Officials testify on climate change’s outsized effect on Indian Country

Keerthi Vedantam

'It’s been really tough on tribes across the country,' officials told a House panel looking at the effects of climate change on Native America.

Cronkite News

WASHINGTON – Clayton Honyumptewa says the Powamuya ceremony will be observed this weekend as usual on parts of the Hopi reservation, but the planting that traditionally follows the ceremony might not come until May.

The delay is just another example of the effects of climate change that have left dams dry, water scarce – and pushed planting from March to April and then to May, leaving little time for crops to grow.

“Sometimes they don’t even mature because it already gets cold in September,” said Honyumptewa, director for the Hopi Department of Natural Resources. “It’s been really rough on the farmers.”

It’s been really tough on tribes across the country, officials told a House panel looking at the effects of climate change on Native America. Honyumptewa was not there, but stories like his were repeated in testimony Tuesday by tribal leaders from Alaska, Washington and Arizona.

An Inupiaq witness testified that melting glaciers are leading to erosion that threatens rural villages on the Bering Strait, and a representative of the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington said the tribe’s treaty-protected fishing has dried up, while rising seas endanger nearby communities.

Tohono O’odham Nation Vice Chairman Verlon Jose told the House Natural Resources subcommittee climate change has affected everything from farming and livestock to housing and infrastructure.

“We have been able to live off the land, with the land, and with the environmental conditions that it has,” Jose said. But the decades-long drought in Arizona has brought extreme heat and reduced groundwater and surface water needed by crops and livestock.

“As climate change has begun to disrupt both our traditional and modern ways of living, we have had to figure out ways to cope with these changes,” Jose said in his testimony.

The testimony came a day after the president of the National Congress for American Indians urged lawmakers in his annual State of Indian Nations address to take steps toward reversing climate change.

“The science is settled. The evidence? Undeniable. Our world is gravely ill, human beings are the cause, and only we can administer the cure,” said Jefferson Keel, the president. “Climate change threatens our wellbeing, places, and ways of life in every conceivable way.”

Honyumptewa said he sees it among Hopi ranchers, who cannot afford to properly feed and water their livestock because of scarce resources on the reservation. As a result, livestock and crops have both diminished.

“Some people wholly rely on that. I mean, that’s their livelihood, (their) income for a year,” Honyumptewa said.

Jose said climate change has blunted the tribes’ efforts to get members to return to a healthier, traditional diet as those foods have been “drastically impacted by significant changes in the average temperature that alters the phenology, or the seasonal life cycle, of traditional plants.”

“Our members go out to gather traditional foods and find that many are blooming out of season or not blooming at all as a result of climate change,” he said.

At the hearing, witnesses asked Congress for a seat at the table as the government grapples with climate change, and insisted indigenous experience and expertise should be part of any solutions atimed at reversing it effects.

“We as a community can use best practices, going back to our traditional ways as well as bridging the modern social lifestyles to address climate change,” Jose said.

And while some areas of the Hopi tribe are preparing for the Powamuya ceremony to inspire a successful growing season, Honyumptewa said the drought has made it harder to keep cultural norms alive.

“We need rain, we need water to do that. Rain, snow, all our ceremonies are geared to that,” he said.

“Hopi prophecy is all coming true. Climate change, the California wildfires, they were all predicted by Hopi elders telling us this is what’s going to happen,” Honyumptewa said. “It’s Koyaanisqatsi – a crazy world.”

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

For more stories from Cronkite News, visit

Comments (7)
No. 1-7
David Hollenshead
David Hollenshead

Most wells in the West will need to be drilled deeper, which disproportionately includes the wells that serve Native Nations. Perhaps a few Native Owned & Operated Well Drilling Businesses could address this. The biggest "cost" is the experience in operating the Heavy Equipment, which is more than the cost of the Drilling Rig. Perhaps some young men & women could work on an existing Drilling Crew, as this would ensure that adequate Highly Skilled Workers were available...

Most Native Alaskan Villages will need to be relocated. Perhaps a Native Operated business could make Shipping Container Based Homes so that each family gets a four container, or 40 Ft x 40 Ft home, with three being for living space and one for storage. The empty container could be used to transport: natural siding, roofing, and the parts of a sledge, which would support the entire structure, handy if it needs to be moved again, and again. Which would allow traditional fishing & hunting villages to remain as close as possible to the ocean...

DeeDee 123
DeeDee 123

Unfortunately the US gov has allowed the groundwaters to be contaminated by uranium, mining and now fracking wastes.


I can only imagine the hardships facing you and others there in the western prairies and desserts of the North and South West. We''ll all be having to find new ways of dealing with this current and getting progressive worst global warning problem. We're all in this together. Solar and wind energy could be the power source that helps drive your options. Save journey.

HIgh Plains
HIgh Plains

The premise that a changing climate affects one race more then others is a bit suspect. Or is someone smelling a honey pot of money if they ride the CC wave.

Sorry but this just doesn't pass the sniff test.

Candice Sue
Candice Sue

Fatso on the right needs to apologize to the mastodon

Candice Sue
Candice Sue

Big time fat alert looking for handouts from the Fed

Candice Sue
Candice Sue

You are a liberal idiot