CSKT Chair: Changing climate a threat to Native people
"The history of American Indians is varied and each tribe has its own customs, but one belief that binds us all is our deep respect for the earth and the gifts it has given us. This belief has inspired the Salish and Kootenai people’s effort to protect our air, water and other natural resources for future generations. We now recognize that one environmental threat poses a challenge like no other – global climate change.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I journeyed to Copenhagen, Denmark in December to represent the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes at the international climate change conference. President Barack Obama and most other world leaders were present, working on an international treaty to halt global climate change by curbing greenhouse gas emissions. While the meeting did not yield the binding agreement we had all hoped for, it did produce an interim agreement which provides a path to a better, more complete treaty in 2010. Most importantly, China committed to transparency and accountability in their efforts to reduce emissions, something they had never done before.

It was apparent in Copenhagen that the whole world awaits action from the country most responsible for carbon pollution – the United States. The U.S. needs to lead the world by passing strong, comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation through Congress. And we need to do this now because Montana is already affected by global climate change.

Research by University of Montana Nobel Laureate Dr. Steve Running shows our mountain snowpack is melting an average of three weeks earlier in the spring. Reduced snowpack means lower and warmer stream flows in mid-summer, which threatens native fish as well as agricultural users of water. On the Flathead Reservation, where we obtain most of our own energy from hydropower, less water also threatens our ability to generate electricity for our citizens and businesses.

Global warming also threatens Native people disproportionately. A 2007 report from the University of Colorado indicates that global warming is likely to hit American Indians especially hard as rising seas flood Native lands in Florida, and droughts trigger water wars in the Southwest. In Alaska, global climate change is already eroding the permafrost and melting the sea ice, leaving coastal towns – largely inhabited by Natives – increasingly vulnerable to storm surges."

Get the Story:
James Steele: Why I went to Copenhagen (Indian Country Today 3/1)