Since 1901 over 800 treaties, which ceded large tracks of land from Indian nations to the U.S. government, were negotiated. Less than half were ratified, and of those, only a small handful was ever upheld, leaving Native people with a fraction of our ancestral homelands.
The precious land we have left is in danger. This summer tribes across the country experienced a powerful drought. It dried up countless streams and lakes, causing severe stress on our ecosystems, crops and livestock. Scientists predict that these extremely dry weather conditions will continue into the foreseeable future. Greenhouse gas pollution has contributed to the drought.
As the first peoples and custodians to this Earth, we have a responsibility to protect it for future generations. If we don't join together to slow down the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, the planet with continue to heat up and affect every one of us.
For western tribes especially, global warming could mean smaller snow packs and more evaporation from our reservoirs. There will be more variability in rainfall patterns, making more frequent or longer droughts likely. We simply cannot afford to take such chances with factors that affect our already precarious water supplies. Only clear leadership and practical solutions will tackle this problem.
The current U.S. policy on global warming is one of indifference, out of step with world opinions, at a time when our emissions of heat-trapping gases from burning oil, coal and gasoline continue to increase. But in the weeks to come, our states' U.S. senators will have a chance to vote for decisive action on global warming in the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act.
This marks the first time that senators will be forced to take a public stand to curb greenhouse gases. The moderate bipartisan plan - modeled after the successful market-based acid rain reduction program in the 1990 Clean Air Act - is the only proposal on the table that will make greenhouse gas pollution go down, not up.
By mandating that all major sectors of the economy cut their greenhouse gas pollution and by allowing flexibility in how these cuts are achieved, the bill will create a nationwide market for the cheapest and most innovative ways to use energy more efficiently and slow global warming. It also will help reduce our nation's dependence on oil. Under this legislation, energy, industrial and transportation sources will limit their emissions to year-2000 levels by 2010. Every decade thereafter will bring more progress. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 75 percent of Americans favor mandatory controls on greenhouse gas pollution.
If Washington doesn't start to address global warming, U.S. businesses could find it far costlier to make steeper pollution cuts down the road. Several major companies such as DuPont deserve praise for cutting their greenhouse gas emissions today. Voluntary actions, however, will not be enough to produce the overall reductions we need.
The McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act is a sensible first step toward addressing the problem. Its sponsors do not expect it to pass on this first vote, but Senator McCain has vowed to persevere. This is a multi-year campaign, and the upcoming vote is only the first in a series of battles.
Simply stated, global warming is the gravest threat to the environment and the integrity of Native lands today. Because greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, the problem will only continue to get worse if we do nothing. The pollution from Henry Ford's first Model T is still trapped in the atmosphere, heating the planet. And greenhouse gases being emitted from our cars and power plants today will still be around 100 years from now.
Voting for the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act is a modest and reasonable step toward a sustainable climate for our planet. It's time for our senators to stop talking about the weather and start doing something about it.
Norbert Hill, Oneida, is executive director of the American Indian Graduate Center, a non-profit organization providing funding for American Indians and Alaska Natives to pursue graduate and professional degrees. Previously he served as executive director of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) for 15 years. He is on the boards of trustees of Environmental Defense, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian.