In mid-March I had the pleasure of attending the 2023 Southwest Tribal Climate Camp, hosted by Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and Navajo Technical University. The overarching goal of this event was to bring together and support Tribal delegations to work towards forming climate adaptation and resilience plans that they could bring back to their communities. Partners in the planning and organization of the camp included the Northwest, Southwest and South Central CASCs, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals. The camp took place over a week at the Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center near Abiquiu, New Mexico, located on the homelands of the Tewa people. Participants were from diverse backgrounds–Tribal council members, Tribal lawyers, Tribal historic preservation officers, people working for Tribal water, environmental, fish & wildlife, and mental health departments, and Tribal college students and professors. Both Northwest and Southwest Tribes were represented, including the Port Gamble S’klallam, Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene, and Makah Tribes, the Santa Clara, San Felipe, and Tesuque Pueblos, and the Navajo Nation.
The camp was structured to include time for breakout sessions, technical presentations, project presentations, cultural activities and field trips. Sunday evening began with dinner, an overview of the camp and brief introductions. Later that night, after everyone had settled in, we had a small fire and got to know a bit more about everyone’s varied backgrounds and interests. Each day of the camp began with a blessing and a reflection, helping ground everyone in our purpose there and giving us perspective for each day. Monday, the first full day of the camp, consisted of breakout sessions for the Tribal delegations. During this time, the groups were given the space to really think about what climate issues their communities are facing and set priorities and goals for their climate action plans. I had the opportunity to get to know folks from the Southwest Tribes, learn more about how climate change impacts their communities, and help facilitate discussions of their climate plans.
Tuesday was packed with technical presentations on topics such as climate vulnerability assessments, climate data, tribal water security, partnerships, and climate justice. The Southwest CASC’s very own co-PI and former University Director, Gregg Garfin, gave an informative presentation on climate data tools and resources. The tribal delegations also continued to work on their projects, and in the evening, we had the privilege of learning about Santa Clara Pueblo pottery,and we made our own seed pots!
Wednesday morning there were a few more presentations on Tribal water resources, youth engagement, and rangeland stewardship. After a short breakout session, we headed out to visit the Poeh Cultural Center where we were taken on an amazing tour and learned more about Tewa culture. I was so glad the camp prioritized this because it was so important to have the chance to learn more about the culture of the people who’s land we were on. That evening, we had dinner at The Feasting Place, which is a unique learning and dining experience run by four sisters from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. We gathered in Norma’s (one of the sisters) home to learn how to make Pueblo tamales and empanadas in Pueblo hornos (the Spanish word for ovens), and then we enjoyed eating what we helped make. Being invited into Norma’s home and being taught how to make some traditional feast day food was really special.
On Thursday, the groups presented their climate actions plans. Several common themes emerged from the Southwest Tribes’ presentations: 1. Food sovereignty was something mentioned by multiple tribes, specifically the importance of establishing seed banks and implementing traditional agricultural practices. 2. Fire also came up, with one group speaking about the need for federal entities like the U.S. Forest Service to prioritize working with Tribes to prevent devastating large-scale wildfires. 3. Water was of course another topic echoed throughout multiple presentations, with groups stating the need to prepare for both low flow (drought) and high flow (monsoon) events, and the importance of collaborative watershed, riparian, and floodplain management. Underlying all of this was the subject of Tribal sovereignty. Many of the delegations were incorporating Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) into their climate plans which brought up the importance of protecting sacred knowledge. Multiple Tribes had issues in the past with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) being used by non-Tribal entities to obtain information on protected TEK.
Beyond these topics, one group really focused on the logistics of actually being able to implement a climate action plan. The group made the point that in order to be able to follow through on climate action planning, you need support from the whole community. This includes Tribal leaders, elders and youth, and different Tribal departments working together. A holistic approach is the best approach! Hearing all of these perspectives gives me a lot to think about moving forward in my role as a Tribal Climate Resilience Liaison, such as how I can best help to support this necessary interdisciplinary collaboration.
The Tribal Climate Camp was such a valuable experience! I really enjoyed meeting other Tribal Climate Resilience Liaisons and other Indigenous people engaged in climate work. It was so nice being able to get to know people, not only through helping to facilitate the breakout sessions, but also through having enough time and activities built into the camp’s agenda network on a more personal level. My favorite parts of the camp were the dinner at The Feasting Place, listening to the Tribal delegations present their climate action plans, and making many wonderful connections!
Bonfire on the last night
Mingling on the first night
Getting ready to make food in the horno
Shaleene Chavarria and her mother Vickie Martinez leading a workshop on Santa Clara pottery
Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s presentation
One of the many creative ways to present a climate action plan