News from the Tribal Resilience Liaisons

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The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the USGS, and Tribal organizations have collaborated to place Tribal Resilience Liaisons at the regional CASCs. Read on to meet the Liaisons and learn about their recent activities to promote resilient Tribal communities.

Tribal and Indigenous communities face significant challenges in responding to climate change. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Tribal organizations have collaborated to station Tribal Resilience Liaisons at the regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs). The Liaisons are typically employed by Tribal organizations and work at CASCs, and aim to increase the resources available to (1) help Tribes access information, data, and expertise at the CASCs and elsewhere; (2) facilitate research integrating traditional knowledge; and (3) support Tribal forums and information exchange. These efforts are designed to better understand, communicate, and meet the needs of Tribes through partnerships to promote more resilient Tribal communities.

Read on to meet the Tribal Liaisons and learn about some of their recent activities.

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Althea Walker

Althea Walker, Southwest CASC
Althea Walker is the Tribal Resilience Liaison for the Southwest CASC and is employed by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. Althea has a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Resource Management and a Master of Science degree in Environmental Technology Management from Arizona State University. For the past five years, she has worked for the Gila River Indian Community Department of Environmental Quality leading the climate change adaptation planning for the Community. She has Tribal affiliations with the Nez Perce, Hopi, and Gila River nations, and is an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community.

Althea joined the Southwest CASC in July of 2018. Since then, she has hit the ground running. As a steering committee member of the Indigenous Foods & Knowledges Network (IFKN), Althea Walker (Akimel O’otham) was asked to represent the IFKN at the Northern Fishing Traditions Festival in Tornio, Finland, where she and other steering committee members were on a mission to bring together Indigenous peoples from the U.S. Southwest and Arctic. There she engaged with Indigenous delegates from around the world, including Western Siberia, Greenland, British Columbia, and New Zealand regarding cultural heritage, climate change, ecological restoration, and issues related to traditional foods. The most influential part of this journey for Althea was the opportunity to spend time with the Sami people from Finland, Russia, and Sweden, in which they shared cultures, struggles, food, and prayers with one another. Althea is truly thankful for this opportunity to represent the U.S. Southwest, to bring together Indigenous peoples of the U.S. Southwest and Arctic, and she looks forward to the journey ahead as the Southwest CASC/AIHEC Tribal Resilience Liaison.

Contact: awalker@aihec.org

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Atherton Phleger

Atherton Phleger, South Central CASC (New Mexico)
Atherton Phleger is the Tribal Climate Resilience Liaison for New Mexico at the South Central CASC and is employed by the University of Oklahoma. Prior to joining the South Central CASC, Atherton worked for a native-owned consultancy and nonprofit, creating culturally responsive science curriculum, using collaborative approaches to design Tribal hydraulic fracturing regulations, determining new methods for leveraging Tribal resources and legislation, and finding funding opportunities for Tribal projects.

Much of Atherton’s work over the past year has been the result of collaboration with the New Mexico Tribal Resilience Action Network, an ad-hoc group of Tribal staff, leaders, academics, businesses, and others interested in improving resilience to the effects of climate change in their communities. The group has been collectively discussing impediments to climate resilience projects, one of the most prominent of which is a lack of communication between departments in the same community. In many cases each department, from planning to education, has a scope affected by climate change, but often Natural Resources or Environment departments are exclusively tasked with execution of adaptation planning procedures. To attempt to address this problem, Atherton helped plan and host a series of events with the Network designed to engage Tribal staff from sectors other than natural resources. The first and most well-attended was a Climate Impacts Workshop, where speakers addressed climate impacts to public health, planning, transportation infrastructure, and agriculture. The participants spent the afternoon of the second day of the event brainstorming collaborative opportunities between the different sectors represented, and ultimately left with a firmer understanding of how climate change affects both their scope of responsibility and the responsibility of others. Based on feedback from this event, Atherton and the Network have planned and executed networking meetings, presentations to leadership, youth events, and a climate 101 training all focused on improving climate literacy across the departmental spectrum.

Contact: aphleger@ou.edu

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Casey Thornbrugh

Casey Thornbrugh, Northeast and Southeast CASCs
Casey Thornbrugh is a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and is employed by the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) as the Tribal Resilience Liaison for the Northeast and Southeast CASCs. Casey’s Ph.D. research focused on investigating climate teleconnections and North American precipitation variability and working with Tribal communities to develop culturally responsive climate science curricula for teaching students in Tribal Colleges and K-12 schools.

