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STOF employees develop climate change plan at Montana tribal climate camp

Developing a strategy to deal with the impact of climate change isn’t child’s play, but a group of Seminole Tribe of Florida employees recently went to summer camp to come up with a plan.

Paul Backhouse, senior director of the Heritage and Environment Resources Office; Juan Cancel, assistant director of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office; and James Charles, consultant for Tribal environmental and cultural resources, attended the Tribal Climate Camp (TCC) held from June 16 to 21 at the

University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Bio Station in Polson, Montana.

Juan Cancel and James Charles work on a climate change plan for the Seminole Tribe while at the Tribal Climate Camp in Montana on June 17. (Courtesy photo)

The Seminole team was one of 14 other groups representing tribes from the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and the plains states who attended the TCC. Hosted by the Confederated Tribes of Salish Kootenai, TCC provided scientists, university professors and facilitators to guide the teams as they developed climate change plans for their respective tribes.

According to its website, the philosophy of TCC is build the capacity of tribal leader teams to address climate change and its associated economic, social, cultural, regulatory and technological impact within the tribe and with other governments through strategic alliances with partners in Indian Country and globally.

The TCC curriculum taught how to devise a plan and work together with tribal leadership on a climate change program.

The objective of the week-long camp was to create a 10-year climate change strategy focused on traditional Tribal culture and traditions. By the end of the week, the Seminole team had an outline of a plan that can begin to be implemented.

THPO assistant director Juan Cancel presents the climate change plan he, Paul Backhouse and consultant James Charles devised to other participants at the Tribal Climate Camp. (Courtesy photo)

“We wanted to build a framework to deal with climate change from the Tribal perspective,” said consultant Charles, of Volya Innovative Solutions. “There is no reason to sacrifice cultural sensibilities and traditions.”

The idea was to create the plan with input from the community and integrate it into all departments of the Tribe. Using the analogy of a tree, Backhouse explained that the priorities of the plan will come from the roots, which represent the community.

“We will get input from the community from the start,” Backhouse said. “Without the community, there is no plan.”

The vision of the Seminole climate change plan is to improvise, adapt, overcome and thrive. Once complete, the plan will be based on Seminole culture and traditions, which will be gathered from the community.

Western science will provide additional information and guidance when culturally appropriate and necessary.

During the workshop, Backhouse, Cancel and Charles used the tree to bring the plan into focus.

The graphic visualization of the Seminole climate change plan created by the Seminole team at the Tribal Climate Camp. (Courtesy photo)

The trunk represents STOF government, the branches are the executive offices and departments, vines represent influences and partners to implement the plan, leaves are the Tribe’s values and cultural identity, and the fruit is the result of the plan.

“The main focus is the community,” Charles said. “The framework will be traditional and science will be incorporated as appropriate.”

The first step will be to assess the vulnerability on all reservations to determine how each may be impacted by climate change. Determining the probability of the occurrence will help the Tribe make informed decisions.

“Science will give projections for the future,” Backhouse said. “Some things are going to change. The plan allows the Tribe to respond to climate change, keep the integrity of the community and maintain their cultural identity. Science will be used with culture and traditions in mind.”

A key component of the plan is communications.

“Thinking about climate change has to be integrated into everything we do,” Backhouse said. “Climate camp gave us real clarity.”

Every member of the Tribal community is encouraged to give feedback for the climate change plan by contacting Quenton Cypress, THPO community engagement manager at 863-983-6549, ext. 12223 or email him at quentoncypress@semtribe.com.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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