BISMARCK, N.D. - It has been said often enough by experts and pundits that indigenous people are the first to be harmed by global warming.
Alaska, according to Mark Myers, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, is the canary in the coal mine. Native Alaska villages were built on coastlines in order to have easy access to sea-faring animals used for sustenance, but now with seas rising due to melting glaciers and ice masses, erosion is occurring and a decision may have to be made about whether to move the villages.
Tribal governments have other issues - people and immediate survival issues - and few tribal governments have addressed climate change as it relates to their reservations. But the tribal colleges have.
On the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, Ion Quigley, a student at Sinte Gleska University, an intern with the USGS, developed an archaeological model of sacred sites for the reservation. The tribe has done nothing with the survey, Quigley said. Another survey of indigenous plants was conducted at Sinte Gleska by a student and it has not been used to protect the plants from climate change.
Another study on the Rosebud Reservation will ascertain whether climate change is affecting cottonwood trees.
Students and faculty from tribal colleges to tribal leaders asked what tribal governments were doing to mitigate the effects of climate change on their reservations, and if the governments working with the colleges, during a session of Native View College Forum VI.
One answer, from David ''Doc'' Brien, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, and Marcus D. Wells Jr., chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, was that tribal governments are doing little because of the necessary attention to other pressing issues.
Brien said that tribal governments and colleges should come together to address the coming issues of climate change; in fact, all people should come together he said.
''Bring to the table the Native view of Mother Earth and the white man's science; we can't lose,'' Brien said.
He also suggested that the USGS have an office in every tribal college to conduct more scientific research.
Life in the not so distant past, for many tribal members, was largely self-sufficient. With few reservation homes connected to the power grid, there was little need to travel any distance for materials and every home cultivated garden space. Wildlife was plentiful and most of the residences were located near a river before 1950. Then the grid came to people's homes and dependency on that convenience began, Brian said.
''My angle: every home should have a wind turbine hooked onto it,'' he said. ''We can become an energy island on the reservations, and each home as well,'' Brien said. Brien said his family is trying to live as self-sufficiently as possible.
Tribes can mandate that reservations become green, said Shawn Bordeaux, director of development for Sinte Gleska University.
Brien said the tribes needed the data and the science so the tribes can go to Washington, D.C., for funding and assistance.
''We could sell all our vehicles and get more efficient ones and we could mandate that all buildings go geothermal. We have 50 homes on Turtle Mountain with all-green construction. Things are happening now,'' Brien said.
Wells said he was not sure what the Fort Berthold Reservation was doing to save the environment.
''We have been challenged to come up with oversight concerning water and air; we also relied on the [Buereau of Land Management]. In the end, we have to look at ourselves; the federal government hasn't done very well and there is a lot to do.
''We are trying to maintain in the face of funding reductions. I'm just trying to have safe streets, health care and law enforcement,'' Wells said.
Tribal government's relationships with tribal colleges are as diverse as each government. The relationship and attitude toward tribal colleges is important to the tribal college officials and students, he said.
''There needs to be good communication between the government and the colleges,'' Wells explained.
Some tribal colleges include information on climate change in the curriculum, as noted by Laurel Vermillion, president of Sitting Bull College on the Standing Rock Reservation. But it's up to the tribal councils and administrations to implement change on the reservations - what will help to save the ecosystems on the reservations.
''I went to the faculty and discussed this. We found the students aren't buying it and now we are putting this topic into studies,'' Vermillion said.
''Tribal colleges can find answers.''