The Effects of Climate Change on American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes

This article discusses how the U.S. can do a better job of addressing tribes in climate policy, given the unique risks tribes face and unique legal structures that govern tribes. As the safety, culture, and economies of many tribes are threatened long with the environment, the authors argue that the needs of tribes must be taken into account as the U.S. responds to climate change. The report outlines a number of questions that can help define the role of tribal governments in responding to climate change, and makes the case that tribes need to be at the table and makes suggestions of how tribes can better fit into the existing landscape, “both within the framework of federal law and through the exercise of tribal sovereignty.”

The article provides several examples demonstrating the impact of climate change on tribes. For instance, it notes that Alaskan Native tribes, are among the first American populations to feel the effects of global climate change. It describes the plight of the Inupiaq village of Shishmaref in Alaska, which is seeing rapid erosion and declines in sea ice, making it more vulnerable to storm surge and creating an existential threat to the sustainability of their community. In fact, Shishmaref voted in favor of relocation in 2016, eight years after the publication of this article.1 

In its final sections, the article details the efforts some tribes and inter-tribal organizations are already taking to mitigate and respond to climate change. It also identifies several federal programs that tribes could leverage to fund climate change action, such as the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program. It further suggests that tribes consider enacting and implementing their own climate change programs through building code changes and land use planning.


Publication Date: 2008

Authors or Affiliated Users:

  • Daniel Cordalis
  • Dean Suagee


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Academic research paper
  • Legal Analysis

Go To Resource

Footnote 1