Navajo Nation has a plan to fight climate change

The balance sheet of climate change

Indigenous peoples around the world are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change, despite contributing very little to the emissions that cause some of its most extreme effects, Jacobs said.

The effects of climate change are being felt in different ways across the 27,673-square-mile Navajo Nation, which comprises 110 chapters — each unique, Chischilly said.

“A lot of people are becoming aware of climate change,” he said, “but it’s so unique here on the reserve because each community has its own issues. In one area it would be totally devastated by drought and overgrazing Other areas in the higher elevations are seeing trees die.

The Navajo Nation released its first climate adaptation plan in 2018, after extensive discussions with elders and community members to identify priorities such as addressing drought, pollution and overgrazing.

Over the past few years, Howard said, the Navajo Nation climate change program has tried to get on the same page with members on climate change, especially elders and some of the older generations. , raising awareness of the issue. This process is complicated, especially because many elders only speak Navajo.

“The concept of climate change, ecological restoration, etc. is difficult to communicate, especially when there is a language barrier,” Howard said. “A lot of concepts, like carbon footprints and greenhouse gases, are not easily translated into the Dinè Navajo language.”

Building trust is at the heart of much of the climate program’s work.

“Many of these new techniques, although they may be relatively low-tech and inexpensive, such as simple erosion control, require community buy-in and acceptance that these techniques work before we can begin any implementation. work,” said Chischilly. mentioned.

But despite the sensitivity and challenges, progress is being made.

Drought tour leads to progress

In 2019, Chischilly and Howard began visiting several chapters across the reserve to discuss and educate community members about the impacts of climate change.

They had reached a handful before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and the Navajo Nation shut down. Now, Chischilly said, the tribe is taking its first steps toward restoration projects, based on feedback from a reservation tour last July by Navajo resource and development officials to assess the effects of drought and overgrazing.

One of the stops was the Tsegi Canyon, where the positive impacts of ecological restoration techniques were demonstrated.

“We wanted to educate people about climate change with this tour, but we also wanted to show people tools they can use to adapt,” Chischilly said.

“Mother Earth is sick and she needs healing.”

-Keith Howard, Climate Change Program Wildlife Technician

But he and Howard said an unease persists between calls by scientists to take immediate action on climate change and the historic trauma Indigenous peoples have suffered when the government dictates how their lands should be used.

“Not just the Navajo Nation, but Native people in general across the United States, we all suffer from transgenerational trauma,” Howard said. “In the 1930s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs forcibly removed cattle from our country. It really impacted our people because it was our way of life. Our elders and our people loved their herds of sheep, cows and horses.

This history, Howard said, makes it difficult to conjure up the Western scientific concept of a “point of no return” requiring immediate action.

“A lot of people still carry that experience and that trauma with them,” he said.

Time, tradition and trust

But Chischilly said the idea of ​​a “point of no return” is making some Navajos more aware of climate change.

“It’s hard to communicate this concept when our lifestyles are at our own pace,” Chischilly said. “We have a slower path on booking because it’s hard to get that immediate buy-in and also immediate implementation, because sometimes that’s just not how it works. A lot of people have initially need that trust.

“When there’s no trust and you’re trying to get into a community right off the bat, it’s like, ‘I don’t really know you, I don’t trust you yet. Explain that to me.

When it comes to making decisions about the environment, Chischilly and Howard said choices about climate change in the Navajo Nation can be extremely personal, especially for elders.

“It involves the heart, our lifestyles and how we choose to live,” Chischilly said. “The land makes the people. This is where we derive our identity as a people. It was born through the environment in which we live, the Southwest. So it’s not only scientific to talk about the earth, it’s also talking about emotion, spirituality and faith.

Howard noted a spiritual aspect in the fight against climate change. Although considered controversial by some Navajo, he said the reintroduction of songs, prayers and rituals to reconnect with the Earth, especially among younger generations, will play an important role in the fight against climate change in the future.

“Mother Earth is sick and she needs healing,” Howard said. “And that healing comes from all those prayers and songs, in addition to our resilience. This word always comes back to the Aboriginal people who recover from these problems, because the climatic problems are a disease. Everything is interconnected. We must treat this healing process as a duty. Resilience is what we are. But we also have to get it back.

Despite the challenges and changes ahead, Howard and Chischilly said they are confident the Navajo Nation will emerge together with Indigenous peoples around the world through resilience, reconciliation and self-determination.

“A lot of sacrifices will have to be made from ourselves and our people, but we will be able to solve these problems,” Chischilly said. “We will find ways to bring our lands back as a self-sustaining ecological system in the Navajo Nation.”