Swinomish Tribe Wins National Climate Adaptation Leadership Award

The Swinomish Indian Tribe has won a prestigious, national award for climate adaptation that can be used as a template for other tribes.
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The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in La Conner, Washington, is surrounded by water on three sides. So it’s not surprising that they signed a resolution to actively address climate change and adaptation planning.

What is remarkable is that their resolution took place nearly a decade ago, long before climate change became a part of the national conversation.

RELATED: 8 Tribes That Are Way Ahead of the Climate-Adaptation Curve

Now the tribal nation is one of seven awardees recognized by the National Fish, Wildlife, and Plant Climate Adaptation Strategy’s Joint Implementation Working Group as the first recipients of the Climate Adaptation Leadership Award for Natural Resources, for their efforts in raising awareness and addressing the impacts of climate change on the country’s natural resources.

"This new award recognizes outstanding leadership by organizations and individuals that is critical to help advance the resilience of our natural resources and the people, communities and economies that depend on them," Michael Bean, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, said in a statement.

The Swinomish Climate Change Initiative is a leader in climate adaptation, said Leah Duran, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), in an e-mail.

“The Swinomish conducted assessments; developed plans; implemented on-the-ground adaptation; fostered partnerships; incorporated community members into planning; and developed tools for other tribal communities to use to conserve their own unique natural and cultural resources,” Duran said.

In addition the Swinomish impact assessment and climate action plan was one of the first in the country, Swinomish community and environmental health analyst Jamie Donatuto said.

“The tribe was at the forefront of that movement, and one of the first tribes to develop methodology,” Donatuto told ICTMN.

Ed Knight, the Swinomish director of the Planning and Community Development, originally collaborated with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington to develop the initial impact assessment and climate adaptation plan, a template that he has shared with tribes around the country during workshops organized by the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals

Since their original planning they’ve branched off into different disciplines in climate change work, such as forming a team led by Donatuto that received funding from the North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative to conduct a two-year trial project to assess Indigenous Health Indicators.

“That is the main project that led to the award,” Donatuto said, adding that it was a team effort that included Swinomish community health specialist Larry Campbell, Swinomish environmental specialist Sarah Grossman, and Eric Grossman with the U.S. Geological Survey.

“This initiative and development of indigenous health indicators has led climate actions along the Swinomish Reservation and neighboring areas,” Duran said. “The beginning phases of the project developed a comprehensive Impact Assessment Technical Report and Climate Adaptation Plan, which enhanced knowledge and capacity of local land managers to understand and adapt to climate threats for the betterment of species, habitats and ecosystems.”

Now the project is engaged in community education and outreach to foster knowledge and engagement from local community members, Duran said.

Campbell called the award a great honor.

“We have leadership here that encourages creative work, we have a stable government that encourages us to think outside the box,” Campbell said. “I think we would like to see our surrounding governments involved in this work, otherwise we’re just working in a vacuum.”

The award is part of a partnership with the DOI, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Forest Service, and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

An honorable mention went to the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Odanah, Wisconsin for work in understanding how climate change is and will affect manoomin, a cold weather species of wild rice of profound cultural significance to their nation.

For more information about the 2016 Climate Adaptation Leadership Awards for Natural Resources, including the seven recipients, honorable mentions, and all 47 nominees, visit the Climate Adaptation Leadership Award main page.

Follow Terri Hansen on Twitter @TerriHansen.