Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Climate change summit bridges Western science with tradition views of nature

By Lailani Upham
Char-Koosta News

Daniel Wildcat, Ph.D., professor at Haskell Indian Nations University speaks on the relationship Native peoples have with the natural environment at the Northwest Tribal Climate Change Summit held at Salish Kootenai College. (Lailani Upham photo)Daniel Wildcat, Ph.D., professor at Haskell Indian Nations University speaks on the relationship Native peoples have with the natural environment at the Northwest Tribal Climate Change Summit held at Salish Kootenai College. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — Indigenous environmental science professionals have found that when it comes to climate change, there’s traditional knowledge and Western science, and both are needed.

More than 100 attendees gathered for the inaugural Northwest Tribal Climate Summit: Holistic Planning for Climate Change held at Salish Kootenai College hosted by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Division of Environmental Science. The three-day conference brought together tribal planners, natural resource professionals, land and water resource managers, educators, federal, state and provincial agencies, and climate change scientists to share knowledge and resources face-to-face benefiting both tribal and non-tribal entities.

The first day of the summit focused on Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) with CSKT tribal elders Tony Incashola and Steven Small Salmon sharing Salish and Pend d’ Oreille knowledge. Tulalip and Quinault tribal representatives imparted knowledge on climate change and how their tribes plan to address the impacts as well.

The first day honored the elders who contributed to the development of the CSKT Climate Change Strategic Plan. Many have passed on since the development of plan began, “Only two of the six elders who were interviewed are still with us today,” said former Natural Resource Department’s Division of Environmental Protection manager and present Tribal Preservation Department head, Mike Durglo, Jr..

A beginning topic at the NW Tribal Climate Summit was the importance of braiding climate change understanding with a traditional knowledge science and western science view.

Dr. Gary Morshima, Quinault Nation technical advisor, gave a presentation on “Tribal Science, Western Science and Climate Change.”

“Why is it important to know about differences?” Morshima asked the participants. “Because as tribal climate professionals you will need to walk in two worlds. Each way of knowing has its own strengths and weaknesses. Neither TK nor Western science is superior to the other. They should not be competitive, but should be considered complementary, each retaining its own identity while contributing to the strength of the whole.”

The second day focus was “First Foods.”

“Many tribes and tribal communities around the country face diabetes, obesity and many other health problems because of our diet and life style,” Durglo said. “There is an effort by many tribes to bring back or re-introduce some of our traditional foods into our diets. It is not just the nutritional value of the food but the spiritual value as well. There are many of those foods and medicines that are being impacted by a changing climate.”

In her “Food Sovereignty” presentation, CSKT Tribal Council Representative Shelly Fyant said the hard reality is that many tribal nations are not actually sovereign in the sense of the word. “How?” she asked? “By not being food self-sufficient,” she said.

Fyant has been involved with the “Healing the Jocko Valley” project in her community for the past couple years; it is one example of making steps of food sovereignty in her community. “That’s one place that I can really focus on is my hometown,” she said adding that food sovereignty — to be able to feed themselves — is a community’s right.

“Traditionally as Salish people we were hunters that would travel across the mountains over to Yellowstone to the buffalo,” she said.

Fyant mentioned topics from other presenters speaking on history and the way of life as hunters and gatherers prior to colonization. “Native people had self-sufficient and sustainable healthy nutritious food systems since time immemorial,” she said. “Food has played a central role in the development of communities in all parts of the world for many indigenous communities food is still a cultural mainstay that reflects environmental economic social and political values for some indigenous communities. Today that relationship to food is much less visible than it was at other times in history.”

She said that over generations after removal from traditional homelands and limited access to traditions food sources - coupled with the transition to markets and cash economies - tribal peoples subsistence lifestyle weakened, as did their tribal traditional food systems. Fyant said the change in traditional foods has produced health disparities throughout tribal peoples population.

Day three focused on youth engagement.

Mike and Jim Durglo came up with Environmental Advocates for Global and Local Ecological Sustainability (EAGLES) program to get youth more engaged in climate change on the Flathead Reservation. Durglo said the EAGLES program has gone international where local students are talking with students from other countries about what they are doing to save the earth.

Dr. Daniel Wildcat, a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University and director of the Haskell Environmental Research Studies Center, gave a presentation on “Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge.” The author and scholar on Indigenous knowledge, technology, environment, and education said the eyes of the youth would tell something.

Wildcat closed the three-day conference with “hope.”

“It is difficult to have hope in the age we live in,” Wildcat said. “I think hope really resides in this power that surrounds us in the universe.”

Wildcat told a story of good friend, the late Vine Deloria, Jr. He said Deloria, Jr. had a formula: “Power + place = personality.”

Wildcat said it was Deloria’s way to simplify indigenous knowledge. “What did he mean by that? Power pervades the universe; just read advanced physics and you’ll see that in fact the subatomic particles have quarks. All of the tiniest bits of knowledge have incredible power,” he said. “What I mean by that is power transmitted is connected to us through the relationships that we have in this world.”

Wildcat explained Traditional Ecological Knowledge from a story he remembers from another indigenous leader and friend Oren Lyons of the Onondaga tribe in New York.

“Our ancestors thought about relationships and relatives in a much more complex way,” he said. Wildcat remembered when Lyons spoke to natural resource professionals from New York State who came to the Onondaga reservation. The professionals spoke of the tribes resources as commodity, but Lyons wasn’t having it.

Lyons said that the traditional and natural resources around them were seen as family and relatives. The disconnect from this traditional view would only cause problems. “If it is the only time you came around is when you need something, your family could start closing the door when they seen you coming,” Lyon’s had said. “You don’t treat relatives like ATM machines. You don’t treat forests, rivers, lakes, grasslands, and animals like ATM machines.”

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