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Udall: Climate change poses ‘grave threat’ to traditional subsistence practice

U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, joined committee Chairman John Hoeven

Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, joined committee Chairman John Hoeven (R-N.D.) in leading an oversight hearing entitled “Keep What You Catch: Promoting Traditional Subsistence Activities in Native Communities.”

In his opening statement, Udall emphasized the role traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) plays in subsistence activities. He noted, “Subsistence not only means nourishing communities with traditional foods, but also feeding generations with traditional knowledge that sustains, grows, and keeps Native communities together.”

Udall also addressed the impacts of climate change on Native communities. “Climate change poses a grave threat to Native communities’ ability to access traditional foods,” Udall said. “That loss goes beyond just sustenance – it eliminates a community’s way of life.”

Udall concluded the hearing by pushing Dr. Jennifer Hardin of the Department of Interior’s Office of Subsistence Management to recognize the serious threat that climate change poses to Tribes. “As I close, I just want to emphasize on the climate change front how serious of a situation the Tribes face,” Udall said. “I hope you take that message back to Interior because Tribal communities are at ‘ground zero’ – the bullseye – when it comes to the impacts of climate change.”

Udall’s opening statement as prepared is below:

Thank you, Chairman Hoeven, for calling today’s hearing on traditional subsistence practices. Subsistence not only means nourishing communities with traditional foods, but also feeding generations with traditional knowledge that sustains, grows, and keeps Native communities together.

To begin, I’d like to give a special welcome to today’s witness from the First Nations Development Institute -- A-Dae Romero-Briones. A-Dae is originally from beautiful Cochiti Pueblo in my home state of New Mexico. Thank you for being here.

Today’s hearing is a great opportunity to highlight the importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge or TEK as a way to promote and maintain traditional subsistence practices in Native communities.

TEK is used by Tribes, federal agencies, and other stakeholders to overcome environmental barriers to subsistence on a collaborative basis.

TEK is a body of knowledge, beliefs, and practices passed down from generation to generation in indigenous communities around the globe. In the U.S., Native communities use TEK-based techniques to achieve balance and sustainability in cultivating traditional foods, while also providing for spiritual and cultural wellbeing.

For example, Tesuque Pueblo in New Mexico is creating tribal seed banks to ensure that heirloom seeds are available for both sustenance and ceremony.

Despite the enormously important role TEK and subsistence plays in Indian Country, climate change poses a grave threat to Native communities’ ability to access traditional foods. That loss goes beyond just sustenance -- it eliminates a community’s way of life, like hunting, fishing, trapping, farming, and forestry.

Drought in particular has threatened traditional farming practices in my home state, which are renowned as a benchmark for sustainable agriculture in an arid environment.

What’s more, decreased snowpack increases the occurrence of devastating wildfires, causing ripple effects far and wide – including the loss of plants and wildlife important to subsistence uses.

And coastal tribal communities – from the Wampanoag in Massachusetts to the Quileute in Washington – are experiencing the damaging effects of climate change on their water and subsistence rights.

Ancient Hawaiian fishponds are another ecologically and culturally significant subsistence resource that is vulnerable to climate change’s impacts, including ocean acidification and sea-level rise.

All of these examples are serious threats to Native communities’ ability to gather, hunt, and cultivate traditional foods. That is why we in Congress should do all we can to promote and work with tribes to develop TEK-based solutions to climate change and other threats to traditional subsistence practices.

This Congress, I have worked with others on this Committee to support the use of regional and community specific TEK solutions. S. 2804, the CROPS for Indian Country Act, promotes TEK-based solutions for food programs and forestry management by authorizing tribes to use 638 contracting to manage food programs and forestry activities at the USDA.

It also directs the Government Accountability Office to investigate marketplace protections for traditional tribal foods.

These legislative provisions in the CROPS Act put important tools for environmental management back into the hands of tribes and advance TEK-based solutions for climate change’s effects on customary and traditional subsistence practices.

We can take important legislative steps, like the CROPS Act, to support tribal food sovereignty and TEK. But we must also use today’s hearing to discuss how we can support greater use of TEK to address the effects of climate change.

I look forward to the witnesses’ testimony, and to working toward solutions that sustain and promote tribal subsistence activities.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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