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Brain Food: The Cultural Impacts Of Climate Change On American Indian Tribes

Bonnie Stevens/KNAU

American Indian tribes are among those most impacted by climate change. That's according to Ann Marie Chischilly, executive director of the Institute of Tribal Environmental Professionals, or ITEP, at Northern Arizona University.

"In my lifetime, I've seen grasslands go to sand dunes," Chischilly says. "So, if your earth is changing in rapid succession, everything you know about hunting, collecting berries, gathering your water, gathering your wood, you're having to adapt at an alarming rate."

Many tribes were nomadic before reservations were established, and were able to move when conditions changed. Today, Chischilly and ITEP are helping some 540 tribes develop adaptability plans for a changing environment...within reservation boundaries.

"What we're asking (tribes) is to look at 20 to 30 years down the line and how can we build sustainable energy solutions into their programs," Chischilly says. "That might be solar, or wind or in some cases hydro. So, it really depends on their region and what resources they need and what they want as a sovereign nation."

As a member of the Navajo Nation herself, Chischilly knows the important role nature plays in the lives and rituals of native people.

She says, "There's a concept in Navajo, it's called Hozho. It means beauty. In the Navajo or the Dine' way, the Hozho is all around you. It's part of the way you live every day." Chischilly adds, "that balance is part of what I'm doing today: making sure that my life and my childrens' lives will continue to be in balance with this earth."

Chischilly says strategic climate and energy planning are among the ways tribes can preserve their traditions in a changing world.

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