SOMERTON, Ariz. – Drought, record heat, the migration of wildlife: the effects of global warming have been felt on tribal lands across the country, and many leaders are saying now is the time for solutions.
Tribal leaders and environmental scientists from across the country gathered in Somerton on Dec. 5 and 6 for the Tribal Lands Climate Conference, sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation and the Cocopah Indian Tribe.
The conference gave tribal and community leaders the opportunity to share their ideas on how the effects of global warming can be slowed down.
“For us, we have been told that the weather conditions are of such that we need to get prepared now,” said Caleen Sisk-Franco, from the Winnemem Wintu Tribe in California. “We are telling our people to get out of the valley, to leave their homes.”
Sisk-Franco is worried that the dam near her peoples’ homeland will not hold and that their ancestral village will be flooded and many will lose their lives.
“You’re going to be too late,” she said. “You need to protect your people now, so get ready.”
Sisk-Franco, who is the tribal leader and spiritual leader of her people, said preparation is key – not only for her culture’s survival, but also for the survival of her people.
“Were getting ready, making sure we have enough food, that we have enough water and that we have picked the herbs we will need for our medicine,” she said.
Many tribes are not as prepared for the effects of global warming.
Charlee Lockwood grew up on the coastal community of St. Michael in northwest Alaska. She is Y’upik Eskimo and she said her village has not taken action yet.
“Our tribe really isn’t doing anything about the climate change,” Lockwood, a member of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, said. “That is why I am here. I hope to come away from this conference and learn about what everyone else is doing and bring that information home.”
Conference speakers offered several solutions to wage the battle on global warming, including looking at ways to educate the tribes.
Wahleah Johns is a Campus Climate Challenge coordinator and a member of the Black Mesa Water Coalition. She said that working to educate the youth is key.
“Our communities don’t understand that they need to take action now,” said Johns, who is from the Navajo Reservation. “More young people need to get involved. They need to be at the table for these discussions. These are things that are going to affect them.”
One solution that was discussed at the conference was the use of wind energy. Robert Gough is secretary of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, an organization composed of federally recognized Indian tribes in the northern Great Plains that provides a forum for discussions on rights and resources for utility services on tribal lands.
The use of greenhouses, carbon sequestration and solar energy are ways of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that is building up in the atmosphere and causing global warming.
Johns said there are things all people, as individuals, can do every day to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. She said people should replace the light bulbs in their homes with compact fluorescent bulbs. She also said to turn down the thermostat at night by two degrees. These small changes, she said, will make big differences over time.
Other recommendations made by conference attendees were to recycle and use reusable water bottles instead of purchasing bottled water.
Lockwood has traveled the country to educate her peers, politicians and tribal leaders about the effects of global warming. She said that people need to act now, instead of waiting until it is too late.
“We need to make everyone aware of all the little things that everyone can do,” she said. “Little things you can do will make a big difference for Alaska, and around the world.”