Indigenous People

INDIGENOUS PEOPLE

Indigenous peoples’ general worldview is to live in harmony with nature, and to steward and preserve their land. Native Americans did just this — preserving their natural landscape for 14,000 years until the European settlers came and cleared much of the land.

The cultural legacy, wellbeing, and way of life of the 567 federally recognized tribal groups in the U.S., comprised mainly of American Indian peoples and Alaska Native peoples, are currently disproportionately threatened by a number of climate-related issues while leaving the lowest ecological imprint.

How does climate change affect their way of life?

In many indigenous households, anywhere from 60 to 80% of households depend on wildlife for food. As a result, when climate changes the land where they live, that becomes compromised.

  • In Alaska, for example – where 40% of American tribes live- “the distribution, quality, thickness, and timing of ice on the ocean, lakes, and rivers drive nearly every aspect” of their life, says a recent NOAA report, “from boating to whaling and seal hunting to the safety of fishing and foraging.” The report details a major loss of sea ice in Alaska’s Bering Sea — that has led to dying wildlife, food scarcity, and animal migration — profoundly affecting over 70 local indigenous communities.
  • In Louisiana, sea-level rise and coastal erosion are drowning burial sites and threatening their source of food.
  • In northern Arizona, the Hopi tribesmen have seen their traditional indigenous farming practices fail in the face of climate change disrupting their ageold weather forecasting. Dependent in many cases on millennia-old trial and error, their fields are now withering as the conditions on which the calendars are predicated change. Without that accumulated wisdom to fall back on—bird migrations, wind direction, stars, and more—farmers are feeling particularly defenseless just as other consequences of climate change complicate their lives.

Native Americans are doing battle on other fronts too, pipeline projects crossing their lands, for example and water rights. Some battles are lost. Some are won. Others are still in court.

  • Originally constructed in 1953 by the Canadian company Enbridge, The Line 5 Pipeline,  runs 645 miles from western Canada to eastern Canada, passing through northern Wisconsin and  Michigan under the Straits of Mackinac. On June 16, 2023, a federal judge gave Enbridge 3 years to close the section of the pipeline (12 miles)  that crosses reservation land in northern Wisconsin, in response to a lawsuit filed in 2019 by the Bad River Band tribe. The judge also ordered compensation to be paid.
  • First built in the 1960s, The Line 3 Pipeline starts in Alberta, Canada, and comes to a stop in Superior, Wisconsin. It runs through land (the 337-mile segment across Minnesota) which, in the 1800s, was ceded by Indigenous groups to the U.S. under the condition that they're guaranteed the right to hunt, fish, and gather wild rice. Activists say the pipeline infringes on those rights, worsens climate change and risks spills in waters where they harvest wild rice. After years of protests and legal battles, the pipeline turned on in October of 2021. Opponents have challenged the pipeline's permits in court to no avail so far. They've also unsuccessfully sought to persuade Biden to intervene.
  • The takedown of Keystone XL Pipeline will, however, go down as one of this generation’s most monumental environmental victories. After more than ten years of protests and legal battles, it was officially abandoned in the summer of 2021 after Biden denied a key permit on his first day in office.
  • The Dakota Access Pipeline is still provoking protracted protests from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, as they bring attention to the potential contamination of water supplies from oil spills and the vandalizing of sacred sites. The pipeline still , in July, 2023, lacks a key permit from the Corps to cross under Lake Oahe in South Dakota. The Corps is currently working to update the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
  • The 303-mile-long fracked gas Mountain Valley Pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia was approved in the recently passed debt limit deal (Spring, 2023) but a federal court in Richmond halted construction on July 11, 2023, setting off a battle with Congress that ended up at the Supreme Court who agreed on July 27 that Congress had, indeed greenlighted the project as part of a behind-the-scenes deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.A separate but related pipeline, the proposed MVP Southgate Project, plans to extend to North Carolina cutting through the Jefferson National Forest and crossing hundreds of waterways and wetlands jeopardizing Indigenous communities, particularly the ancestral lands of the Occaneechi.
  • Leaders of tribes are pushing for more involvement in the negotiations taking place concerning the over-tapped Colorado River, saying they want to be at the table in the discussions among the federal government and the seven states that rely on the river. The 30 tribes in the Colorado River Basin have rights to use roughly one-fourth of the river’s average supply. The Interior Department on June 15 initiated the process of developing new long-term rules for operating reservoirs and apportioning water cuts during shortages. New rules will need to be in place by the end of 2026, when the current 2007 guidelines expire.

