Indigenous Resilience: Pacific Rim Nations Offer Innovative Adaptations to Climate Change

A new book detailing the ways in which Pacific Rim Indigenous Peoples are adapting to climate change holds lessons for us all.

For some time, a welter of scientific data has indicated that climate changes would be dramatic and include extreme weather events. That realization took on particular urgency this year when July 2012 became the hottest month on record—hotter even than the Dust Bowl’s July 1936.

Under the circumstances, Asserting Native Resilience: Pacific Rim Indigenous Nations Face the Climate Crisis (Oregon State University Press, 2012), couldn’t be timelier. As editors Zoltán Grossman and Alan Parker say in the introduction, “Climate change is already here.”

The two are well suited to deliver this message. Grossman is a professor of geography and Native American and World Indigenous Peoples studies at The Evergreen State College (TESC) in Olympia, Washington. Parker is not only a professor of advanced studies in tribal governments, and executive director of the Northwest Indian Applied Research Institute at TESC, but is also a Chippewa Cree tribal citizen. Beyond their credentials, the two bring insight and considerable passion.

“The people of the world, and especially Native communities, no longer have five to 10 years to begin planning. We must begin today!” they write. “Indigenous nations are on the front line of the climate crisis. With cultures and economies among the most vulnerable to climate-related catastrophes, Native peoples are developing 21st century responses to climate change that can serve as models for Native and non-Native communities alike.”

Climate change threatens the health, culture, livelihoods, species migration and traditional foods of place-based communities. It also wreaks havoc with fresh water and makes the oceans increasingly acid (think of it as turning the seas into a cola drink). Against this backdrop, this comprehensive book focuses on Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest and Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific Rim already deeply affected by droughts, flooding, reduced glaciers and snowmelts, seasonal shifts in winds and storms, and the northward movement of species on the land and in the ocean. Yet, using tools of resilience, Native peoples are creating defenses to strengthen their communities, mitigate losses and adapt where possible.

Asserting Native Resilience presents a rich variety of perspectives. The anthology’s foreword is written by Nisqually treaty rights leader Billy Frank Jr., and contributors include tribal leaders, scientists, scholars and activists from all over. The 20-plus writers, each of whom writes a chapter, explain the effects of the climate crisis, interpreting the science into language that is understandable to readers without a science background. They cover the current response plans created by tribal nations, chart the possible paths and give us cultural perspectives. A resource directory of indigenous governments, nongovernmental organizations and communities is also included, as is a community organizing booklet for use by Northwest tribes.

“Life is in water, air and relatives who have wings, fins, roots and paws, and all of them are threatened by climate change—as are people themselves,” says renowned activist Winona LaDuke in endorsing the book. “Parker and Grossman have done an excellent job in telling the stories of climate change, and the people who are standing to make a difference for all of us.” Amen to that—and not a moment too soon.