Friday, July 20, 2012

First Stewards

I am attending the First Stewards Climate Change symposium at the Museum of the Native American Indian in Washington D.C. It has been an inspiring and informative experience as I've gotten to meet Native peoples from across the United States and the Pacific. Every native community that has gathered here has had a close relationship to the ocean for thousands of years. Fishing is an essential part of how they have developed as a people and who they are today. As a result climate change is not something silly and abstract that only environmentalists care about. It is something that literally means life or death very soon. Over the course of the past week indigenous people from the Western Pacific to Alaska to Hawai'i and to the US West Coast shared stories of how rising waters and changing temperatures are causing increasing problems.

The symposium is not just about these pertinent issues, but is also about cultural and spiritual exchanges. As part of my job this week I helped with an exhibit of cultural and natural resources from Guam and also, to the surprise of many, chanted and sang. Other native groups also shared artifacts, history, information, prayers and songs.

I'm pasting more information of the even below, and I'll hopefully be writing a few posts of my time here as well.

The website for the event is: First stewards.org 

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About the Symposium

The symposium will bring together four regional panels; one each for the West Coast states; Alaska; the U.S. Pacific states and territories; and the Great Lakes, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Gulf of Mexico states. Each day will include opening and closing cultural ceremonies and one or two regional panels. On the second day, a nationally recognized keynote speaker will discuss how coastal indigenous cultures can become more directly engaged in U.S. climate change policy formulation. On the last day, the symposium witnesses — those recognized for their knowledge of indigenous culture, language and tradition — will share their insights on how coastal indigenous cultures and the nation as a whole are being affected by, and will need to adapt to, our changing climate.

First Stewards is being held in tandem with the Living Earth Festival that will run through the weekend. Living Earth Festival will also feature aspects of the Pacific Islands culture carried forward from the symposium.

Uniting for Quality of Life

Climate change—the variation in the Earth’s climate over time—is a pressing issue for coastal indigenous cultures, other coastal communities, and coastal and ocean resource managers. Some of the most dramatic and economically important effects include heat waves and drought in some areas and changing ocean conditions that affect sea life that cultures depend on in others.
Because of their unique vulnerability, coastal indigenous cultures are leaders in societal adaptation and mitigation in response to climate change impacts. Exploring their experiences may hold great value and provide guidance as communities across the nation respond to our changing climate.

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Originally published Monday, July 16, 2012 at 9:17 PM

NW tribes examine climate change as threat to Native Americans

Four Washington coastal Indian tribes are hosting a climate-change conference in Washington, D.C., beginning Tuesday. Native Americans may be among those most affected by changes in temperature and weather, they say.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Members of four Washington coastal Indian tribes will host a conference in Washington, D.C., this week on how climate change is threatening coastal Native-American populations from Maine to Guam.

The conference, which will be held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, aims to cover the variety of ways in which climate change is affecting Native Americans, from rising sea levels to melting glaciers, from vanishing permafrost in Alaska to the increasingly acidic Pacific Ocean.

Along the Washington coast, the four tribes hosting the symposium — the Hoh, the Makah, the Quileute and the Quinault — say they are feeling the effects of climate change.

The Anderson Glacier, which feeds the Quinault River, has shrunk to a fraction of its former size, making it harder for salmon to spawn. Ocean acidification is hurting shellfish that many of the tribes' members depend on for food.

The conference, which starts Tuesday and will include tribal representatives from all over the country, also attempts to bridge the gap between scientists who work on climate change and Native Americans, who may be disproportionately affected by such changes.

"Tribal perspectives on climate are really valuable to understand," said Jan Newton, an oceanographer at the University of Washington who has worked with Indian tribes studying climate change for a decade.

Because Washington's coastal tribes have lived in the same place for generations, she said, they are often well positioned to notice minute changes to the environment that could be caused by a warming climate.

The Quinault tribe, for instance, has seen massive fish kills on Grenville Bay, said Ed Johnstone, who helped organize the conference. He suspects the "dead zone" could be linked to ocean acidification.
"We have no history, oral or written, that talks about dead zones," said Johnstone, fisheries-policy spokesman for the Quinaults.

Native Americans are especially likely to be affected by climate change, said Garrit Voggesser, national director of tribal partnerships at the National Wildlife Federation, which issued a report on the topic last year.

Native people often depend on animal populations for food, he said, and such populations have been disrupted around the U.S., "whether it's moose in Minnesota, salmon in the Northwest, or trout in the West."

Washington's coastal tribes have noticed such disruptions.

"When you look into the sky and see all these pelicans and look into the sea and see all these Humboldt squid — that's not normal," said Micah McCarty, chairman of the Makah Tribal Council, who will lead a panel discussion at the conference.

Climate change is having an impact on people and animals. The Quileute, Johnstone said, are moving part of their coastal village to higher ground to protect it from increased ocean storm surges.
The tribes have provided more than just anecdotal evidence, said Newton, the UW oceanographer. "They were on the ground making some of the measurements the university scientists couldn't get out to do."

Newton, who is attending the conference, said she hopes it will encourage further cooperation in the future: "I'm hoping it really is a steppingstone."

Theodoric Meyer: 206-464-2985 or tmeyer@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @theodoricmeyer.

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