Native American tribes are developing and implementing climate adaptation plans. At least 50 tribes have created plans which are available in a database via the Tribal Climate Change Project. And, with tribes controlling over 50 million combined acres nationally, these climate plans could be a crucial resource for their uniquely deep ecological knowledge and community-based approach.

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CURRENT NEWS

How to Take out a Pipeline

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The speed of economic growth hinges to a large extent on the supply of fossil fuel, especially of oil and gas, which depends in turn on pipeline capacity. Thus, if we are to turn the…
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EPA bolsters states’ control of water, infrastructure permitting

By E.A. Crunden 09/14/23
The Biden administration is restoring significant state and tribal authority over water resources and expanding their leverage on infrastructure permitting decisions, including for pipelines.
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From Dams to DAPL, the Army Corps’ Culture of Disdain for Indigenous Communities Must End

09/13/23
One of the privileges of being a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe is that I can travel the world knowing that whatever happens to me out there, I have a place to call…
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Company gets $2.6 million to relinquish oil lease on Montana land that’s sacred to Native Americans

By Matthew Brown 09/01/23
A Louisiana company will receive $2.6 million to relinquish the last remaining oil and gas lease on U.S. forest land near Montana’s Glacier National Park that’s sacred to Native Americans, government officials and attorneys involved…
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Clean Energy Could Rival Gaming as Economic Engine for US Tribes

By Naureen S Malik 08/16/23
Tribal lands have some of the best potential for solar and wind energy in the US, but it’s largely unmet. That may be about to change.
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Grand Canyon Monument Won’t Stop Mining Companies’ Thirst for US Uranium

By Bobby Magill 08/10/23
Five weeks before President Joe Biden announced a historic new ban on new uranium mining around the Grand Canyon, Sarana Riggs approached the barbed-wire fence surrounding an inactive mine in an Arizona national forest, a…
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Supreme Court refuses to block ban on Okla. city fines for Native Americans

By Ann E. Marimow 08/04/23
The Supreme Court on Friday refused to block a lower court ruling that would revoke the authority of Oklahoma officials to enforce certain laws against Native Americans amid legal confusion over the justices’ 2020 declaration…
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Supreme Court clears the way for pipeline construction favored by Manchin

By Robert Barnes and Rachel Weiner 07/27/23
The Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way to complete a controversial Mid-Atlantic natural gas pipeline, agreeing that Congress greenlighted the project as part of a behind-the-scenes deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
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Mountain Valley pipeline turns to Supreme Court

By Niina H. Farah 07/19/23
The Supreme Court may soon step into a legal brawl over whether Congress violated the Constitution when it passed a law ensuring completion of the Mountain Valley pipeline — a fight that could have important…
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EPA Proposes to Streamline Requirements for States and Tribes, Strengthen Co-Regulator Partnerships to Protect Nation’s Waters

07/19/23
Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed rule that would streamline and clarify the requirements and steps necessary for states and Tribes to administer programs protecting waterways from discharges of dredged or…
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9th Circuit upholds Interior approval of massive lithium mine

By Niina H. Farah 07/18/23
A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the Interior Department’s approval of a contested lithium mine in northern Nevada, angering environmentalists even as supporters said it was a victory for batteries in electric vehicles.
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Federal Government Evades Responsibility for Cleaning up Alaska Native Lands

07/18/23
Today, Federal District Court Judge Holland dismissed the State of Alaska and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)’s case against the United States for the Department of Interior (DOI)’s failure to clean up Alaska…
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KEY RESOURCES

