The Cultural Impacts of Climate Change on Native American Tribes


Native American tribes are among the hardest hit by climate change. That’s according to Ann Marie Chischilly, executive director of the Institute of Tribal Environmental Professionals, or ITEP, at Northern Arizona University.

“In my life, I’ve seen grasslands turn into sand dunes,” says Chischilly. “So if your land is changing rapidly, everything you know about hunting, gathering berries, gathering your water, gathering your wood, you have to adapt at an alarming rate.”

Many tribes were nomadic before reservations were established and could move when conditions changed. Today, Chischilly and ITEP are helping some 540 tribes develop adaptability plans for a changing environment… within reservation boundaries.

“What we’re asking (of the tribes) is to look 20 to 30 years out and how can we integrate sustainable energy solutions into their programs,” Chischilly said. “It can be solar, wind or in some cases hydroelectric. So it really depends on their region, what resources they need and what they want as a sovereign nation.”

As a member of the Navajo Nation itself, Chischilly knows the important role nature plays in the lives and rituals of Indigenous peoples.

She says, “There’s a concept in Navajo, it’s called Hozho. It means beauty. Navajo or Dine style, the Hozho is all around you. It’s part of your everyday way of life. Chischilly adds, “That balance is part of what I do today: make sure that my life and the lives of my children will continue to be in balance with this land.”

Chischilly says strategic climate and energy planning are among the ways tribes can preserve their traditions in a changing world.


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