Facing the Climate Crisis: America’s Tribal Lands

with Fawn Sharp of the National Congress of American Indians

Native Americans on tribal lands are facing severe climate consequences, further compounding unique challenges facing this population.

Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share her organization’s efforts to ensure consistent inclusion of tribal interests to address climate change.

Posted on:

October 29, 2021

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: The impacts of climate change are visible today. One example -- Lake Oroville. The second-largest reservoir in California, has seen its water level fall to the lowest recorded level ever, as a result of severe drought caused by climate change. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. From Alaska to Florida, Native Americans on tribal lands are facing severe climate consequences, further compounding unique challenges this population already faces. And joining me to talk about all of this is Fawn Sharp. She is the president of the National Congress of American Indians. And, Fawn, thanks for being here.

Sharp: [ Speaking native language ] Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

Anderson: All of this is, of course, about connection, and I want to take a moment to acknowledge that I'm here in Washington, D.C. This is the traditional territory of the Piscataway, of the Anacostan, and of the Nacotchtank people. And, Fawn, I'm wondering how the rich connection that tribal communities have to the Earth really sort of informs your organization's work when it comes to the environment, when it comes to climate-change issues.

Sharp: Thank you. That's an excellent question. Our connection to the natural world can be traced back to when time began. We were called here. Our ancestors were called to live in this continent. And so, from the beginning of time, through the generations, we've had some very sacred teachings handed down, generation after generation. And it just relates to the basic understanding that as human beings, we are connected to everything and we have a duty to protect the natural world. And so as we confront the impacts of climate change, those teachings are foundational and they motivate us. And that is part of our passion and why we feel so strongly about the issue of climate change.

Anderson: And part of that connection is, you know, environmental and social justice issues. And we've certainly seen those play out in this country. I'm thinking of the Flint water crisis. I'm sure a lot of people remember that movie "Erin Brockovich." That was the real story of a major company that was leaking chemicals into a California desert town's water supply. So, Fawn, how much intersectionality is there with the environment, with social justice? And how much of what is going on in Indian country is really reflective of what's happening across the country?

Sharp: Yes, thank you. There's a deep connection to all of that. Our ancestors foretold of a time when the imbalance would come to a point in time where we would face a moment of truth, a day of reckoning. And that's what our generation is currently confronting. We are facing multiple apocalyptic challenges -- a global pandemic, climate change, where year after year, we're dealing with hurricanes, tornadoes, megafires. And so there's an absolute connection. And for communities of color, we are still deeply marginalized politically, socially, and economically, so we bear the brunt of it and we are disproportionately impacted. And so there's an absolute connection between the social, the political, and the economic intersections of what we're facing today in the crises.

Anderson: So, those challenges obviously require solutions, and I know that your organization watches very closely the federal policies that impact tribal interests. So, what are you asking of legislators when it comes to how climate change is affecting American Indians?

Sharp: Thank you. Our top priority is to ask members of Congress and state legislatures to finally and fully exercise moral and political courage to hold polluters accountable. The public treasury and Congress and the public treasury in every state is simply woefully inadequate to challenge and confront the scale of the climate crisis. Every bit of what we are spending from the public treasury is merely dealing with the symptoms of climate change -- the megafires, the tornadoes and the hurricanes. If we are to truly get to a point where we can find those things that are so critical, the adaptation and mitigation strategies, we need the resources. And so those who are directly accountable must be priced. So carbon pricing initiatives are our top priority.

Anderson: There's such intense connection between the Earth and the way that tribes exist and the way they relate to the air, the water, to all of that. Is there anything that we can all learn from that when it comes to how to better respect our Earth?

Sharp: Yes. thank you. Part of our teachings are that we are but one species in a very complex ecosystem. And as Native Americans, we are taught that we have to honor all things living as sacred. And so while we confront and deal with the impacts to the natural world, whether it's our salmon here in the Pacific Northwest, our forests, all of those parts of the natural world, they cannot speak for themselves. And so we have to be that voice of the salmon, we have to be that voice of the forest, because they cannot rise up and march through the halls of Congress. They cannot bring lawsuits, so it's up to us to champion the well-being of our natural world.

Anderson: And, Fawn, if people want to find out more about your organization, where should they go? What's the website?

Sharp: Yes, our website is ncai.org. And there you'll find all about the National Congress of American Indians, our history, our vision, and our plans for the future.

Anderson: Fawn Sharp of the National Congress of American Indians, thank you so much for joining us.

Sharp: Thank you.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, just log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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