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Tribal Regulatory Authority to Combat Climate Change

Tribal Regulatory Authority to Combat Climate Change

Just last year, residents of the small community of Newtok, Alaska—home to approximately 380 Yup’ik Alaska Native people—packed up their belongings and moved away. As a result of climate change, the sea was slowly but surely eating at the melting permafrost underlying the town. Houses and infrastructure had been lost. The villagers had no choice but to leave their homes forever.

Two thousand miles to the south of Newtok, members of the Yurok Tribe are struggling to maintain their ancient fishing way of life on the Klamath River. The fish native to the Klamath, like all native fish of the Western United States, are struggling to survive as climate change ravages their ocean homes and destroys their spawning grounds in western rivers. In 2002 alone, at least 34,000 native fish perished in the Klamath, an event so traumatic for the Yurok and other regional tribes that it still looms large in their collective consciousness nearly 20 years later.

Meanwhile, tribal homes, property, and resources around the West have been permanently destroyed as a result of the ever-increasing number of megafires. For example, in 2015, the Colville Tribes of Eastern Washington lost over 200,000 acres of their 1.4 million acre reservation, nearly 15 percent of their entire land base.

Further south on the Navajo Reservation, where a full third of all tribal members lack running water and sewage systems, water shortages caused by climate change are destroying the Navajo Nation’s livestock-raising tradition, which has been passed down for generations.

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