The U.S.’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change may have ended, but the commitment in Indian Country is only growing stronger.
Despite President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from taking part in the international accord, some tribes and organizations did not follow suit. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) stated they will continue representing Native Americans in fighting climate change.
The U.S., along with 195 other countries — at least 55 of which account for more than half of the world’s total greenhouse emissions — signed the Climate Accord. In doing so, each country vowed to utilize green energy, limit emissions that contribute to climate change and help relieve the impact of climate change as part of global cooperation. The primary purpose in taking part of this agreement is acknowledging that the current threat is “urgent and potentially irreversible” and move toward a goal of “holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels,” according to the official agreement.
In a press release, NARF Executive Director John Echohawk stated, “We will work to ensure that all parties respect, promote and consider Indigenous peoples’ rights in all climate change actions, as is required by the Paris Agreement.”
A primary reason for this ongoing commitment is the direct impact climate change has on tribes. Along with thousands of feet of land diminishing as coastal erosion and flooding continue to increase, salmon populations are declining, causing hundreds of people to go without the proper land and food needed for survival. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there are 184 Alaska Native Villages under serious threat and observation due to these climate changes. While they cannot regain that land, they are in the process of relocating their properties, as well as their efforts, to ensure that this climate impact is addressed.
The announcement that Native American groups will go forward with the Paris Accord does not mean that tribes can officially sign the Paris Climate Accord, as per U.S. law; however, members can unofficially adapt the Accord’s mission. Four tribes formally announced their plan to continue pursuing this mission: Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Quinault Indian Nation, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. In addition, the tribes asked the United Nations to encourage further Tribal participation
NCAI President Brian Cladoosby explained that Native American knowledge is essential to understanding the effects of climate change. Because of the strong relationship between Tribal communities and the land, many organizations are gaining interest in Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), otherwise known as indigenous knowledge. With this knowledge, organizations can further understand and detect changing climate impacts.
“Through years of tireless effort, the link between traditional knowledge, sustainable development and cultural resilience is now reflected in the international conversations that take place around climate change policy,” Cladoosby said. “Indigenous and local peoples often possess detailed knowledge of climate change that is derived from observations of environmental conditions over many generations.”