Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Akwesasne

Mohawk (Kanienkehaka) Nation Territory, known as Akwesasne, is located in the St. Lawrence River Valley and straddles the border between New York State, Ontario and Quebec. This plan discusses the risks posed by climate change to the Mohawk people’s traditional way of life and includes adaptation recommendations aimed at improving public health and cultural preservation. Recognizing the Nation’s deep ties to the land, the plan uses cultural concepts and symbols as a framework for discussing climate change. These include: the people, mother earth, the waters, the fish, small plants and grasses, the berries, three sisters (corn, beans and squash), medicine herbs, animals, trees, the birds, the four winds (air quality), the thunderers (storms and precipitation), grandmother moon (reproductive cycles), the sun (temperature and UV rays), the stars, the four beings (insect-borne disease), and the creator (environment and culture).

Part of the Six Nations (Iroquois) Confederacy, the Mohawk people settled in what is known today as New York State in the 1600s. Historically, the Mohawk people were known for fishing, hunting, farming, planting gardens and harvesting hay. However, over the last century, technology and industrialization have changed their traditional way of life. Today, rivers cannot be fished due to contamination from nearby industrial plants. As people increasingly purchase processed food from grocery stores, farming has become a less common practice. The report notes that such shifts may be impacting overall public health. Climate change may further accelerate the loss of Mohawk tradition.

For each cultural concept, the plan considers existing conditions, potential climate change risks to public health and Mohawk culture, and proposed adaptation strategies. For example, in “the waters” section, the plan highlights the tradition of forming ice bridges between the Akwesasne islands. In recent years, water temperatures have not been cold enough to form such ice bridges. Additionally, climate change is expected to lead to higher water temperatures, longer summers and less dissolved oxygen, impacting aquatic life and streamflow. The plan recommends expanding water storage during times of drought and improving water quality monitoring.

Crops such as berries, corn, beans and squash play an important role in Mohawk culture. Climate change may lead to higher summer temperatures and more frequent drought conditions, impacting the range, quantity, and quality of these agricultural resources. To address this challenge, the plan recommends storing seeds and shifting planting dates. Additional recommendations include expanding irrigation and drainage systems, and canning to preserve foods.

In the Mohawk tradition, trees offer a number of benefits: tree bark is used in medicine, maple syrup in ceremonies, and wood for heat and shelter. In recent years, warmer winter and spring months have resulted in reduced sap flow from maple trees. Climate change hazards to trees in Akwesasne include invasive species and pests, shifts in tree species and range, and increased occurrence of wildfire and drought. Under a mid-range warming scenario, oak trees are projected to nearly completely displace maple-beech-birch trees by 2100. Invasive species such as the emerald ash borer, meanwhile, threaten black ash trees, which are widely used in basket-weaving. To address these climate change hazards, the plan recommends developing a Forest Management Plan, harvesting black ash seeds to increase forest health and production, enforcing New York’s firewood ban to control the spread of pests, and using new spout technology to increase sap yield from maple trees.



Publication Date: August 30, 2013

Related Organizations:

  • Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe

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  • Adaptation plan

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