Listening for the Rain: Indigenous Perspectives on Climate Change

[ Music ] >> Over the summer we put on 5 workshops, 4 in Oklahoma and 2 in New Mexico that allowed an opportunity for tribes to network with each other and with the new institutions of the Climate Science Center and the Land Conservation Cooperatives to talk about climate and be introduced to some tools that are readily available to the public through these agencies and to find ways that they can utilize these tools for themselves as well as at the same time talk about climate change and the stories of their place in their own words specific to their locations. We had 4 in Oklahoma, one was in Stillwater, Oklahoma that invited 10 of the tribes up in that region. And then the second was down in Fort Cobb, the third was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the fourth was in Wyandotte, Oklahoma and the final was in the Chickasaw Cultural Center down in Sulphur, Oklahoma. The reason I think that's important is because it takes to them this information instead of asking tribes to come to these agencies. It takes the agencies more to their locations and has an opportunity.

It offers opportunity for the stories of that place to be told and to be heard in a way that is unique to them and their region. >> I think when we sit back and look at those people who have a close relationship with the environment the tribes lead that category. That's something that without the tribes we're not going to be able to address, we're not going to be able to get at that challenge. I think the cultural richness in terms of they've been here a long time. And they've been close to the land a long time. There are tribes that had been here a very long time in the south central region generally. There are tribes as we know that were moved here, but they came here with knowledge about where they had been. >> What the tribes are bringing to the table are very specific needs that they have for information and also an understanding of really what is changing in the climate where they live. So I can throw out a weather station somewhere and it's going to give me some data, but the depths of the information, what is really changing in the community because our climate is shifting has to come from the people who are living in those communities.

And how those changes spatially are different. So what happens in New Mexico or certain parts of New Mexico with specific tribes you might be dealing with mountainous terrain as opposed to some who are more Mesa geographies. That depth of information is really important to us as climate scientists because we don't know how to talk to people about adaptation unless we better understand what the problems are. >> You know climate change is kind of complex. I mean you've got climate change and you've got global warming and there's a relationship there, but you know I think that climate change is, you know, more broad. I look at it as really a, you know, an increasing extremes in weather, you know, increasing variability in weather. And again it's tied in to global warming, but you know it's I think it means different things for different areas, for different people.

So it's, you know, complex. >> Climate change is a part of a new adaption for all of our people, not just the Ponca people but around the globe. For instance a good friend of mine named Faith Gimmle who's an Arctic Circle native, that her people there are learning to plant for the first time ever in their culture, ever in their culture. Because the permafrost has melted. So their hunting, their berry picking, their seasonal activities that would take them through the winter doesn't happen anymore. So along the Ponca people this same situation and different is happening because of the drought situation, because of the situation of these massive rains occasionally happening. Because of the past drought that has happened and the global warming that is going on as a result of this. We know that within the last 10 years since the century turned, that 10 of the 12 years there's been warmer area than ever before. Can't dig in the ground.

There is no such thing as a root cellar anymore. The berries that we used to pick, the drought has killed them. The trees that were there about one in every 8 trees has died. Our fruit trees aren't producing at the same rate as they were before. The ponds have completely dried up in areas where people used to go fish and know that they could have food. >> For a lot of our Kiowa people, like one of our waterways that we monitor that we monitor every month is Jimmy Creek. And Jimmy Creek now for the past 2 summers has dried up and we have never seen it before since most of our creeks we monitor are aquifer fed. So that goes to show that the water levels, not just on service waters are depleting, but the water in our aquifers are starting to deplete also. And there's not any rain to recharge those aquifers to give us our water.

>> The biggest concern to the Chitimacha people is closest related weather wise to hurricane damage and because we have seen such shoreline erosion and subsidence coastally and we are coastal people that those protections, the buffer that we used to have is getting less and less and so the concern would be that the storm surge and hurricanes would be more impactful to our reservation lands. >> Climate change has meant to us is that last year was one of the larger fires in Western United States the Las Conchas fire. We're irrigating our fields with black water and that comes from soot because the mountains that are on fire are the mountains where our head waters come from. So that's the water we use for life and our agriculture. So it's a very important place to us and it's very important obviously because of the use of water.

So that climate change means that our forests are very vulnerable to wildfires and now we've seen 2 major fires this year. >> On the Navajo reservation I remember it being a lot greener and the Arizona region plateau, Colorado plateau has been experiencing one of the most longest droughts in history and so one of the things that happens is without water, with high wind, which is what we deal a lot with there, sand dunes are forming at an alarming rate. So in my lifetime I've seen a lot of the Indian reservation I live on turn into sand dunes. And also being raised by my grandmother who's no longer with us, she was an herbalist and she would take us out and show us the different plants for medicinal reasons. And I take my 6 years old son around and we don't see those plants anymore. So a very different environment just for my son, one generation down is what I think climate change is. It's seeing our environment change within one generation.

>> The extreme in climate really impacted agriculture. First to the really hot weather pretty much eliminated the maple syrup harvest last year and you know in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan. You know, I guess I kind of look at it through food and, you know, it's one of the big lenses that I look at it through. And with the wild rice, when we had all that rain it wiped out, pretty much completely wiped out, the wild rice beds from eastern Minnesota all the way across Wisconsin and that's a big impact on people's lives and you know being able to harvest, you know, really a food product that still sustains people's diets to a very large degree. >> The most noticeable impact to the Pueblo has been realized through drought and the conditions that are related to drought.

