Peninsula tribes host national climate change conference

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — A national symposium on climate change and possible ways to adapt and slow the effects will be hosted by North Olympic Peninsula coastal tribes beginning Tuesday.

The inaugural First Stewards symposium, which will continue through Friday at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., is expected to be attended by some 300 coastal indigenous tribal elders, leaders, scientists, witnesses and other scientists and policy leaders from around the nation.

The Hoh, Makah and Quileute tribes and the Quinault Indian Nation created the symposium, saying tribal coastal people are among the most affected by climate change.

“We need everyone engaged in working on adaptations, mitigation and strategies and solutions to climate change,” said Micah McCarty, chairman of the Makah and the First Stewards steering committee.

“Even the polar bears and people of the Arctic Circle cannot escape the secondhand smoke of the vehicle tailpipe and the smokestack that leave such a large carbon footprint,” he said. “Arctic Circle villages must adapt and change now while still trying to preserve their culture and way of life.

“The rest of us have a little time if we act now,” McCarty said.

He and Ed Johnston, Quinault fisheries policy spokesman, pushed for the conference, said Debbie Ross-Preston, coastal information officer for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, a support-services organization for 19 member tribes in western Washington state.

“It was their idea,” Ross-Preston said.

A large delegation of Makah will attend, said Meri Parker, Makah general manager.

“We’re pretty excited about it.”

Among the Hoh delegation will be Vi Riebe who, along with her mother, will be part of a group providing activities for children during the conference, Ross-Preston said.

Five regional panels — including a West Coast panel — will discuss the impact of climate change on indigenous coastal cultures and explore solutions based on millennia of traditional ecological knowledge.

Traditional knowledge is needed to make climate science and subsequent models meaningful on a human and local scale, organizers said.

“Tribes are the natural choice to lead the nation in the response to climate change, beginning with this symposium,” said Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“Coastal Indian people are already dealing with the effects of climate change,” he said.

“The glaciers that feed our life-giving rivers are melting.

“Reservations are flooding more often, forcing some tribes to have to move their homes to higher ground.”

Among them are the Quileute in LaPush, a coastal tribe at the mouth of a river that experiences flooding and now has major structures in the tsunami zone.

The Quileute will be represented by a delegation of six people at the symposium.

Attending will be Quileute Tribal Council members Naomi Jacobson and Chas Woodruff, as well as elder Chris Morganroth III — who will speak on the West Coast panel Wednesday — tribal member Sharon Pullen and Quileute Royalty: Jonah Black, Mr. Quileute; and Alexis Ward, Miss Quileute.

“It is important for us to be present during this very important gathering and to have multigenerations represented,” said the Quileute Tribal Council in a statement.

Frank Geyer of Quileute Natural Resources said:“It is important to make people aware that this phenomenon is happening and the potential impact that it can have and is having on native peoples of the coast.

“Climate change impacts the habitat in which our natural resources live — both on land and in the waters.

“These resources are vital to the culture, economy and well-being of the tribe. They have always depended on their natural resources for their existence.”

Among the issues that will be discussed are the acidification of the oceans, which makes it difficult for shellfish and other creatures to form shells, and rising sea levels.

“Most coastal reservations are at the mouths of rivers and at sea level, so they cannot afford the loss of land through either flooding or rising sea levels,” Geyer said.

Regional panels will share climate adaptation strategies from coastal and island ecosystems nationwide, including Alaskan natives and a large contingent of indigenous U.S. Pacific islanders.

“We want to see meaningful collaboration borne out of this first symposium that, over the coming years, yields effective work to make changes in the way we live on Earth to sustain all of us for centuries to come,” McCarty said.

Climate change is real, said Paul Dye, marine program director for the Nature Conservancy, one of the partners in the symposium.

“Native coastal peoples are experiencing coastal-destroying impacts now, and we have to get serious about tackling the problem on a global scale,” he said.

He emphasized that there are ways to slow the process and adapt to change.

“We’re not helpless,” he said.

“Conserving resources, treating the ecoystem that supports you with respect and being willing to adapt to changing conditions are proven methods of survival that native coastal people have practiced for thousands of years,” he said.

Climate change is something that coastal peoples have always dealt with, said Robin Stanton, media relations manager for the Nature Conservancy’s Washington state program.

“But the change is happening so fast now that it’s necessary to make conscious efforts to adapt.”

In addition to the Nature Conservancy and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, conference partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Congress of American Indians and the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

Other partners include Salmon Defense, United South and Eastern Tribes, Uncas Consulting Services, American Native Renewables and EA Engineering, Science and Technology.

For more information, visit

There, Ross-Preston said, a blog will update viewers during the week.

Last modified: July 15. 2012 5:42PM
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