food to the table and the most important. Natural resource management branches of water resources and fisheries are responsible for the water. The cultural resources program is responsible for all the first foods such as salmon, deer, roots and berries along with the other natural resource departments that manage specific foods.

The reciprocity of first foods is that they are managed to return to the people.  It is a food-associated culture. It means tribal members have:

  • access to them, as provided by their treaty rights.
  • the teaching of first foods and learning about them
  • harvest and how and when to do that
  • the preparation, that is passed on
  • consumption
  • celebration
  • sharing
  • care  – “We manage our foods to have the foods into the future and preserve the culture derived from them such as our celebrations and individual ceremonies,” said Ferman.

Historically, the men harvested and presented the water, the salmon and the deer. The women collected and presented the roots and berries. Today, because climate change is already affecting the availability of foods, Umatilla tribal members teach their sons and daughters to collect both foods. “We don’t know what will be available or who they will marry,” said Ferman. “We want them to identify these foods and know how to prepare them. It’s central to who we are.”

Ferman emphasized the importance of collecting oral history and archeological digs to have the information recorded and archived. “What this information has shown us is that we have adapted to changes in gear and species available,” said Ferman. “First foods values have been durable even if species have changed.”

If physical and ecological processes change, however, our foods will change.

Umatilla tribes are already seeing roots and berries become less available. There has been some trading with family members of other tribes for these foods. The Lummi Indian Nation (page 10) traded mussel shells for deer from the Umatilla as an example of coping with shrinking availability of first foods.

Graphic facilitation uses both sides of the brain

April 26th, 2010

Timothy Corey doing the graphic facilitation

Running like a river through the Coast Salish Climate Change Summit is Timothy Corey’s graphical facilitation banner that is part fine art, part flow chart. Corey has done the 40-foot panel daily representations of a variety of summits for three years. Using pastel chalks and permanent markers, Corey creates a mural of ideas and art representing presentations and dialogue. “It’s a way for everyone in the room to be heard,” said Corey. “It’s both digital and analog. For the person who would give you directions with miles and compass points, it’s got more concrete items; for the person who would give you landmarks to go by, there are more graphic representations.” It’s also a way to harvest ideas from the day’s events. You can see other photos of Corey’s work here.

By 2050, doubling of carbon dioxide levels means fish extinctions locally

April 26th, 2010

David Close of the Aboriginal Fisheries Unit of the University of British Columbia presented a model of how fish will react to predicted increase in carbon dioxide levels.

The natural range of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for the last 650,000 years ranges between 180 and 300 parts per million (ppm). As of 2005, it’s 379 ppm and at the current rate, will double by 2050.

Close and William Cheung, also of the University of British Columbia, looked at the records of the fish commercially caught and what will happen to their distribution as a result of the increase.

Fish in the lower latitudes will move to the poles by 2050. Using the models to look at important Northwest species such as sockeye salmon will only be found in northern Alaska.

Herring will only be found in northern Alaska and not in Washington or Oregon waters. There will be an average move northward by most species of 45 kilometers per year. Northern areas are already seeing fish in their waters they have never seen before or many more of rare species.

This means traditional resources will be extinct in some areas as the fish migrate north.

The published paper is discussed in this article in Fish and Fisheries magazine.

Climate change will profoundly affect tribes inland as well as on the coast

April 26th, 2010

Paul Lumley, executive director, Columbia River Inter Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) talked about how climate change research is showing their member tribes will be profoundly affected by these changes.

CRITFC member tribes are Nez Perce, Yakima, Warm Springs and Umatilla tribes all who live within the Columbia River basin.

Salmon populations declined from a high of more than 17 million in the 1850s to less than a million today as dams went in. “Many tribes lost access to any fish during those years and it was devastating to cultures.” CRITFC was established to protect the remaining resource beginning in the 1970s.

Lumley said each tribe needs to know their river basins and sub-basins intimately as each will be affected differently by climate change.

The average night and daytime temperature is now significantly higher. For CRITFC tribes, this means less snow and more precipitation falls as rain.

Lumley said water is now in the system earlier and leaves quickly. The new elevation where snow pack is retained is now above 4,000 feet.

Based on an evaluation of each tribe’s elevation, the Yakama Nation will be most affected as they have little elevation in their lands. There will be more drought and warmer temperatures will harm fish.

Example of how climate change affecting First Nations in Canada

April 26th, 2010

Cowichan Chief Lydia Hwitsum noted that First Nations in Canada are in the middle of negotiations with the Canadian government to create their treaties forever and noted how difficult it is to use language that encompasses how species will change in the future.

“How do we capture the language that assures our rights to securing our food resources into the future for our people, because there may be resources that will be not available to us in the future because of climate change, but others will be available that we haven’t specifically noted. We need to take advantage of research available to help us with these negotiations,” said Hwitsum.

How tribes move forward to engage locally, nationally and internationally

April 26th, 2010

As part of Grossman’s work with tribal people worldwide and previous tribal climate change discussions, a range of recommendations have come forward:

  • Gather Information and make it available to all –Swinnomish Engagement model
  • Secure water sources – preparing for drought
  • Secure food sources – intertribal agreements for access to food during times of shortage (develop them) Traditional crops are resilient to drought. Adapting to new foods

Shifting of species northward necessitates passing of information between communities; discussion of cultural implications. Communicate to your neighbors to the north. Difficult questions because of the cultural implications.

  • Cooperate in local planning land use. ie: clearcuts causing mudslides in Dec. 2007. Local emergency planning. Local and tribal governments sharing resources. Only have each other. FEMA won’t be the answer
  • Cooperate to reduce emissions – relationships between governments.
  • Adopting renewable energies. NW is always held out as leading the way
  • Protect local habitats – Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and Columbia River Inter Tribal Fish Commission are ways the tribes work with governments to protect habitat
  • Assert indigenous powers globally
  • Involve native youth
  • Work with other indigenous governments. The indigenous nations treaty work.

Impacts of climate change and how native people are responding

April 26th, 2010

Dr. Zoltan Grossman is a geographer and member of the faculty at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., who teaches geography and Native American and world indigenous peoples studies. He talked about the impacts of climate change on indigenous cultures and how to engage with non-native cultures who are experiencing climate change too.

As the urban world is beginning to experience drought, winds brought on by shifting wind patterns and storms cutting off cities – non-native cultures are more open to discussing these issues with the holders of traditional knowledge.

Grossman said when they are in discussions about the future, they note that we as a society don’t have time for the western science model of researching something for five years and coming to a conclusion. “What traditional knowledge does is give you early warning of what is going on. Real time knowledge only comes from traditional people who are out there every day,” said Zoltan.