Indigenous People & Cultures

The Climate Science Centers (CSCs) and National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC) are working with tribes and indigenous communities to better understand their specific vulnerabilities to climate change and to help them adapt to these impacts. 

Coast Salish Canoe Journey 2009 landing in Pillar Point, WA

Understanding Climate Change Impacts
For centuries, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and other indigenous peoples and communities have relied on natural resources to sustain their families, communities, traditional ways of life, and cultural identities. This relationship with both land and water ecosystems makes indigenous people and cultures particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which can include drought, increased wildfires and extreme weather, sea-level rise and melting glaciers.

Many communities are already facing problems such as loss of important freshwater resources and agricultural lands due to ocean inundation in the Pacific Islands, the decimation of an important food source, potentially related to climate change in Alaska, and vulnerability to extreme weather events in the South Central U.S.

The DOI Climate Science Centers (CSCs) and the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC) are working with tribes and indigenous communities to better understand their specific vulnerabilities to climate change and to help them adapt to these impacts. This work is conducted through research projects, outreach events (ie. cultural festivals and tribal schools), training workshops, stakeholder meetings, youth internships and other coordination activities.

Input & Engagement 
Direct input from and engagement with tribal and indigenous communities is crucial for the NCCWSC and CSCs to provide the appropriate science needed by these communities. Input is also important so that, when appropriate and acceptable, researchers can understand and consider Traditional Knowledge. Input is, in part, gathered through participation from these communities in the regional CSC Stakeholder Advisory Committees and the national Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science.

CSCs have also engaged with native communities through efforts such as inter-tribal workshops and climate related training classes in the South Central U.S., education and networking meetings in the Northeast, and interviews with tribal elders in the Northwest.

The Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is also in the process of placing Tribal Climate Scientist/Technical Support Coordinators at several of the CSCs to help identify climate information and research needs of tribes and indigenous communities and work with federal partners to address those needs.

Silver BuffaloberryResources
To learn more about CSC and NCCWSC initiatives to support indigenous communities, and other related external programs, please visit the sites below:

CSC & NCCWSC Initiatives: 

CSC & NCCWSC Project Search: Search for projects using keywords (try "tribal" or "indigenous") and filter by CSC, name, resource type etc.

Northwest CSC Tribal Engagement Strategy, 2012-2016: The purpose of this tribal engagement strategy is to describe the opportunities for collaboration between the NW CSC and 52 Native American tribes within its geographic area.

South Central CSC Tribal Engagement Strategy, 2014: This strategy describes how the SC CSC, tribes and tribal members, and others can collaborate to minimize potential harmful effects of climate change on human society and our surrounding ecosystems.


U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit: Tribal Nations: The U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit provides scientific tools, information, and expertise to help people manage their climate-related risks and opportunities, and improve their resilience to extreme events. 

BIA Climate Awards to Tribes: The DOI Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) distributes funding awards to tribal and indigenous communities to support climate adaptation and planning. 

Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges (TKs) in Climate Change Initiatives: This document is intended to be an informational resource for tribes, agencies, and organizations across the U.S. interested in understanding TKs in the context of climate change.

Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP): ITEP acts as a catalyst among tribal governments, research and technical resources at Northern Arizona University (NAU), in support of environmental protection of Native American natural resources. 

National Climate Assessment: Indigenous Peoples, Lands, and Resources: The 2014 National Climate Assessment included a chapter describing the impacts of climate change on Native communities.


Images on Page: 

Top Left: Two Yupik Eskimo students from Chevak, Alaska holding a tundra swan cygnet. (Photo by Craig Ely/USGS)
Top Middle: Coast Salish Canoe Journey 2009 landing in Pillar Point, WA. Each year Northwest Indian tribes collaborate with USGS to measure salinity, temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen in the Salish Sea. (Photo by Carol Reiss/USGS)

Top Right: Pyramid Lake, Nevada, not only holds deep cultural connections for the Paiute Tribe and tribal member Dan Mosely (pictured), but also supports a tribal economy centered on fishing and recreational activities. (Photo by Dan Mosely/University of Arizona