Climate Change can seem removed from our daily lives—many of us live in urban environments, far away from nature, and spend much of our time inside air conditioned buildings. Our modern system of living that contributes to global warming ultimately buffers us from its effects.

Native American tribes, though, living in much more immediate contact with their natural surroundings, have begun to notice environmental changes. And many of these changes have mattered.

Brown Ash: An early victim of climate change

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report detailing the changes that have already been set in motion by climate change. In the Northeast, changes include ocean acidification and infiltration by invasive species.

Such changes have had a real impact on Native American life already. Sharri Venno, who acts as the environmental planner for the Houlton Band of the Maliseet Indians, said in an interview with the HPR that even before climate change “became a household word,” the Maliseet Indians were noticing a phenomenon called Brown Ash die-back. The Maliseet use Brown Ash, a plant sensitive to environmental changes, to make baskets, which they both use and sell. And due to climate change, Brown Ash is dying out. Venno explains, “I think the biggest frustration regarding communicating the impact of change to communities outside the tribe is that impacts to tribal culture are very broad and fundamental and can’t be summarized easily.”

The 30+ different kinds of change faced by tribes across the country make clear the urgency of the situation. Consider, though, that 50 percent of U.S. representatives elected in 2010 were global warming deniers. As Venno said, “The timeframe within which things are changing is very short.”

Photo Credit: Keith Kanoti

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