Tribes Sign on to Climate Accord

Tribes from all over Indian country have signed on to the Paris Climate Agreement in the wake of President Donald Trump's exit from the international accord.

Indian tribes and indigenous organizations have pledged to honor the commitments of the Paris Climate Accord in the wake of President Donald Trump’s pullout, as have dozens of cities and states. Hawaii became the first state to pass laws supporting the agreement as Gov. David Ige signed two bills designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s (Tlingit & Haida) Executive Council issued a call to action to support the Paris Climate Change Accord. They were joined by three tribes, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), among others.

“As Indigenous Peoples, we have a responsibility to protect traditional homelands which are inherently connected to our cultural languages and identities,” declared a statement issued by the Tlingit & Haida along with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Quinault Indian Nation and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.


“Alaska tribal governments are living with the early but significant effects of climate change,” said council President Richard Peterson in the statement. “Our traditional knowledge learned over millennia within our aboriginal lands leaves us with no doubt that immediate action to reduce the impacts of climate change is our duty as sovereign indigenous governments. As such, we will seek to participate in the Paris Agreement.”

Surprising no one, President Donald Trump announced on May 31 that the United States would withdraw from the accord that was painstakingly reached in 2015 and signed on Earth Day in 2016. Under the nonbinding international agreement, 174 countries and the European Union pledged to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to stop global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Centigrade, according to the U.N.

In response to the U.S. pullout, the indigenous leaders said they would “aggressively address climate change” in their respective homelands and communities. NCAI and NARF also said they “remain firmly committed to representing and advancing Indigenous Peoples’ interests in the ongoing process of implementing the Agreement.”

“We will work to ensure that all parties respect, promote, and consider Indigenous Peoples’ rights in all climate change actions, as is required by the Paris Agreement,” said NARF Executive Director John Echohawk in a statement.

“It is essential that this place-based knowledge is included in any discussion of climate change,” said NCAI President Brian Cladoosby, referring to Indigenous People's intimate knowledge of the land. “Through years of tireless effort, the link between traditional knowledge, sustainable development, and cultural resilience is now reflected in the international conversations that take place around climate change policy.”

Indigenous communities worldwide are at the forefront in feeling the effects of climate change. The Native Alaska village of Kivalina is nearly underwater, and in 2016 the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw in Louisiana became the first official climate refugees when they were given $48 million by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to move farther inland.

The Quinault Indian Nation has seen the encroachment of the ocean on the Lower Village of Tahola, the tribe said in a statement, and glaciers on the Olympic Peninsula are melting.

Climate change: The Queets Glacier (the glacier in the foreground has melted over the past 20 years).

Climate change: The Queets Glacier (the glacier in the foreground has melted over the past 20 years).

“Here at Quinault we have experienced a number of impacts which do hurt and endanger our people, lands and natural resources,” said Quinault President Fawn Sharp. “Regardless of President Trump’s ill-advised abandonment of the Paris Agreement, we will carry on. We just have too much at stake.”

In addition, 1,219 governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges and universities from across the U.S. or with significant operations in the U.S said they would continue to uphold the tenets of the nonbinding international agreement, according to a new consortium, We Are Still In.

“The failure of the U.S. to confront the urgent and existential threat of climate change makes it a moral and practical necessity for tribal, state, and local governments, in collaboration with average citizens everywhere, to fill the leadership vacuum and redouble their climate change avoidance, mitigation, and resiliency efforts,” said the tribes’ joint statement. “Every domestic climate change initiative launched must be bold, aggressively funded, comprehensive, and tailored to confront the dire scientific forecasts of the challenges we face, not the political establishment's consensus of what is reasonable.”