The Impacts of Climate Change on Tribal Traditional Foods

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The Impacts of Climate Change on Tribal Traditional Foods

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The tribal communities noted in this very interesting paper are from the Pacific Northwest. This paper is included in the study even though it is not specifically focused on Minnesota’s coastal resources, but is relevant in discussing modes and strategies that tribal leaders may pursue to address the impacts of climate change. Mention is made of wild rice and Ojibwe communities in Minnesota. Key points are extracted and reproduced below. Abstract: “American Indian and Alaska Native tribes are uniquely affected by climate change. Indigenous peoples have depended on a wide variety of native fungi, plant and animal species for food, medicine, ceremonies, community and economic health for countless generations. Climate change stands to impact the species and ecosystems that constitute tribal traditional foods that are vital to tribal culture, economy and traditional ways of life. This paper examines the impacts of climate change on tribal traditional foods by providing cultural context for the importance of traditional foods to tribal culture, recognizing that tribal access to traditional food resources is strongly influenced by the legal and regulatory relationship with the federal government, and examining the multi-faceted relationship that tribes have with places, ecological processes and species. Tribal participation in local, regional and national climate change adaption strategies, with a focus on food-based resources, can inform and strengthen the ability of both tribes and other governmental resource managers to address and adapt to climate change impacts. "American Indian and Alaska Native tribes face unique and disproportionate challenges from climate change that are not yet widely understood in academic or policy arenas. This paper explores one of these challenges in particular—the impact of climate change on traditional foods and the reality that 1) tribal access to resources is strongly influenced by the legal and regulatory relationship that tribes have with the federal government, and 2) tribes have a unique and multi-faceted relationship with places, ecological processes, and species. These frameworks shape tribal responses to climate change. “Water is held sacred by many indigenous peoples (Cozzetto et al.), and considered by some to be a traditional food... Climate change impacts on water temperature and availability will also have significant impacts on tribal traditional foods. Already, the lack of water is among one of the leading causes for the decline in the ability to grow corn and other crops... In the Great Lakes region, warming winters and changes in water level are crippling the ability of wild rice to grow and thrive in its traditional range. Wild rice is a pillar of cultural health for the Anishnaabeg people in Minnesota, and any decline in wild rice negatively affects their well-being. In response to threats facing wild rice, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Tribe has begun trying to address potential hydrological changes. In the early 1900s, settlers built ditches to drain the land for agricultural purposes, resulting in negative impacts to the watershed. The Fond du Lac are now building dams at ditch flow points to keep water levels stable and prevent extreme changes in water level that would negatively affect wild rice harvests. “Climate and ecosystems change over time. Paleoclimate, archaeology, and ethno-ecological research provide a foundation for understanding how climate, environmental productivity and tribal food utilization strategies evolved. Historical evidence demonstrates the rate of climatic change experienced within past environments and the accompanying tribal food security systems that occurred in response to these changes. Although the rate of change experienced was not as rapid as contemporary conditions, tribes historically experienced significant climate changes that affected ecosystems and food-based resources, requiring tribal cultures to strategically adapt and respond to survive. “Tribes may enter government-to-government agreements to increase their role in local resource management, to access additional areas to gather traditional foods, or lease and buy lands that ensure sustained access to traditional foods. Tribes may also exchange information and identify different technologies to access, acquire, process, and store foods. Additionally, tribes can develop formal and informal agreements with other tribes to grant or request access to traditional foods that may now only be found on one of their reservations. Tribes may have to consider diversifying their food-based resources and possibly adopting and utilizing new animals, plants, or fungi. “Addressing climate change through the knowledge, experiences, and policy contexts of indigenous peoples provides a powerful counter-point to the lack of effective global climate responses. As indigenous peoples may experience some of the harshest impacts of climate change, they can also lead the way in creative solutions for adaptation and ethical policy strategies. “Climate change impacts on tribal traditional foods should be viewed in the context of historical and cultural tribal relationships with places, wildlife, and plants, as well as in the landscape of the treaties, federal policies, and federal trust responsibilities and regulations in which they exist. Moreover, tribes view climate change adaptation in light of their reciprocal relations to care for and respect natural resources. As a result of these relationships of reciprocity and responsibility between tribes and nature and existing policies, Indian tribes’ vulnerability to climate change, and the adaptation strategies they adopt are multi-faceted and deeply rooted in a complex historical context. As sovereign governments, tribes have the authority to identify and implement adaptation strategies, and attempt to influence and strengthen the climate change protocols of other governments. “The various adaptive practices tribal practitioners and communities employ may enable managers to institute changes in policies, regional strategies, and resource regulation/conservation that enable ecosystems to respond more favorably to climate change. Tribal participation in local, regional and national climate change adaption frameworks and strategies, with a focus on food-based resources, can assist with prioritizing research and management directions. “Under extreme and rapid conditions of severe change at different ecological scales, western scientists and managers may need to partner with tribal scientists, managers, harvesters, and communities to explore innovative approaches to addressing climate change impacts. Tribal participation in climate change research, policy development and planning can help identify more solutions that fully consider tribal cultural values. Climate change will not obey the jurisdictional boundaries between tribal, private, state, and federal lands. As such, meaningful government-to-government relationships and collaboration will be vital to address the climate change impacts to the traditional foods, and to the wildlife, plants, and habitats valued by tribes and other Americans."


Climatic Change, 120, 545-556.

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Lynn, Kathy; Daigle, John; Hoffman, Jennie; Lake, Frank; Michelle, Natalie; Ranco, Darren; Viles, Carson; Voggesser, Garrit; Williams, Paul. (2013). The Impacts of Climate Change on Tribal Traditional Foods. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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