|WASHINGTON, DC–The National Indian Health Board (NIHB) is taking action to support Tribes in their efforts to combat the ill effects of the changing environment and climate. Specifically, NIHB is mobilizing communities to address the health consequences of climate change through its Climate Ready Tribes (CRT) initiative, funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The overall goal of this work is to build Tribal capacity related to Tribal climate health – by increasing Tribes’ knowledge and awareness of climate change, by increasing Tribes’ ability to recognize threats, and by providing support for Tribes to take action.
As part of the CRT initiative, NIHB has selected three Tribes to receive awards of up to $50,000 each to support local climate and health-related research or projects. The three Tribes receiving this award are: Lummi Nation (Washington State), the Pala Band of Mission Indians (California), and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska (Alaska). Additionally, for the first time, one awardee has been selected for a mini-award of $5000 to conduct a project focused on local community education and outreach related to climate change and health. This awardee is Kaw Nation (Oklahoma). NIHB is now in its third year of the CRT project and looks forward to welcoming this new cohort of Tribal awardees. The new awardees join the previous cohort: Swinomish Indian Tribal Community (Washington State), the Village of Wainwright (Alaska), and Blackfeet Nation (Montana).
“With this funding, Pala will be able to continue focusing on solutions for adapting to the impacts of climate change on the health of our Tribal citizens,” stated Dr. Shasta Gaughen, Environmental Director for the Pala Band of Mission Indians. “Further, we can share what we have learned with Tribal communities throughout the country, thus contributing to better adaptation strategies and health outcomes for all of Indian Country.” Although each Tribe has proposed a unique project with a unique focus, all Tribes have expressed similar desires to take action in their communities and share knowledge and resources with other Tribes.
This year’s projects use a variety of tools and activities to address a range of climate health issues. All projects also involve conducting evaluation activities; developing and deepening partnerships; and sharing knowledge and information nationally, regionally, and/or locally. The three Tribes receiving the large award also plan to present their work at the 2019 National Tribal Public Health Summit in Albuquerque, NM this May.
The Pala Band of Mission Indians’ project involves: creating a community-driven adaptation plan, developing an adaptation committee to build community wellbeing by working together on ongoing climate initiatives, distributing educational materials to raise community awareness, and leading inter-Tribal collaboration and resource-sharing by forming an inter-Tribal working group for regional wellbeing and compiling and sharing other resources online.
The Lummi Nation’s project focuses on shellfish biotoxins and harmful algal blooms (HABs) as they relate to climate change. “The Lummi Nation has relied on shellfish harvesting since time immemorial for ceremonial, sustenance and commercial purposes,” Merle Jefferson, the Director of the Lummi Natural Resources Department, said. “With climate change increasing the frequency and severity of ‘red tide’ and other biotoxins in shellfish, it is more important now than ever that we act to protect the safety of the Lummi Community. This grant will increase our capacity to protect the Lummi People from the effects of harmful algae blooms, allowing our people to safely practice their traditional ways of life.” This project involves a limited-term empirical study of two methods used for sampling HAB-generated biotoxins, increasing community awareness and understanding of climate change impacts in general and shellfish biotoxin health risks, and creating and installing warning signs that can be used long-term.
Harmful algal blooms are also a concern for the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. Their project aims to build the capacity of Southeast Alaskan Tribal governments to respond to environmental threats to marine traditional food sources that are exacerbated by climate change; they will do this by training environmental staff to collect environmental samples and provide communication tools and context to educate rural communities about public health impacts from these threats. “Southeast Alaskan Tribes face significant threats to marine subsistence resources from climate change, especially from ocean acidification and increasing harmful algal blooms. We look forward to hosting a workshop with the region’s Tribes that will allow us to address these threats collaboratively through monitoring and adaptation planning,” explained Jeff Feldpausch, Resource Protection Director, at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. Their project focuses on hosting a Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) workshop for regional partners, educators, and interested Tribal citizens.
Finally, Kaw Nation has planned a project aligning with the mini-award focus on communication and outreach. Their project involves holding internal meetings for Tribal staff and partnership, increasing knowledge within the community via an educational campaign, producing original educational materials such as fact sheets and posters, and holding a Local Climate Health Outreach educational meeting. “The health of the people of Kaw Nation and the surrounding communities is very important. It is the hope that this grant will provide information to look at the overall impact of climate change,” said Lynn Williams, Chair of Kaw Nation.
The National Indian Health Board recognizes the interdependence of Tribal communities and environmental health in the face of climate change, and is committed to assisting Tribes in their forward-thinking, capacity building efforts to protect their health and promote community well-being for generations to come. As part of the project, NIHB and CDC will provide sites with technical assistance, opportunities for peer-to-peer networking, and access to national networks and resources. The project also involves some other national activities hosted by NIHB.
More information on the Climate Ready Tribes project can be found on the NIHB website climate pages and the new project fact sheet.