Navajo Nation has a plan to tackle climate change - Cronkite News

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The toll of climate change Indigenous people across the globe are disproportionately impacted 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 includes 110 chapters – each one unique, Chischilly said.
“A lot of people are becoming aware of climate change,” he said, “but it’s so unique here on the reservation because every community has their different issues.
For the past several years, Howard said, the Navajo Nation Climate Change Program has tried to get on the same page as members about climate change, especially elders and some of the older generations, by bringing awareness about the issue.
“The concept of climate change, ecological restoration and so forth is hard to communicate, especially when there’s a language barrier,” Howard said.

Navajo Nation has a plan to tackle climate change - Cronkite News

The toll of climate change Indigenous people across the globe are disproportionately impacted 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 includes 110 chapters – each one unique, Chischilly said. “A lot of people are becoming aware of climate change,” he said, “but it’s so unique here on the reservation because every community has their different issues. In one area, it would be totally devastated by drought and overgrazing. Other areas in the higher elevations are experiencing trees dying off.” The Navajo Nation released its first climate adaptation plan in 2018, after long talks with elders and community members to identify such priorities as addressing drought, pollution and overgrazing. For the past several years, Howard said, the Navajo Nation Climate Change Program has tried to get on the same page as members about climate change, especially elders and some of the older generations, by bringing awareness about the issue. This process is complicated, especially because many elders only speak Navajo. “The concept of climate change, ecological restoration and so forth is hard to communicate, especially when there’s a language barrier,” Howard said. “Many of the concepts, like carbon footprints and greenhouse gasses, are not easily translated into the Dinè Navajo language.” Trust building is at the core of much of the climate program’s work. “A lot of these new techniques, even though they might be relatively low technology and low cost, like just simple erosion control, require buy-in from communities and the acceptance that these techniques work before we can start any implementation at all,” Chischilly said. 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 reservation to discuss and educate community members about the impacts of climate change. They had reached a handful before the COVID-19 pandemic set in, and the Navajo Nation closed. 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 gauge the effects of drought and overgrazing. One of the stops was 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 uneasiness remains between the calls from scientists to take immediate action on climate change and the historical trauma Native people 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 livestock from our nation. This really impacted our people because that was our way of life. Our elders and our people loved their herds of sheep, cows and horses.” This history, Howard said, makes it hard to bring up the Western scientific concept of a “point of no return” requiring immediate action. “Many people still carry that experience and 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 difficult to communicate that concept when our lifestyles are at our own pace,” Chischilly said. “We have a slower way on the reservation 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 need that trust first.” “When there’s no trust and you try to come into a community right off the bat, it’s like, ‘I don’t really know you, I don’t trust you yet. Explain this to me.’” When it comes to making decisions about the environment, Chischilly and Howard said choices around climate change on the Navajo Nation can be extremely personal, especially for elders. “This involves the heart, our lifestyles and the way we choose to live,” Chischilly said. “The land makes the people. That’s where we get our identity from as a people. It’s born through the environment we live in, the Southwest. So it’s not only scientific in talking about the land, it’s also talking about emotion, spirituality and faith.” Howard noted a spiritual aspect to addressing climate change. Although it’s considered controversial by some Navajo people, he said reintroducing songs, prayers and rituals to reconnect with the Earth, especially among younger generations, will play a large part in addressing climate change in the future. “Mother Earth is sick and she needs healing,” Howard said. “And that healing comes from all these prayers and songs, in addition to our resilience. This word always comes up with Indigenous people who heal from these issues, because climate issues are a sickness. Everything is interconnected. We must treat that healing process as a duty. Resiliency is who we are. But we also need to reclaim it.” Despite the challenges and changes ahead, Howard and Chischilly said they have faith that the Navajo Nation will get through this alongside Indigenous people across the globe through resilience, reconciliation and self-determination. “A lot of sacrifices will have to be made from ourselves and from our people, but we will be able to address these issues,” Chischilly said. “We will find ways to bring our land back in as a self-sustainable ecological system on the Navajo Nation.”
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