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Report: Climate Change Hits Indian Country Hardest

August 5, 2011

YANKTON, S. D. - Indian Country is bearing the biggest brunt of climate change, according to a new report from tribal groups and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). More frequent extreme weather — droughts, floods, wildfires and snowstorms — is detailed, along with its impact on tribes. Flooding along the Missouri River in South Dakota this year is noted in the report as particularly destructive and expensive for native tribes.

Kim Gottschalk, staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, explains the impact of ecological damage.

"They depend on these systems for their spiritual, cultural and economic welfare - and yet, despite their historically low carbon footprint, have been disproportionately affected by climate change."

Jose Aguto, policy advisor for the National Congress of American Indians, says Indian nations face profound challenges to their cultures, economies and livelihoods — and yet, they also have natural resource expertise they want to share, by collaborating with federal, state and local governments.

"They have practices that are time-tested, climate-resilient, sustainable, bountiful and cost-effective."

He adds that some of the richest renewable energy resources in North America are on tribal lands, although he says it has been difficult to find capital or investors, and most federal incentives aren't available to the tribes.

The study, "Indian Tribes, Climate-Induced Weather Extremes, and the Future for Indian Country," asks that Congress boost funding for conservation and climate adaptation projects through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and repeal tribal exclusion from federal environmental programs.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD