tagged w/ indigenous wisdom
DemocracyNow.org - As the nation commemorates the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the so-called "New World" in 1492, indigenous activists at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, are pushing for schools to teach the "real history of the Americas" and to celebrate indigenous culture. "Columbus Day" has long evoked sadness and anger amongst people of color, especially Native Americans, who object to honoring a man who opened the door to European colonization, the exploitation of native peoples and the slave trade. We're joined by three guests involved with "The Real History of the Americas" day: Esther Belin, a writing instructor at Fort Lewis College and a member of the Navajo Nation; Shirena Trujillo Long, coordinator of El Centro de Muchos Colores at Fort Lewis College and chair of the "The Real History of the Americas" Committee; and student activist Noel Alla-Ta-Ha, a member of the White Mountain Apache tribe and Fort Lewis College senior.DemocracyNow.org - As the nation commemorates the arrival of Christopher Columbus to... more
In the Northwest, coastal tribes are noticing melting glaciers and rising sea levels.
Native tribes are working with climate scientists to utilize their holistic knowledge.
Some tribes have been collecting generations of information.
Native American tribes are teaming up with climate scientists to monitor environmental changes along the coast, changes that are disrupting indigenous ways of life that tribes say are key to their survival.
Tribal leaders say their understanding of natural ecosystems such as long-term weather patterns or wildlife migrations can be just as important as CO2 measurements or satellite data.
“The long term perspective of our people has scientific value,” said Micah McCarty, chairman of the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay, Washington. “We can establish a more holistic baseline of the big picture of things. Some scientists may be more narrowly focused and have an excellent perspective, but we have a broader perspective to draw from. That’s a value."
The Makah people and their descendants have been living in the area for 4,000 years, and have collected generations of information about their environment. That environment has recently been changing, McCarty noted, as droughts have destroyed freshwater streams that are important salmon spawning nurseries and shellfish that are collected for traditional clothing and crafts are facing threats from increasing ocean acidification.
“We live on one of the wettest places on earth,” McCarty said about his tribal lands on Washington’s rainy Olympic Peninsula. “The salmon could not go upstream because there wasn’t enough water. If we experience more and more of these events, what are we going to do to adapt?"
The Makah aren’t the only tribes facing changes. The Quinault people of Washington are watching the disappearance of a glacier that feeds their local salmon stream, while tribes living along the Bering Sea in Alaska are abandoning their villages because of rising sea levels. Tribal leaders from Hawaii, Samoa, the Marshall Islands and other low-lying atolls are also worried about the future and planning to relocate, according to Dan Basta, director of the office of marine sanctuaries for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“These cultures have been codifying to a fine scale so many natural factors that they are a treasure trove of knowledge if we pay attention,” Basta said.
This unique collaboration between tribal leaders and federal climate researchers will be the subject of a three-day gathering this week at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, DC., sponsored by NOAA, the NMAI; the Hoh, Makah, and Quileute Tribes and the Quinault Indian Nation – all of whom live on the Olympic Peninsula.
McCarty and other tribal leaders hope the meeting will form the basis of a collaboration between tribal members and scientists to act as “first responders” in the face of environmental shifts. That includes working together on monitoring sea levels, water quality, thickness of mollusk shells and fish and wildlife migration patterns, he said. Future meetings will include tribal members from other parts of North America, including those facing drought in the Southwest or rising sea level along the Gulf Coast.
“We’re hoping to build a coalition to address climate change,” McCarty said, “so we have more people doing what needs to be done to change how we live on this planet.”In the Northwest, coastal tribes are noticing melting glaciers and rising sea levels.... more
Margaret Hiza Redsteer has long known the Navajo Nation. Of Crow descent, she grew up near the Montana-Wyoming border, and in the 1970s moved to an area of Arizona then shared by the Navajo and Hopi tribes. She married a Navajo man and they had three children. While living on the reservation, she often heard people talk about how much the land's vegetation had changed. "But at that point," she says, "it hadn’t really clicked what that meant – that it indicated climate change."
In 1986 the 29-year-old Hiza Redsteer and her family resettled in Flagstaff, where she began to study geology at the university. After 14 years of schooling, she returned to the Navajo Nation with a Ph.D., as an employee of the U.S. Geological Survey in the early 2000s. Her research specialty was studying volcanic deposits near Yellowstone. But, as she grew convinced of the harmful effects of climate change on reservation livelihoods, she decided to switch focus. Her pioneering work using aerial photographs, GPS maps and remote laser sensing data to track landscape level changes on the Navajo Nation was written about in "Shifting sands in Navajoland," (HCN story; 6/23/08).
Now, Hiza Redsteer is pushing to find out even more about ecological changes her original data could not track by incorporating a rarely-used form of climate data into her research -- the accounts of Indian elders. She has extensively interviewed many elders, and now their perspective is illuminating new aspects of the region's environmental history.
High Country News If I was a Navajo child, what would I hear about the weather and climate growing up?
Margaret Hiza Redsteer The elders often talk about the difference in grass, how tall, how thick, how much of it there used to be. Some people say when they were young and herding sheep they had to stay right with the herd. If they didn’t the sheep would get lost in the grass. It's not like that now.
HCN What have you learned from these oral histories?
Hiza Redsteer The elders' memories can give us information that the physical records can’t. They give a much better picture of what the ecological changes have been. For example, people talk about how, in the winter, the snow was chest high on the horses. They talk about using particular streams for irrigation of crops, but many of those aren’t even flowing now,
It helps us fill in gaps too. There are huge time gaps in some of the earlier photography. We have a photo set from 1936, for instance, but then the next photo set we have from the area is from 1954. That’s a huge gap in time when you’re trying to unravel how the landscape changed and what caused it.
HCN Is there a difference between the kind of information you can get through oral and analytical methods?
MHR We can model evapotranspiration rates based on temperature; we can make observations of soil moisture. But one thing that we can't do very easily is project back to what those conditions were like when there was more snow. One of the things we’ve learned (from oral accounts) is that soil moisture conditions were much different. In the Southwest we expect precipitation during two distinct periods: winter rains, followed by a dry windy spring, then the summer monsoons. Springs have become much warmer; we can see that in the meteorological record.
We've learned from the elders that the soil stayed moist all through the spring until the summer monsoon arrived. Now, if you were to go out in the springtime during the dry windy season, you could dig a very big trench and not run into any wet sand or soil. The ecological effects are huge because shallow rooted plants aren't going to do as well.
It's also hard to reconstruct where plants and animals were in the past. The elders have told us that when there were cottonwoods in the Little Colorado river there were lots of beavers. They used to see cranes migrate through the area in the spring, stopping in the marshes around lakes that aren't there now.
by Danielle Venton
More at the linkMargaret Hiza Redsteer has long known the Navajo Nation. Of Crow descent, she grew up... more