Indigenous scholars and stakeholders from across the United States are convened at Haskell Indian Nations University this week for a conference on climate change.
“Climate Changed: Reflections on Our Past, Present and Future Situation” is the title of the gathering of the Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Working Group, which was established 10 years ago at Haskell. The conference began Thursday and continues through Friday at Haskell Auditorium.
The group is a collection of people focused on making sure students and faculty at tribal colleges and universities get opportunities to be engaged in helping tribal nations prepare for climate change, said Dan Wildcat, who teaches American Indian studies at Haskell and is a Yuchi member of the Muscogee Nation. Participants have hailed from academia to government agencies such as NASA and NOAA.
American Indians and other indigenous people are among the country’s most vulnerable populations to climate change, Wildcat said.
They often don’t have economic resources to address problems and they live on sovereign lands and can’t simply move if those lands encounter climate-related problems, he said.
“Native people have tremendous insight into what we may do differently,” Wildcat said. “We rely very closely on the water, on the land, on the plants, on the animals. When those things are threatened, it threatens our culture.”
Among speakers Thursday were graduate students who became involved with the Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Working Group in past years and are now doing research or activities in the area.
Their work ranged from using geographical information systems to help tribal communities to testing metal-contaminated water on tribal lands.
Panel participant Michael Dunaway of the Choctaw Nation, a Haskell and University of Kansas graduate currently working on his doctoral degree at Cornell University, said he studies indigenous energy and sovereignty issues, such as seeking ways for tribal communities to control their own energy or even operate off the grid.
“It’s important, especially when you’re dealing with climate change issues, for natives to set their own agendas,” Dunaway said.
Festivities related to the conference included a dancing demonstration and bison feast on Thursday.
Friday’s events are scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Session topics include the challenges of adaptation, NGOs and research partnerships, government collaborations, a panel discussion titled “Decolonizing Science” and a discussion about future plans for the working group.
The conference is open to the public, and cost to attend Friday’s events is $40, which can be paid at the door.