Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples: A Primer, Draft

Prepared for the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science, this primer explores the relationship between climate change and Indigenous Peoples in the United States, specifically related to the impact of climate change on Indigenous Peoples, the interaction between the Federal Government and Indigenous Peoples, and federal funding available to Indigenous Peoples. This report also provides recommendations for how to better engage with tribal and indigenous people to support federal climate change initiatives.

The report details types of indigenous peoples, including federally recognized tribes, state-recognized tribes, and self-recognized communities - and the rights and legislative powers that these different statuses provide. 

Indigenous Peoples are profoundly affected by climate change because of an inherently more direct relationship with place, wildlife and natural resources. Traditional Knowledge systems (TKs) are anchored in centuries of understanding and relying on social and ecological interdependence. The report offers a comparative of Traditional Knowledge and Western Science (p. 13), and states "(a)mong the most striking contrasts is the 'fullness' of TKs with the 'emptiness' of western science. 'Fullness' refers to the accumulation of knowledge as a whole from a foundation of shared understandings that develops over time within a context that demands moral accountability and ethical conduct. At any particular point in time, the state of knowledge on which to base decisions is complete.The report also includes recommendations for how to interact and work with indigenous people with sensitivity to cultural differences.

A funding overview addresses the inadequate funding granted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and for meeting fiduciary obligations for ensuring that tribes can exercise their rights to healthy environments and protected lands. The report stresses that few tribes have the capacity and resources to engage in climate change activities on their own behalf, which means that action must be taken to provide more resources and assistance.

The Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science was established in 2013 to advise the U.S. Secretary of the Interior on the operations of the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center and the Department of the Interior Climate Science Centers - renamed in 2018, the National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers.


Publication Date: May 2014

Author or Affiliated User:

  • Gary Morishima

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Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Legal Analysis

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