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Coastal Native Peoples Share Knowledge with Scientists to Address Climate Change

The First Stewards: Coastal People Address Climate Change symposium was recently held in Washington, D.C. This meeting brought coastal area Native Americans, Alaska Natives and indigenous U.S. Pacific Islanders together with scientists, non-governmental organizations and policy makers to discuss the impacts of, and develop collaborative solutions to, climate change.

Adaptation to climate change is a pressing issue for indigenous people, who have lived closely with the ocean and coastal land for generations and depend on them for cultural survival.

The Quinault Indian Nation, Quileute Nation, Makah Nation and Hoh Tribe hosted a gathering of over 300 people July 17–20 at the National Museum of the American Indian.

One of the panels was moderated by an employee of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Ciro Lo Pinto, District Conservationist in Wellsboro, Penn. As part of the discussion, he shared the new Indigenous Stewardship Methods and NRCS Conservation Practices Guidebook.

This book was developed with tribes to highlight conservation practices related to Native customs and natural resource needs. Lo Pinto provided copies and offered NRCS assistance to those interested in developing their own handbooks with tribe-specific information.

On other panels, members shared powerful personal stories of impacts of climate change on indigenous communities, as well as water quality and quantity, food sources, wildlife habitat and other resources.

For example, one Alaska Native talked about the disappearance of permafrost in his coastal village. Whereas during earlier winters, the frozen ground was protected from saltwater erosion, now that the permafrost has largely gone due to climate change and Arctic warming, winter storms often erode the shoreline in his community—sometimes removing several feet of land at a time.

The Looking Forward panel explored what the future holds for indigenous people and the rest of the world as we all adapt to climate change. Photo credit: Debbie Preston, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

The Looking Forward panel explored what the future holds for indigenous people and the rest of the world as we all adapt to climate change. Photo credit: Debbie Preston, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Panel members also talked about intergenerational aspects of connecting with the wisdom of elders and importance of sharing knowledge with the next generation. A “Looking Forward” panel focused the climate change conversation by looking at lessons from the past for a vision for the future.

The new collaboration between coastal native peoples and scientists represented by the symposium will bring native indigenous culture, indigenous stewardship methods and traditional ecological knowledge to research and science to develop adaptations and solutions to climate change. Participants hope to organize future follow-up meetings.

The First Stewards group has also drafted a resolution asking the federal government to recognize the expertise of tribal governments and indigenous communities when considering policies that affect their ways of life, and to support their indigenous stewardship methods, which will help to strengthen America’s resiliency and ability to adapt to climate change.

Learn more about the First Stewards symposium.

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Check out other conservation-related stories on the USDA blog.

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