Tribal Leaders Summit on Climate Change: A Focus on Climate Adaptation Planning and Implementation

In November 2015, the University of Arizona Native Nations Climate Adaptation Program and Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions convened tribal environmental managers and leaders at a Tribal Leaders Summit to share experiences and build capacity in climate adaptation planning. Participants shared adaptation planning successes and lessons learned, discussed opportunities to supplement climate science with traditional knowledge, and offered feedback on the challenges to implementation. This report provides an overview of the major outcomes from the Summit.

To kick off the Summit, tribal leaders from across the country presented about their adaptation plans, discussing motivations for initiating the planning process, how they garnered community support, and plan recommendations.

  • Newtok Village in Alaska, for example, has faced decades-long riverine erosion that is shrinking the native island at a rapid rate. Consulting with engineering experts, Village leaders determined that relocation would be the most cost-effective and sustainable solution. The resulting plan addresses relocation and transition. Village leaders cite lack of access to funding as the biggest barrier to implementation.
  • The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, located in the Skagit Valley in Washington State, pursued climate adaptation planning in response to the increased frequency and intensity of tidal surges and extreme weather events. Priorities include protecting the coast and coastal resources, maintaining access routes to the mainland, mitigating wildfire risk, and engaging in emergency response planning.

Panel and keynote speakers discussed the role of traditional ecological knowledge in climate adaptation planning. Some of the takeaways are summarized below:

  • Relying on both traditional knowledge and climate science is better than relying on a single world view.
  • Elders are often the experts in traditional knowledge; it may be more effective to approach them directly, than to cull traditional knowledge at a community meeting.
  • Traditional knowledge gathered in the past may have different applications today in face of a rapidly changing climate.

The Summit concluded with attendees participating in breakout sessions to discuss barriers to adaptation, strategies to take advantage of partnerships, adaptation planning needs, and useful next steps. Takeaways include:

  • To help integrate concepts of climate change into diverse worldviews, tribal leaders should develop a framework for adaptation that is culturally-driven and uses appropriate language.
  • Cultural sensitivity training may enable federal and state government partners and consultants to better understand tribal adaptation planning in the context of community values and past historical traumas.
  • Traditional knowledge is a way of life, and must not be misappropriated or abused by external parties.
  • There should be greater tribal representation in adaptation activities.
  • Partnerships should not be pushed on a tribe, and tribes should be approached individually, not grouped as a whole.
  • Lack of funding is a large barrier to plan implementation.


Publication Date: November 2015

Related Organizations:

  • The University of Arizona Native Nations Climate Adaptation Program
  • Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions (CCASS)


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Education/training materials
  • Engagement

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