This chapter discusses how diverse tribal communities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico affect and are affected by changes to the carbon cycle. It explores the unique challenges and opportunities these communities face in advancing land and natural resource management practices that are often guided by traditional knowledge. This is a much needed discussion, but one that faces formidable challenges, including the following:
- Peer-reviewed publications and data pertaining to carbon fluxes at the scale of these communities are virtually non-existent. This makes mechanical aspects of carbon accounting, such as establishment of baselines and determination of changes in carbon fluxes, problematic, leaving treatment within the context of the SOCCR2 noticeably forced. Impacts at the scale of indigenous communities are often obscured in datasets relating to carbon fluxes and climate change. Further, these communities face challenges in accessing and interpreting the accuracy and uncertainty of downscaled model-based projections and in up-scaled evaluation of the impacts of their actions on carbon fluxes.
- These communities are culturally distinct, with their own languages, traditions, practices, and cross-generational traditional sciences that define their interconnected relationships to local environments and resources. Decisions give great weight to long-term stewardship to protect the interests of future generations.
- Their histories, rights, authorities, and forms of governance are influenced by economic, cultural, moral, and spiritual perceptions of values and risks, which often bound up in unique ways with neighboring governments and the nation states in which they reside. Choices and information are not readily available in terms that are relevant to decision making in indigenous communities. Policies and actions that affect indigenous communities are often made by neighbors and nation states, outside the decision domains of indigenous peoples and often beyond the reach of political influence because of marginalization due to relatively small population sizes and economic power. This also indicates that the ability to build and sustain working partnerships will be needed to influence carbon fluxes.
- Limitation to “tribal lands” limits consideration on property boundaries without consideration of differences between types of land tenure (e.g., tribal, allotted, fee, trust, fractionated, surface vs. subsurface) and ignores rights and interests in much broader territories stemming from aboriginal, unextinguished claims, treaties, and applicable law.
These, among other factors, strongly indicate that a cohesive focus and comprehensive treatment of these communities in relation to the SOCCR2 within the page limit established for treatment is simply not feasible. Some information comparing tribal peoples in the U.S., Canada and Mexico in the introductory section of this chapter provides context, but the text and commentary are largely devoted to presenting various sorts of statistics by country, region, population sizes, land areas, with an emphasis on potentials for resource development and extraction. There are numerous opinions, hypotheticals, and assertions regarding comparisons with neighboring lands presented for little apparent purpose. The synthesis and actionable steps relating to the carbon cycle lack depth of treatment. This approach is distracting and adds little of substance to the purpose of the report.
In sum, as drafted the chapter misses the mark and an opportunity. Contributions to SOCCR2 could be improved and strengthened by integration with Chapter 6. This could be accomplished by
restructuring and revising the chapter to center on supporting the active engagement and support of indigenous communities in the development and implementation of policies, programs, and projects that affect the carbon flux in the U.S. Focusing the discussion on the U.S. would also be consistent with Canada and Mexico developing their own assessments. This would help strengthen linkages between Chapter 7 and coverage in the executive summary (p 40 line 16—challenges facing indigenous communities and p. 46 line 37—learning from tribal peoples).
Statement of Task Questions
- Are the goals, objectives and intended audience of the product clearly described in the document? Does the report meet its stated goals?
No, these are not clearly stated.
- Does the report accurately reflect the scientific literature? Are there any critical content areas missing from the report?
Scientific literature relating to carbon fluxes in indigenous communities in peer reviewed journals is sparse to non-existent. This is not surprising given culturally-based differences in transmitting science and knowledge in indigenous communities which rely largely on oral traditions, community vetting, and learning by doing. Reliance on peer-reviewed “science” limits consideration of information, values, and wisdom potentially available from indigenous communities as well as proprietary knowledge held by other entities, such as private enterprise.
- Are the report’s key messages and graphics clear and appropriate? Specifically, do they reflect supporting evidence include an assessment of likelihood, and communicate effectively?
The key messages are hard to detect amid the attempt to cover a broad spectrum of issues and circumstances confronting indigenous communities and carbon science. Key messages relating to carbon fluxes are few. Comparisons to practices on neighboring lands lack a quantitative basis for support. Figures 7.1 and 7.2 illustrate cultural insights but not their relationships to the carbon flux. Appendix 7A is not comprehensive, and its relevance to the carbon cycle is tenuous at best. Table 7.1 does not contain information on potential sources to carbon sources on tribal lands in the U.S., while tending to steer the focus toward economic potentials of extractive activities.
- Are the research needs identified in the report appropriate?
