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Climate change is real for Northwest tribes in DC this week

Sam Beebe, Ecotrust
Coastal tribes including Washington's Quileute, with headquarters in La Push, are among those hosting the inaugural First Nations symposium on climate change.

Extreme weather patterns on the east coast have become evidence for many people lately that global warming is actually happening.

Here in the Northwest, coastal tribes have been dealing with the realities of melting glaciers, rising sea levels and ocean acidification for years.

Many are headed to Washington DC this week for what’s being billed as an inaugural First Stewards symposium on climate change. Theideacomes from coastal tribal leaders in this Washington.

Micah McCarty, chairman of the Makah tribe, says it's not about debating causes and effects.

“We’re not interested in trying to prove that climate change is for real, because we’re already seeing the effects. It’s what are we going to do about it,” McCarty says. That’s why he also became chairman of the First Stewards steering committee.

At least three coastal tribes in northwest Washington see the effects of climate change every winter, in the form of increased flooding and storm surges.

Two years ago, Congress sealed a deal to transfer 37 acres of Olympic National Park to the Hoh tribe, so it could move its traditional village to higher ground. Paul Dye, with The Nature Conservancy says they are the first of several.

“The Quileute are in the processof doing the same thing and the Quinault know that they’re not far behind,” Dye says.

He helped organize the inaugural First Stewards symposium. Dye says the tribes’ perspectives on climate change are powerful, because long-term global solutions will come too late for them in the places where they live right now.

“It’s just remarkable to see people deal with these kinds of acute reasons for tackling climate change.”

So they’re convening hundreds of indigenous coastal people at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC for four days.

Alaska natives, Pacific Islanders and tribes from the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico will join the West Coast tribes in sharing their experiences with government officials and powerful non-profits.

Makah chairman Micah McCarty says tribal ways of life, which are so often tied to the land, carry with them important lessons about how to deal with climate change. The hope is to blend them with mainstream science.

“So protecting the environment and protecting cultures go hand in hand,” Mccarty says.

In addition to discussions about how to preserve traditional cultures while moving to higher ground, they’ll look at the complexities of how melting glaciers and ocean acidification affect fisheries and other traditional sources of food.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to