Casey Thornbrugh serves as the Tribal Climate Science Liaison for the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) and works with the Northeast and Southeast CASCs.  A current focal point of his work is assisting Tribal nations to complete Climate Adaptation Plans. Tribal departments working on these plans often can only designate one or two staff to complete the final drafts due to the multiple priorities and the workload Tribal departments often have. This year, at the request of environmental staff from Tribal nations in Maine, Casey arranged a three day “climate adaptation plan writing retreat.” This retreat was a small cohort of Tribal staff from the Passamaquoddy Tribe-Pleasant Point, Aroostook Band of Micmacs, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (who were also supported by their Tribal department to travel to Maine for support). A quiet space was provided by the Maine Indian Education and Wabanaki Culture Center in Calais, Maine. Casey attended the writing retreat to provide comments and feedback on the draft plans while participants assisted each other by providing feedback and suggestions. The success of this writing retreat has motivated Casey to plan future writing retreats for Tribal nations in the Northeast and Southeast regions.

Contact: cthornbrugh@usetinc.org

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Chas Jones

Chas Jones, Northwest CASC

Chas Jones is with the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) and serves as the Tribal Climate Resilience Liaison to the Northwest CASC. Chas is an interdisciplinary expert in the dynamic interactions between climate, water, ecology, and society. He acquired his Ph.D. in Hydrology from the University of Alaska, where he incorporated traditional knowledge and science to assess exposure of indigenous people to the impacts of climate change.

It’s all about relationships - As I stood on the banks of the Puget Sound at the Tribal canoe journey, Linda’s glowing smile and face stood out amongst the crowd of a thousand people. I went over to say hello. I had met Linda Sampson two months earlier on the Reservation for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indians. She is one of the Tribe’s First Foods experts and she has an exuberance about her that one tends to notice. After greeting me warmly, she introduced me to her sisters, aunts, and cousins that were sitting around her. They were gathered to watch the landing of the canoes. It was then that she invited me to the Tribe’s annual Huckleberry feast in Eastern Oregon. Three weeks later on a Sunday, my wife and I stepped into the Umatilla Tribe’s Longhouse. Immediately, we were warmly greeted by Linda, her brother, and his wife and invited to sit and watch the ceremony. We separated by gender to different sides of the room. Multiple rows of women sat along the east wall. Rows of men along the west wall. The drummers and Tribal leaders sat between us all at the head of the space and in front of all three groups was an earthen hearth where men and women prayed, danced, and sang. The beat of the skin drums called out to the dancers and led the rhythm of their jump dances. The dancers ranged from the experienced elders that jumped with stoic, trancelike facial expressions to the young children that had to be pulled along and encouraged to follow the line of dancers. After several hours of ceremony, approximately 200 people stood at tables that were positioned around the earthen hearth, before a long line of dancers prayed and danced with the salmon, one of their first foods, past the rest of us. They did this twice before setting the plates of king salmon before us. We remained standing. They followed with plates of bison, elk, deer, root vegetables, Indian potatoes, chokecherries, and huckleberries; all of which were plated before us as we sat down. After several prayers were offered, everyone sampled the first foods in the order described above. The first foods are not only important as sustenance, they are also extremely important to the cultural identity of Native Americans across the U.S. Many first foods are being impacted by climate in many ways, including becoming more scarce or absent from their historical harvest areas and more difficult to access. The climate challenges are compounded by the difficulties faced by indigenous people to pass down traditional knowledge to their youth. These days the Tribal members are less familiar with ancestral traditions and ways of knowing, although efforts of cultural revitalization are changing this trend. Concerned by this trend, Linda tasked herself with learning as much traditional knowledge about the Umatilla’s first foods as possible.

As the Tribal Liaison for the NW CASC, I am trying to understand the priority concerns, beyond just the first foods, of Tribes in the PNW so that I can effectively help them identify and acquire partnerships, information, data, tools, and funding to address those priorities. I believe that Tribes that have addressed their priority issues are going to be more resilient to the impacts of climatic extremes and trends. The root of my efforts are found in the relationships that I build with Tribes and those relationships are vastly strengthened by my participation in cultural activities such as the Tribal canoe journey and the Umatilla’s Huckleberry Feast.