There are more fundamental issues that need to be addressed that are of higher priority than “research needs.” Indigenous communities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico are often economically disadvantaged, suffering from persistent poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, under-developed infrastructure (including health, sanitation, and educational systems), and lack of ready access to information sources. Consideration of research needs should be discussed within the larger context and focus on ways to empower indigenous communities to support their engagement in matters within their decision domains and spheres of influence that affect the carbon cycle. Research could usefully be directed at unique circumstance and needs of indigenous communities. Among particular needs are:
- Evaluation of impacts of traditional practices and governance systems on carbon fluxes and development of methods for quantification, e.g., food sovereignty, uses of traditional foods and medicines, management of water, soil cultivation and enrichment, periodic burning of forests and grasslands (particularly carbon sequestration and risk of GHG emissions from wildfire), use of plants with high moisture or temperature tolerance.
- Evaluation of potential changes in carbon fluxes from site-specific application of carbon capture and sequestration efforts and development of methods for quantification of actions such as biochar, soils enrichment, blue carbon, solar, wind and renewable energy.
- Assessment of carbon fluxes arising from collaborative partnerships to address environmental problems. For instance, note the Tulalip Tribe’s involvement in the Qualco anaerobic digester in operation since 2008 which utilizes animal waste, trap grease and other pollutants (thus keeping them from landfills, drains and illegal dumping) and burns methane to create renewable energy . This process helps clean the air and water, helps farmers keep their dairies operating, protects salmon streams, and provides environmentally-friendly compost.
- Opportunities to deploy innovative technology and practices that can potentially affect carbon fluxes at the community level, e.g., renewable energy, energy-efficient substitutions, sanitation and waste disposal and treatment, local sourcing, energy-carbon based purchasing policies, carbon markets.
- Are the document’s presentation, level of technicality, and organization effective? Are the questions outlined in the prospectus addressed and communicated in a manner that is appropriate and accessible for the intended audience?
No. See comments regarding major concerns.
- Are the key findings in your chapter well stated and supported by the detail provided in the chapter?
Key findings do not directly relate to description of the state of carbon fluxes. Key Finding 1 (“managing land and natural resources poses unique challenges”) appears to contradict Key Finding 3 (“Indigenous communities are managing carbon stocks and fluxes...”). In Finding 1, the challenge is not tribal community values (p.286, line 11), but reconciling those values with past policies external to the communities and their impacts. The authors may wish to re-order the Findings, to lead with 2 and 3, and then 1, 4, 5.
- Are there any broader questions, such as the selection of the evidence and findings, weight of evidence, or the consistency of the application of uncertainty language?
The attempted scope of the draft chapter is so broad that important messages are missing or obscured, leaving discussion of the synthesis and actions relating to SOCCR2 with little substance. The chapter provides scant treatment of the circumstances confronting indigenous communities of Alaska or the U.S. Pacific or Caribbean Islands (also part of the U.S.). Discussion is lacking on issues such as: seminal differences regarding issues relating to self-determination or sovereignty; land tenure systems; political, policy, and legal constraints affecting the capacity to control factors that affect carbon and the environment, and fiduciary obligations; impacts of sub-par educational,
public safety, health care systems; and access to investment capital. These are heady but important and relevant factors. Some are touched upon in various places in the chapter, but are buried so their significance is lost.
Comprehensive treatment of Tribal Lands can be extremely complex. It is not feasible to attempt to deal with these types of interconnected issues in a variety of contexts in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, much less at the level of individual indigenous communities. Since Canada and Mexico are apparently developing their own assessment activities, it would be appropriate to limit discussion to the U.S. Nor is it feasible to try to tie mostly unquantified impacts of tribal land management on reserved lands or within their territories to global climate change processes. An alternative approach would thus be worth considering. This might start by providing a broad overview of the following issues:
- Indigenous communities are among the most vulnerable to climate change, due to their dependence on place and natural resources—as indicated by NCA3, the draft NCA4, and many other publications. Numerous examples could be presented, including the specific challenges faced by populations in the Arctic, in tropical, lowland, and island areas, etc.. Contextual circumstances such as relative isolation from infrastructure, information, capital, and expertise, depressed economic status, sub-standard health and education systems, etc., should also be considered.
- The cultural and ecological diversity of indigenous communities is adapted to local environments, resources, and social, economic, and spiritual/cultural systems. These are distinct communities with their own perceptions of values and risks. Consequently, the policies and practices that affect emissions and accumulation of carbon are community specific. Quantitative estimates about greenhouse gas emissions, and potential for mitigation through land uses such as agriculture, forestry, cultural heritage sites, and future development of resources (water, coal, gas, oil, or minerals) are sparse.
