Environmental experts make the case for indigenous innovation to fight climate change

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SAINT PAUL, Minnesota—After decades of denial, the majority of people on the planet are finally recognizing that climate change is real and that solutions are needed.

This week in St. Paul, hundreds of environmental experts seemed to have reached an additional conclusion: Indigenous peoples and communities have innovative solutions when it comes to tackling climate change – and it’s critical that have a place at the table when discussing the future of Mother Earth.

These points were raised in conversations and panel discussions at the National Tribal and Indigenous Climate Change Conference (NTICC), which concluded after four days of discussion between environmental organizations, institutions of higher learning, federal and tribal agencies focused on addressing climate change in Indigenous communities. .

From business, government, solution providers and startups, the panels focused on working together to address the climate crisis in various strategic areas, including clean energy, zero carbon, indigenous food sovereignty , net zero buildings and empowering the next generation.

Presenters and participants agreed that while climate change currently poses a challenge to the planet, Indigenous peoples and communities have innovative solutions and it is essential that they are included at the discussion table.

“One of the biggest barriers I see in the climate change space is that there aren’t enough Indigenous people leading the conservation and environment spaces,” said Eddie Sherman, Diné and Umóⁿ’hoⁿ, director of Seattle-based Against the Current Consulting. “I’ve sat in many spaces and discussions where I’m the only Indigenous person or person of color, for that matter.”

While participants were able to learn what some tribal communities are doing to fight climate change at the local level, such as protecting tall trees, installing solar panels and investing in renewable energy, they also learned about many obstacles that the tribes face. Policies to address climate change often include Indigenous representation. And, while tribes may have the knowledge, limited internal capacity, complex jurisdictions, and low investment in tribal communities lead to multi-level barriers to the development and financing of renewable energy and resource storage.

“We happen to know that Indigenous Peoples hold the wisdom to reveal some of the truths of greater potential to save Mother Earth than any people in the world,” said NDN Collective CEO and President Nick Tilsen. , Oglala Lakota, during Thursday’s closing plenary. . “We already know that’s true, and we already know that we’re the most underinvested people in the world when it comes to addressing these issues.”

Indigenous peoples manage over 80% of the planet’s remaining biodiversity. Tribal lands in the United States make up nearly 5% of the country’s total landmass, with 10% of all energy resources, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Five percent of solar photovoltaic (PV) potential is on tribal lands, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). NREL has also estimated that there is a potential of about 535 billion kWh/yr of wind energy on Indian lands in the contiguous 48 states, which is equivalent to 14% of the current total annual energy production in United States.

“Indigenous peoples hold the deepest knowledge and expertise about our environment and they should be centered in every discussion about climate change, conservation and environmental protection,” Sherman said. “I was so excited to attend the NTICC event was incredibly inspiring to see so many incredible Indigenous leaders working on the front lines of climate change, but leading with their Indigenous culture, values ​​and ways of knowing.

One of the biggest challenges is that tribal governments don’t have access to capital to make renewable energy a reality for the tribes. NREL has estimated that $75 billion in project investment will be needed for Indian Country. Any investment will create thousands and thousands of jobs through development, construction, operation and maintenance.

The BIA has the legal authority to approve or deny development on reservations and Indian lands, and often sits on decisions for long periods of time, costing tribes millions of dollars in lost revenue due to delays in decision-making and poor management.

“Science alone will not solve the current effects of climate change,” said David Mildrexler, systems ecologist and presenter at the NTICC. “We will need a paradigm shift and cross-collaboration is key.”

The conference was organized by the Institute of Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) at Northern Arizona University. The organization provides technical assistance and training to tribes, various federal, state, and local governments, and the private sector to support the environmental protection of Native American natural resources. ITEP turns 30 on September 14, 2022. To learn more about the work of ITEP, visit their website at https://www7.nau.edu/itep/main/Home/.

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About the Author

Author: Darren ThompsonE-mail: This email address is protected from spam. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a journalist based in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, where he also contributes to Unicorn Riot, an alternative media publication. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty and Indigenous issues for the Indigenous Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in the international conversation. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminology and legal studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


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