A Report From The National Tribal Air Association And Moms Clean Air Force

08/11/21
The total numberof Indigenous people in the United States is between 2.5 and 6 million, of which 20% live on Tribal lands or in Alaska Native villages. There are 574 federally recognized Tribes, but this…

Addressing Links Between Climate and Public Health in Alaska Native Villages

08/11/21
As emissions of heat-trapping bases accumulate in our atmosphere, Earth's polar regions are warming more quickly than at lower latitudes. The rapid environmental changes that result from this warming can have a significant impact on…

Decolonize climate adaptation research

06/23/21
Climate-forced population displacement is among the greatest human rights issues of our time, presenting unprecedented challenges to communities and the governments responsible for protecting them. Sea level rise, heat, drought, and wildfires will cause people…

Climate Change

05/11/21
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that Indigenous peoples of North America are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change. The most vulnerable industries, settlements, and societies are generally those in coastal and river flood plains;…

Climate Change and the Health of Indigenous Populations

05/11/21
Understanding the threats that climate change poses to human health can help us work together to lower risks and be prepared. Climate change threatens human health, including mental health, and access to clean air, safe…

Climate change threatens traditional ways of life

05/11/21
Climate change threatens indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and economies. Its impacts are projected to be especially severe for many of the 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States that depend on traditional places, foods, and…

Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples: A Synthesis of Current Impacts and Experiences

05/11/21
In accordance with Federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights regulations and policies, the USDA, its Agencies, offices, and employees, and institutions participating in or administering USDA programs are prohibited…

Climate Change Vulnerability of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in the Southwest

05/11/21
Native Americans are one of the most vulnerable populations to climate change in the United States because of their reliance upon the natural environment for food, livelihood, and cultural traditions. In the Southwest, where the…

OnePlanet

01/03/20
To partner with indigenous and traditional communities to build a more sustainable, empowered, and just future through community-based projects, outreach, and technical assistance.

Indigenous Environmental Network

12/23/19
Established in 1990 within the United States, IEN was formed by grassroots Indigenous peoples and individuals to address environmental and economic justice issues (EJ). IEN’s activities include building the capacity of Indigenous communities and tribal…

MORE NEWS

Tribes object. But a federal ruling approves construction of the largest lithium mine

By Kirk Siegler   07/17/23  
In a blow to tribes, a U.S. appeals court has denied a last ditch legal effort to block construction of what's expected to be the largest lithium mine in North America on federal land in…
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Alaska Governor Dunleavy Turns to Courts to Compel Feds to Address Contaminated Lands Conveyed under ANCSA

07/15/23  
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy said Alaska has exhausted all options before filing a complaint today in U.S. District Court to compel the U.S. government to take responsibility for and address contaminated sites that it conveyed…
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Groups formally oppose hydro-storage proposals on Navajo Nation

By Knau Staff   07/14/23  
A coalition of tribal and environmental groups has submitted resolutions to federal regulators opposing three pumped hydro-storage projects proposed for Black Mesa on the Navajo Nation.
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Mountain Valley Pipeline Halted as Legal Wrangling Heats Up

By Coral Davenport   07/12/23  
A federal court in Richmond has halted construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, setting off a battle with Congress that could end up at the Supreme Court.
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Army Corps limits scope of Line 5 tunnel environmental review

By Jon King   07/12/23  
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has announced they will not be considering the entirety of the controversial Line 5 oil pipeline in the scope of their environmental review process for a proposed tunnel…
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Court Halts Section of Construction on Mountain Valley Pipeline

07/12/23  
A federal appeals court has ordered a halt to construction of a section of the Mountain Valley Pipeline that runs through the Jefferson National Forest, as it reviews a challenge by environmental groups. Last month’s…
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In Arizona Water Ruling, the Hopi Tribe Sees Limits on Its Future

By Umar Farooq   07/07/23  
In September 2020, the Hopi Tribe’s four-decade effort to secure its right to water culminated in a court proceeding. The outcome would determine how much water the arid reservation would receive over the next century…
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The Colorado River Flooded Chemehuevi Land. Decades Later, the Tribe Still Struggles to Take Its Share of Water

