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Alan Parker: Recognized for uniting traditional knowledge and scientific disciplines

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Chippewa Cree attorney and scholar Alan Parker received the Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction’s first Leadership Award at an honoring dinner hosted by CMOP Oct. 28.

“He transcends traditional disciplines to bring people together around river-to-ocean ecosystems, indigenous knowledge systems, and encourages others to do the same,” CMOP said in recognizing Parker.

Parker, a faculty member at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., was born on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation in northern Montana, yet his accomplishments extend far beyond the Pacific Northwest. He is director of the Northwest Indian Applied Research Institute, and founding secretary to the United League of Indigenous Nations. His dedication while on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs was vital to the passage of the Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Tribal Self-Governance Act, and the American Indian Development Finance Corporation Act.

“Alan has a tremendous gift for forging relationships between Native and non-Native communities, especially in regards to climate change,” said former Oregon Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse, draping him in a Pendleton blanket designed by Salish artist Susan Point.

CMOP director Antonio Baptista said the organization was honored to recognize Parker for his leadership in bringing people together around river-to-ocean ecosystems, climate change effects, and indigenous knowledge systems. “Alan’s achievements are important for all of us to further the discussion on oceans, climate and human health in the Pacific Northwest and around the world.”

“I would characterize the CMOP organization as a bridge between the environmental and scientific world, and the tribal leadership,” Parker said. “It’s important to have that bridge.” Grateful for the honor, he said, “I make the most of any opportunity. Antonio is going to visit my office in Olympia, to pursue how we can build a partnership.”

Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, who was speaking at a forest conference in Spokane, Wash., congratulated Parker. “You’ve accomplished so many things in our lifetime, and we’ve still got a lot more to do.”

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“Alan crossed a lot of boundaries to be the person he is today,” said Terry Williams, of Tulalip Tribes Natural Resources. When someone asked when he met Alan he said, “I don’t honestly remember, but I know that it’s been a long, wonderful journey.” Williams, who established the American Indian Environmental Office under the direction of Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner during the Clinton administration, addressed climate change as part of the evening’s panel presentation on Oceans, Climate and Human Health.

He said climate change is removing traditional habitats out from under the tribes. “What options will Native peoples have to continue their traditions when the species on which these traditions have been built have gone extinct or moved away?” he asked. “How will tribes afford to adapt, given that as resource dependent peoples are the first to be exposed, are most sensitive to impacts, and are least able to pay for defense or recovery? How will tribes be able to maintain environmental health care and ensure cultural sustainability and survival?”


Alan Parker, Chippewa Cree attorney and scholar, addressed the audience at the Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction honoring dinner Oct. 28. Parker was given CMOP’s first Leadership Award.

He lined out steps: Integrating climate change into tribal policy and planning, for example promoting carbon sequestration by reserving stands of forest for the long-term to store carbon and provide habitat for culturally important species. Consider options to prevent impacts, like promoting wetland expansion to store water as a buffer against drought. He said cultural sustainability assessments and plans should address the social, economic and cultural impacts that changes in land use and climate will have on human health, livestock health, cultural resources, agriculture, water resources, livelihood options and subsistence activities, and the necessity of adapting to inevitable changes.

And tribes should develop legal and political strategies. In exchange for ceding lands and resources, the United States guaranteed by treaty the rights of tribes to maintain their ways of life. Ecological dispossession would limit or remove tribal access to many culturally vital resources, increasing the resource dependence of many tribes on traditional use lands, usual and accustomed places and other tribal access lands held in federal trust. Tribes have not secured full tribal rights in many of these areas, he said.

“We have less than a decade to act,” Williams said. “The less we spend today to prevent climate change will only convert into future consequences of having to adapt to the uncontrolled impacts of climate change, to the peril of future generations of tribal children and culture.

“We must not allow these burdens to be passed on to them, and it is as much for the future generations as for ourselves that we must begin to act.”

To learn more on climate impacts on indigenous peoples and policy recommendations, see: Climate Change and Pacific Rim Indigenous Nations. Northwest Indian Applied Research Institute, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash.

CMOP is a collaborative effort of many academic and industry partners to advance scientific understanding of the coastal margin environments that sustain much of the world’s population. Outreach to Native American communities is an important component, as understanding policy, economic and social milieu of the tribes and urban populations is vital to CMOP’s long-term objectives.