Samish Indian Nation Climate Adaptation Planning Framework

The Samish Indian Nation initiated a climate change adaptation process, by first developing an adaptation planning framework to identify the steps the tribe will take to prepare and strengthen resilience to the impacts of climate change. The framework addresses the process needed to assess vulnerabilities, develop resilience strategies, and implement an adaptation plan. The Samish people live on their ancestral lands in the Pacific Northwest, along the Salish Sea in Washington State, and are faced with extreme weather, sea level rise, flooding, erosion and other compounding impacts of climate change.

The report presents the steps the tribe has taken to identify adaptation planning frameworks, planning priority areas, potential impacts to these priorities, and methods for conducting vulnerability analysis. The preliminary goals and objectives for the Adaptation Planning process are delineated; and additional resources have been selected for identifying and prioritizing adaptation options, and for implementing and monitoring progress.

The Adaptation Planning Framework includes the following steps that are further detailed as organized by sections in the report:

Step One: Research and Build Support

Step Two: Identify Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities

Step Three: Establish Goals and Objectives

Step Four: Identify Adaptation Options

Step Five: Evaluate and Prioritize Adaptation Options

Step Six: Implement

Step Seven: Monitor

Climate change adaptation planning was first formally initiated by the Samish Tribal Council, who in May 2016 passed Resolution 2016-05-008 to begin the process. Later that year, the Samish Indian Nation received a U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) grant to build capacity for climate change adaptation planning.

Research and Build Support

The tribe established an Adaptation Working Group to act as a steering committee for the project, and support communication and collaboration. They developed a Communication Plan, and became a conduit for information and knowledge to be shared between Samish Departments, tribal members, and the Tribal Council. Outreach to and engagement of tribal members was a priority for the adaptation planning effort, to “build support for the project and ensure that the outcomes from this process were grounded in the culture and priorities of the tribal members.” However, the “engagement of tribal members was challenging, as evidenced by low participation and response in surveys and other input activities.” The suspected reasons for low engagement levels, and means for resolving these issues are described, as well lessons learned around gathering traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). 

The impacts of climate change, and the development of adaptation strategies can be informed by traditional ecological knowledge, and utilizing TEK also ensures that strategies will be culturally appropriate. TEK must be gathered and shared in a culturally sensitive manner, to respect such sovereign knowledge - this information is part of the tribe’s and tribal members’ identity. A salient description of TEK and the significance of honoring this knowledge is offered in the report:

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) generally does not have a singular, universal description and can be expressed in various but most often orally, through languages, stories, songs, and protocols. TEK holders obtain knowledge through direct connections with the environment and as gifts from their ancestors. This knowledge often contains invaluable descriptions of resources that are important to tribal members, including the location or timing of traditional harvesting, the vulnerability of species to climate changes, shifts in species ranges or timing of important cycles, as well as past actions taken by tribal ancestors to respond to impacts and remain resilient through prior challenges.”

Identify Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities

The Samish Indian Nation have conducted a literature review and summarized key predicted climate changes, contained in the Samish Indian Nation Climate Change State of Scientific Knowledge - to analyze  potential climate hazards on priority assets. A Vulnerability Assessment will be developed, building on this climate impact report, to then prioritize which impacts most need to be addressed in adaptation planning, and efficiently allocate resources.

Establishing Goals and Objectives

Draft Goals are listed that could form the basis of the future Samish Climate Adaptation Plan, such as to:  Position the Samish Indian Nation to be a climate resilient community taking proactive steps to prepare for projected climate change impacts.” Objectives are identified that relate to each of the projected Goals. One of the priority Objectives is to “Develop a range of adaptation strategies and actions … including the following priority planning areas:

  1. Preserve Samish properties and infrastructure, economic development opportunities, and community infrastructure and systems essential to the Samish Indian Nation for current and future generations and under changing climate conditions.
  2. Protect culturally significant natural resources, habitats, landscapes, sites and artifacts within Samish Traditional Territory from being compromised by climate change impacts.
  3. Ensure the health, wealth, education and security of Samish tribal members in a new climate future.
  4. Identify opportunities to partner with other governments and organizations to reduce vulnerability."

Adaptation Options

Adaptation options will be designed to address the climate impacts and vulnerabilities, Goals,  Objectives, and opportunities specific to Samish Indian Nation needs and adaptation planning efforts.  There are numerous valuable tools and guides listed in the report (available as of publication in 2017) that contain sample adaptation strategies, including this Adaptation Clearinghouse.  

The Climate Adaptation Plan that is generated from this process is expected to guide the development of adaptation policies and programs, and build resiliency into everyday operations and short and long-term infrastructure investments.


Publication Date: December 2017

Related Organizations:

  • Samish Indian Nation


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Planning guides

States Affected:


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