By Mark Olalde, Umar Farooq and Anna V. Smith   07/05/23  
The Chemehuevi’s reservation fronts about 30 miles of the Colorado River, yet 97% of the tribe’s water stays in the river, much of it used by Southern California cities. The tribe isn’t paid for it.
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Supreme Court rules against Navajo Nation in Colorado River case

By Adam Liptak   06/22/23  
The Supreme Court ruled against the Navajo Nation on Thursday in a water rights case, rejecting the tribe’s suit against the federal government in a dispute over access to the drought-depleted Colorado River system.
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Tribes seek greater involvement in talks on Colorado River water crisis

By Ian James   06/16/23  
As the federal government starts negotiations on long-term plans for the overtapped Colorado River, leaders of tribes are pushing for more involvement in the talks, saying they want to be at the table in high-level…
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Haaland’s ‘freeze’: As Interior secretary bans oil and gas on lands around Chaco, naat’áanii frustration bubbles

By Kianna Joe   06/08/23  
The Navajo Nation celebrated Treaty Day on June 1st. The next day, its treaty was thrown out the window.
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Indigenous Women Leaders & over 150 Groups Urge the Biden Administration to Immediately Shut Down Line 5 Due to Imminent Threat of Rupture

05/25/23  
Today, Indigenous women leaders from the Indigenous Women’s Treaty Alliance, joined by over 150 organizations, representing millions nationwide, submitted a letter to the Biden Administration with an emergency request to decommission Enbridge Line 5 pipeline…
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Biden administration pauses copper mining project on Oak Flat, a sacred Apache site

By Lyric Aquino   05/24/23  
The Biden administration has put a pause on plans to erect a copper mine in Arizona on land known as Oak Flat, a site sacred to the San Carlos Apache and other Indigenous nations in…
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Tribe signs pact with California to work together on efforts to save endangered salmon

By Ian James   05/04/23  
A California tribe has signed agreements with state and federal agencies to work together on efforts to return endangered Chinook salmon to their traditional spawning areas upstream of Shasta Dam, a deal that could advance…
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Want to protect your health? Start by protecting Indigenous land.

By Lyric Aquino   04/12/23  
By protecting Indigenous territories in the Amazon, more than 15 million respiratory and cardiovascular-related illnesses, like asthma and lung cancer, could be avoided each year and almost $2 billion dollars in health costs saved. That’s…
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Tensions emerge as a top Arizona official discusses tribes’ unresolved water claims

By Ian James   03/15/23  
Many of Arizona’s Native tribes have long-standing claims to water rights that haven’t yet been settled, and a discussion of efforts to negotiate possible agreements took center stage at a meeting of Gov. Doug Ducey’s…
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Supreme Court Case Could Reshape Indigenous Water Rights in the Southwest

By Virginia Gewin   03/15/23  
Tucked away on the northern New Mexico portion of the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation is a green oasis in an otherwise arid, often overgrazed landscape. The region, which received only 3.8 inches of rain in 2020,…
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Why Greta Thunberg is protesting wind farms in Norway

By Kelsey Ables and Rick Noack   03/01/23  
When Swedish climate advocate Greta Thunberg and other activists protested at several Norwegian government ministries this week, they weren’t demonstrating against new petroleum refineries or tax incentives for Big Oil. Instead, they were standing against…
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Environmental Groups and Native Leaders Say Proposed Venting and Flaring Rule Falls Short

By Autumn Jones   02/15/23  
Oil companies collect crude in tanks by their pumps but often vent the methane gas that also comes up out of the ground into the air, unwilling to invest in the infrastructure to capture it. …
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Legalizing Nature’s Rights: How Tribal Nations are Leading the Fastest Growing Environmental Movement in History

By Thomas Linzey and Others   02/15/23  
The Rights of Nature movement launched internationally in 2006 and is growing fast. Driven primarily by tribes and citizen-led communities, more than three dozen cities, townships and counties across the U.S. have adopted such laws…
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‘A living spirit’: Native people push for changes to protect the Colorado River