What it does to the landscape, what it does to vegetation, the concerns that come from not being able to find plant life or animal life that are important to cultural identity, cultural practices and how those drought conditions hurt the operations of our ranch, hunting operations and the natural habitat. With drought comes the issues of overgrazing, comes the issues of invasive species that come in from the overgrazing. And trying to find ways of delivering water, nutrients, that type of thing to cattle over 74,000 acres or it becomes a challenge. >> Here where we are we're in the corner of the four state areas. So Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. It seems that we have difficulty anymore having what I would consider the spring fruits. It will turn off very, very warm early in February which used to be winter, very cold, very low temperatures. But now it will, we'll have so many warm days in February or March that it will, all of the fruit trees, many of the plants will begin to blossom and begin to bear fruit and then suddenly we'll have a hard freeze and it will destroy or damage a very high percentage of that.

And in the Neosho, which is only about 15 miles from here, they actually had 5 inches of snow accumulate the first week of May of this year, unheard of yes. And we have those anomalies it seems, more and more often. >> I took a little tour of the Chickasaw National Recreation area in 2011. And I saw that the streams had quit flowing and there used to be a lot of swimming holes there that the kids used to swim in and they had hazardous signs posted that kept the public out of those swimming holes because the water was stagnant, not flowing anymore. And then I did a little research on the flows on the Blue River and in 2011 the flow rate on the Blue River dropped down to about 1 cubic foot per second which is the lowest flow rate it had been since the 1950's and then we'd seen an outgrowth of blue-green algae in some of our lakes which is spurred on by the dry conditions and the high temperatures.

>> As soon as May hits I'm, you know, ready to go because I'm in a rural area. We don't have sirens, we don't have you know anything like that. When the weather alerts come on TV our satellite goes out because of you know the rain or hail. So I'm basically using my cell phone. If I'm not using my cell phone I have to kind of listen and feel the wind. If there's an updraft or if there's an inflow or something. I'm kind of like a weather nerd now so. >> Where I grew up in close to the Red River bottoms in Oklahoma, always very fertile ground for growing any number of crops. Well here recently or in the past few years they've started a large scale irrigation project because the lands seem to be deprived of water that was always there. So now they're bringing in more water and trying to revitalize the land and the crops have certainly picked up due to that. But before here recently it never was needed. These are things I attribute to climate change which affects the local economy and affects the sociology in people's jobs.

So it definitely affects the tribal people. [ Music ] >> Everything has drastically changed and we believe that that's going to continue to change. So we're doing a lot of adapting of how if we need to, how are we going to exist off the grid, you know. >> As a mother, as a member of the Navajo Nation it concerns me. I think it concerns a lot of people. But it's being able to say okay what do we do about it now, you know. In the institute I oversee, one of the programs we also run is climate change in a Tribal clean energy resource center and it looks at sustainable energy solutions. And helping tribes to say okay in 50 years, 20 years how can we start transitioning in some cleaner energy sources. So you're not so dependent on whatever fossil fuel source you have. >> So climate change means that there's a process where the environment and the natural resources landscapes are changing which means we as humans who live on that same landscape, we have to change also.

So we've been in the process of you know implementing adaptation strategies in our farming. So this year my sons and I, we are farming on a third less of the land and hopefully using less than a third of the water. And we're hoping to achieve getting the same yield from our smaller land use and water use area. >> We've partnered with our sister tribe, the Chickasaw Nation and we're developing a water plan. And this focuses on long-term sustainability of the water resources in the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. Climate change has partly, you know, expanded our thinking to how we plan for the future. And how we can become more efficient and better stewards of water in our region here in Oklahoma. >> Part of our water planning efforts is to come up with ways to deal with drought conditions. You know there's – you can do artificial aquifer recharge and try to take the waters during storm events and replenish the water in the aquifer during those storm events to have a, build up your water supply for drought conditions. We're also looking at, we're doing a study on recycling and reuse of waste water which typically is just discharged with stream and just flows down to the Red River and up to the Gulf.

>> In our planning meetings that we have with other tribes that are planning meetings through the EPA, we've had opportunities to look at some of these problems and see that we're not alone. Other tribes are finding these same concerns. And while that may not lead to policy changes in the immediate future it helps to at least identify those problems and give them examples that people can point to and say this is an example of what we're seeing and being able to understand that we're not alone in these concerns. So continue to have these networks and building these relationships. There are some situations where relationships of trust just aren't there. There are tribal communities that are hesitant to trust government agencies and for good reason. But through these kinds of efforts and through efforts to try and reach out maybe we can start to build again if we're able to find these common needs behind climate change and it may turn out that climate change might be the thing that brings us closer together, because it's going to become such a pressing need. >> When I talk to folks about climate change or any of the environmental issues is be educated enough to make your own decision.

And that means learning everything you need to learn about the subject and then having them take their own culture aside and incorporating that and saying what's best for us and then building a plan. You know there's nothing stronger to me that means sovereignty for them to have their own plan and incorporate it. And that takes education, that takes political will, money all those things along the way, but it first starts with you knowing what you want. >> Climate change, climate variability and change that's not going to be solved in a month or 10 years. This is something that we are going to be living with forever. It's not going to go away. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is being increased in the atmosphere by burning the fossil fuels. It stays in the atmosphere for a long time. So what we are starting on here is a very, very, long journey. And we need to be in for the long haul. So this responsibility is here now and will be in the future.

>> These dialogues will continue, you know, there's opportunities for these people to continue talking amongst each other across cultures, across disciplines, across landscapes. Respecting that in the conversation of science, in the conversation of climate change is critical because our world view might offer some new ideas that maybe science hasn't considered or they've overlooked or dismissed. There's been a lot of dismiss and we've been here for thousands of years and we've survived this long. There's something we're doing right and these opportunities to continue these dialogues is critical, not just for us but for humans, you know, all of us. All of us on this blue-green planet called Earth, you know, these are our relatives. These are not our resources, we need to have relationships that are such. [ Music ].