Contact: cejones@usgs.gov

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Dave Helweg

Dave Helweg, Senior Liaison for Insular Relations (National CASC)
Within the Department of the Interior, the Office of Insular and International Affairs (OIIA) carries out the administrative responsibilities of the DOI in coordinating federal policy for the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The OIIA is also responsible for administering and overseeing U.S. federal assistance to the freely associated states of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau under the Compacts of Free Association, as well as providing technical and financial assistance to all the Insular Areas. The Senior Liaison for Insular Relations is a new position within the CASC network. Dave Helweg stepped into the role in early August from his position as Director of the Pacific Islands CASC.

I envision my new role as a representative of Insular environmental science needs to the senior leadership of the USGS. As a Liaison, I will be listening and learning absolutely as much as I can about every OIIA jurisdiction – priorities for biocultural resource management and the well-being of human communities – and to identify programs within the USGS that are best-suited to provide technical assistance for those priorities.   

Contact: dhelweg@usgs.gov

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Malinda Chase

Malinda Chase, Alaska CASC
Malinda Chase is employed by the Alaska Pribiloff Islands Association as the Tribal Resilience Liaison for Alaska. She is a member of the Dene’ (Athabascan) village of Anvik. Malinda’s experience includes community planning, non-profit management, post-secondary/distance and Alaska Native education, Native language revitalization and indigenous program evaluation. She also serves as the land manager for her village corporation. More recently, she’s focused on climate change education that sought to engage our Alaska Native community, and led to her current Liaison position.

Over the last year, Malinda Chase, who serves as the Tribal Resilience Liaison at the Alaska CASC, sought to gain an understanding of the support and resources Tribes want and need in their adaptation planning initiatives. Alaska has 229 Tribal communities and six distinct large landscape regions, with each region experiencing multiple, accelerated, and varied climate impacts. The sheer size of Alaska challenges outreach, access, and support to Tribal communities. Rather than reinvent existing adaptation training or support, Malinda worked with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy to partner with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) and the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) to ask Tribes what challenges they face in facilitating and writing their individual plans after they completed adaptation training that ANTHC and ITEP provide in Alaska. Once compiled, this information will provide direction and additional insight in the next steps to take to actively and meaningfully support Alaskan Tribes in their adaptation and resilience efforts.

Contact: malindac@apiai.org

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Sara Smith

Sara Smith, Northeast CASC (Midwest)
Sara Smith is employed as the Tribal Resilience Liaison for the Midwest by the College of Menominee Nation and stationed in St. Paul, MN. Sara is a direct descendant of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. Her experience is in research and development, natural resources, ecology, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and working with indigenous communities in the Midwest.

She.kú swakwe.kú (Hello everyone)! Over here in the Midwest, I have been working on quite a few projects in regards to Tribal resilience and adaptation. One project that I am very fortunate to be working on is the creation of a Tribal Adaptation Menu. This project is a collaborative effort among various organizations (Tribal & non-Tribal) and Tribes in the Midwest region with the goal of creating a menu of adaptation strategies for natural resources with Indigenous perspectives, values, and knowledges. Currently, we have a completed draft and various workshops that will showcase and use the menu and gather feedback for the final document, with possible publication in either the spring or summer of 2019. A summary of the menu can be found on the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission website.

One other project I would like to mention is my work on the Northeast Indigenous Climate Resilience Network. This website is meant to provide the latest tools and resources for Tribal resilience work in the Northeast for Indigenous peoples and scientists. The NICRN is guided by an Advisory Council with the support of the Tribal Resilience Liaisons in the Northeast/ Midwest Regions and works to develop representation from across the Northeast region to provide and share Tribal experiences and understanding in an effort address equity issues created through federal policies. For more information check out our website: www.nicrn.org.

Contact: ssmith@menominee.edu

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Stefan Tangen

Stefan Tangen, North Central CASC
Stefan Tangen is employed by the Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance as the Tribal Resilience Liaison for the North Central CASC.

As a new member of the Tribal Resilience Liaison team, my first activity is to make friends. It may sound basic and somewhat trivial, but establishing connections has been the cornerstone of my success when working with communities. Connecting with community leaders and resource managers on a personal level is invaluable for laying the foundation for future partnerships. This was true in West Africa, where I was a teacher and development worker in rural Sierra Leone, just as it was true in northwest Alaska working on climate adaptation planning with Indigenous communities. Establishing trust and mutual understanding on a personal level is a precursor to addressing the big issues like drought prevention, clean water, and disaster mitigation. So, for the near term, I will be trying to make friends with the 31 federally recognized tribes throughout the North Central CASC region, as well as any organization addressing environmental impacts in Native American communities across Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Contact: Stefan.g.tangen@gmail.com