By Ian James   01/30/23  
On a bluff overlooking the Lower Colorado River Valley, the ground bears an image of two giant figures. Known as the Twins, these ancient figures are revered by members of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe,…
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Tired of being told to ‘adapt,’ an Indigenous community wrote its own climate action plan

By Carly Graf   01/26/23  
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes live among some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country. Their home, the Flathead Reservation, covers 1.2 million acres dotted with soaring mountains, sweeping valleys, and lush forests.…
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Ancient Indigenous practice could curtail today’s wildfires

By Ayurella Horn-Muller   12/08/22  
A study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances found that historical Indigenous "cultural burning" curtailed wildfire patterns on local scales over a period of roughly 400 years in the southwestern U.S.Driving the news: As…
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Biden pledges to designate Avi Kwa Ame monument in Nevada honoring tribes

By Daniel Rothberg and Others   11/30/22  
For more than two years, leaders of Native American tribes, local environmentalists and Nevada lawmakers have called on the Biden administration to protect about 450,000 acres of land as a national monument at the southern…
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Interior: Oil ban around Chaco Canyon would block 47 wells

By Heather Richards   11/17/22  
The Interior Department is considering a 20-year moratorium on new oil development around Chaco Canyon National Historical Park in New Mexico, an area important to many Indigenous communities.
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Native people won the right to vote in 1948, but the road to the ballot box is still bumpy

By Debra Utacia Krol   11/04/22  
The Gila River Indian Community commemorated Indigenous Peoples' Day on Oct. 10 with a voter registration drive at its tribal administration building in Sacaton. Tribal members trickled in throughout a sultry late-summer afternoon to register…
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Bison return program is now helping Native American ranchers build herds

By Paul Hammel   11/03/22  
For years, Wayne Frederick and his father managed a herd of bison held by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of south-central South Dakota. But now, a unique partnership between a tribal nonprofit that helps Native ranchers…
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Here’s Where the U.S. Is Testing a New Response to Rising Seas

By Christopher Flavelle   11/02/22  
The van carrying tribal officials veered off the coastal highway, away from the Pacific and onto a dirt path hidden by cedar and spruce trees. After climbing an old logging road, it emerged into a…
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Land Is Power, and the Osage Nation Is Buying Theirs Back

By Rachel Adams-Heard   10/12/22  
Raymond Red Corn remembers every bit of the drive up to Kansas to buy back his people’s land. Red Corn, who was the assistant principal chief of the Osage Nation, had gotten up early one…
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The Guardians of the Future

By Isvett Verde   10/01/22  
The natural resources that Indigenous peoples depend on are inextricably linked to their identities, cultures and livelihoods. Even relatively small changes in temperature or rainfall can make their lands more susceptible to rising sea levels,…
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‘We will all die if we continue like this’: Indigenous people push UN for climate justice

By Joseph Lee   09/21/22  
As the United Nations General Assembly opens this week in New York, Indigenous people are taking to the streets, and waters, of New York to protest for climate justice and call on world leaders to…
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Indigenous climate efforts vital to fight against environmental destruction

By Kiara Alfonseca   04/28/22  
When the oil tanker Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound, hundreds of thousands of acres of water were threatened.
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Following 14,000-gallon fuel spill, Pacific representatives call for UN investigation

By Tristan Ahtone   04/28/22  
The Global Indigenous Youth Caucus on Thursday demanded that the United Nations send investigators to Hawaii to probe the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, a series of World War II-era reserve tanks which have…
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The Wrap: Celebrating 50 years of legal work

04/18/22  
Each day we do our best to gather the latest news for you. Remember to scroll to the bottom to see what’s popping out to us on social media and what we’re reading.
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The Wrap: Children’s books

By The Indian Country Today   04/13/22  
Greetings, relatives. A lot of news out there. Thanks for stopping by Indian Country Today’s digital platform. Each day we do our best to gather the latest news for you.
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Renewable Energy: Jobs of the future

By Ted McDermott   04/06/22  
The job market in Indian Country is tough. Edmond Salt knows that as well as anybody. A 42-year-old father of five and a Navajo citizen from Kayenta, Arizona, Salt once wanted one of the in-demand…
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Air Pollution in American Indian Versus Non–American Indian Communities, 2000–2018