- Impacts of policies of colonialism, dependency, paternalism, forced displacement from ancestral territories, termination, assimilation and attempts to displace cultures, and coercive exploitation have impacted tribal lands and divided indigenous communities. This includes factors contributing to inequities in environmental justice and transport/disposal of hazardous waste. The juxtaposition of poverty and environmental protection is very controversial and palpable in indigenous communities. History and policies leave legacies that affect the impacts of tribal lands and resources on carbon fluxes. In the U.S., because of land tenure complexities (small parcel sizes, frequently with a large number of undivided fractional ownerships), deficiencies in federal administration, chronic underfunding to fulfill fiduciary trust responsibilities, and lack of access to capital, the productivity of tribal lands and resources is frequently far below their potential, including their capacity to store and sequester carbon. This discussion could become quite involved and context sensitive for both indigenous communities and nation states, so treatment should be kept centered on their resilience and adaptation to changing locales under externally imposed political systems.
- The importance of recognizing that cultural and spiritual foundations of indigenous communities differ from those held by other communities. In non-indigenous communities, the focus tends to be on individual perspectives, formulated in terms of rational, informed choice to act in individual best interest. In contrast, in indigenous communities, behavior is rooted in community and culturally embedded moral ethos linking past, present, and future actions, in a context of stewardship responsibilities for the welfare of future generations.
- Differences in world views regarding science and human relationships with the environment between those held by indigenous peoples and western society; different ways of knowing and thinking. These differences are apparent in development of the SOCCR2 report itself, as a reductionist analysis of component of environmental systems, which is fundamentally incompatible with holistic interconnectedness thinking characteristic of indigenous peoples.
- Differences in communicating and transmitting knowledge (traditions, practices, songs, stories, art & language) including traditional knowledges and indigenous resource management practices, including implications of lack of infrastructure to provide internet access to disadvantaged communities. Instead of the western model of relying on publication in peer reviewed journals, knowledge transfer in indigenous communities occurs individually and contextually, through teachings and “showing by doing” with validity determined by deliberation among those most familiar with local circumstances. Consequently, those outside indigenous communities must contend with intrinsic barriers to awareness, understanding, and consideration of indigenous science.
- Complexities and limitations of sovereign authorities of governments of indigenous communities including reserved rights, public health and safety, and intergovernmental relations, tax policies, and the ability to protect and control use of land, water, fish, wildlife, mineral, and cultural resources. It would be worth pointing out important differences between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. For example in the U.S., tribes have the ability to enact their own laws and regulations pertaining to land use and resource management (including regulation of air and water quality); to develop and manage resources within their reservations; and for tribes with federally reserved rights, to control water rights and co-manage shared resources like fish, wildlife, and plants.
- Fragmentation of property and jurisdictional boundaries and complexities, lead to challenges in building partners for collaboration and cooperation at a landscape scale.
This foundation would provide an opportunity to use examples or case studies of how resource management practices and traditional knowledges (TKs) of indigenous communities affect the carbon cycle. For example, there are practices of light vegetative burning to reduce risk of catastrophic wildfire, store carbon in soils, protect water supplies, and promote vegetative growth and wildlife habitats. Some practices rooted in TKs are attracting attention as possible ways to reduce GHG emissions, such as crop rotation and permaculture, biochar, chinampas, or use of plants that are genetically adapted to drought, variability in phenology, or temperature. These practices were undertaken not because of explicit consideration of what we refer to as the carbon cycle, but rather from an integrated world view in which everything is interconnected.
These pieces would then lay the foundation for actions that could be undertaken to advance substantive engagement of indigenous communities in the carbon cycle, such as:
- Promoting intergovernmental coordination and cooperation between partners to preserve and protect the public trust; and use of special relationships such as fiduciary obligations and consultation requirements, and principles of free, prior, and informed consent (UNDRIP3).
- Advancing collaborative efforts to increase awareness and integrate western science and TKs—including facilitation of access to and sharing of data, information, and expertise.
3 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
- Implementing place-based monitoring and systems for recording and reporting environmental observations to establish baselines and provide a history of changes in temperature, humidity, precipitation, phenology, species compositions, etc.
- Reducing economic dependency of indigenous communities on external sources of income, in order to reduce coercion and forced resource exploitation.
- Improving access to funding sources (e.g., grants, foundations, partners) and capital, and eliminating external barriers and constraints that inhibit investment in self-determined culturally-appropriate initiatives and resource development.4
- Research directed at unique circumstances and needs of indigenous communities (see specific suggestions noted above).
- Establishing communication networks of indigenous communities and partners to share success stories, information, and experience and avoid or minimize effects of ideologically-driven censorship practices;5 convening conferences and defraying costs of participation to advance knowledge sharing and help inform the development and implementation of policies, programs, and projects affecting the carbon cycle.