Assessing Climate Change Effects on Natural and Cultural Resources of Significance to Northwest Tribes

—, 2018

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This research project sought to understand ways in which some aspects of Native American culture has been affected by climate change in the Northwest United States. There are aspects of tribal culture, such as songs, stories, prayers, and dances that include fish, wildlife, or plants as central images or main symbolic figures and therefore may be affected by environmentally-driven changes. The intimate connections that tribes have maintained with the natural environment are more spiritually rich and complex than non-Native consumptive views of natural resources. Our study involved three Northwest tribes (Confederated Tribes of Salish and Kootenai, Quinault Indian Nation, and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians), after careful consideration of tribes' size, level of cultural activity, strength of ties to the environment, and connection to culturally significant and aboriginal geographic regions. The information was collected through interviews with tribal elders and individuals with substantial cultural expertise. We found, in addition to changes in specific cultural practices, a profound disruption to identity connected with (a) changes in seasonality, disturbing the sense of natural time; and (b) a sense that wisdom passed down through generations is no longer a sound basis for which decisions are made. These observations contribute an understanding of Northwest tribal culture and its vulnerability and adaptive capacity to a changing climate. This research documented traditional cultural commonalities among the tribes involved with this project and illustrated inter-tribal cultural adaptations to their prevailing environmental conditions. The results of this study will also provide tribes a resource to assess climate change impacts on their cultural practices and identity.

Lead Investigator:
Philip Mote, Oregon State University

Other Investigator(s):
Samantha Chisholm Hatfield, Oregon State University

Project Contact:

State: Regionwide

Funding Year: FY 2013

Project Status: Completed

Topic Category: Fish & Wildlife, Human Dimensions

Science Agenda Theme: Vulnerability and Adaptation, Communication of Science Findings

Discipline: Biology, Social Science

Partners: Other, Tribes

  • Identify cultural elements tied to changing natural resources: Current environmental conditions differ from those described by the information that has been passed down through generations. This project helps managers identify which cultural elements are tied to shifting natural resources to help prevent the loss of cultural identity within tribes. 
  • Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians
  • Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
  • Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians
  • Quinault Indian Nation