By Maggie Li, Markus Hilpert and Others   03/23/22  
Objectives. To compare fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations in American Indian (AI)-populated with those in non–AI-populated counties over time (2000–2018) in the contiguous United States. Methods. We used a multicriteria approach to classify counties as…
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Bioneers , a revolution from the heart of nature

03/21/22  
For centuries, Indigenous peoples have leaned on traditional knowledge systems to impart strength, perseverance, and adaptability that have helped them endure the disruptive forces of colonialism. The impacts of colonialism include genocide, land theft, and…
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Colorado River, stolen by law

By Pauly Denetclaw   03/01/22  
Indigenous nations have been an afterthought in U.S. water policy for over a century. That was all part of the plan.
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2025 is the point of no return, indigenous elders warn

By Cyril Christo   01/22/22  
I once asked a remarkable Dine Navajo elder what he was working on. He answered we’re preparing for the next 500 years. Bewildered, I asked “Are we going to be here in 500 years?” He…
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Wyoming Defies U.S. Supreme Court Over Crow Tribal Hunting Rights

By Eric Galatas   12/30/21  
Wyoming will appeal a recent district court decision affirming Crow tribal hunting rights granted under treaties signed in the 19th century, rights recently affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Dan Lewerenz, staff attorney for the…
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As Western states pledge to take less water from Colorado River, tribes seek a bigger role

By Ian James, Jaweed Kaleem   12/26/21  
When officials from California, Arizona and Nevada signed a deal this month to take less water from the shrinking Colorado River, a large portion of the water savings came through agreements with two Native tribes.
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California, Arizona and Nevada agree to take less water from ailing Colorado River

By Jaweed Kaleem, Ian James   12/15/21  
Trying to stave off dangerously low levels of water in Lake Mead, officials in California, Arizona and Nevada have reached an agreement to significantly reduce the amount they take from the Colorado River.
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Native Americans’ farming practices may help feed a warming world

By Samuel Gilbert   12/10/21  
Indigenous peoples have known for millennia to plant under the shade of the mesquite and paloverde trees that mark the Sonoran Desert here, shielding their crops from the intense sun and reducing the amount of…
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Helping Native communities attain ​‘energy sovereignty’ with solar

By Natasha Ferguson   12/01/21  
Vivian Hamilton has spent her entire life in the community of the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians, east of Riverside, California. As a great-grandmother, she has lived enough years to see changes shape the…
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Climate change fuels a water rights conflict built on over a century of broken promises

By Nick Kirkpatrick and others   11/22/21  
The simple way to think about this crisis: There’s no longer enough water to go around to meet the needs of farmers and Native American populations as well as fish and birds.
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Indigenous and faith leaders urge Procter & Gamble to end logging of old-growth forests

By Diana Kruzman   11/09/21  
Mitchell Lands couldn’t make the trip south from Canada, where he lives on the traditional lands of the Migisi Sahgaigan, or Eagle Lake First Nation, in the province of Ontario. But Lands’ voice echoed in…
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Forced Relocation Left Native Americans More Exposed to Climate Threats, Data Show

By Christopher Flavelle   10/28/21  
Centuries of land loss and forced relocation have left Native Americans significantly more exposed to the effects of climate change, new data show, adding to the debate over how to address climate change and racial…
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It’s Time for the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary

By Violet Sage Walker   10/27/21  
Chumash people have inhabited California's Central Coast region over 20,000 years, stewarding our ancestral waters. For the last 40 years, Chumash leaders and allies have fought to protect the extraordinary cultural and natural values of…
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Indigenous Activists Helped Save Almost A Billion Tons Of Carbon Per Year

By Dallas Goldtooth and Kyle Gracey   10/15/21  
This summer, Science Friday and other media outlets covered the protests against an oil pipeline project in northern Minnesota, where Canadian company Enbridge Energy was replacing and expanding their existing Line 3 infrastructure. Native American…
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