American Indian tribes: ‘climate change is real’

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Hundreds of Indigenous community members are speaking out about the climate change they say is causing their longstanding communities and tribes to suffer.

It’s happening at the National Congress of American Indians annual conference this week — the same week President Joe Biden declared the first-ever presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

"The place where our ancestors signed our treaties is now underwater," says Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians. Sharp, who often appears in a cedar hat as an homage to her ancestors on the Quinault Indian Nation Reservation, says her community is working to relocate two of their ancestral villages to higher ground due to increasing cases of flooding.

"Climate change is real," she says.

Later this month, she plans to travel to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

Sharp says the tribe has lived on the coast of Washington for thousands of years but lately climate change is forcing their members uphill. The issue is so dire, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland toured Taholah, Wash. and Quinault Indian Nation in August and met with leaders of a dozen tribes.

The group toured the Village of Tahaloh, which is under threat from storm surges, flooding and tsunamis. During her visit, the Secretary discussed the urgency to act to address the climate-related impacts that are displacing many coastal communities, especially Tribal and Indigenous communities in regions already dramatically influenced by climate change, including wildfire and drought.

Secretary Haaland highlighted how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal – a central pillar of the Build Back Better Agenda – includes proposed investments in transition and relocation assistance to support community-led transitions for the most vulnerable Tribal communities.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal includes a $466 million investment for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, including for transition and relocation assistance to support community-led transitions. The investments include:

$216 million for Tribal climate resilience, adaptation and community relocation planning, design and implementation of projects which address the varying climate challenges facing Tribal communities across the country.

$250 million for construction, repair, improvement and maintenance of irrigation and power systems, the safety of dams, water sanitation and other facilities.