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Tribes talk protecting homelands from climate change at White House Tribal Nations Summit

This is a photo of Assistant Secretary of the Interior Bryan Newland standing behind a podium and speaking to a crowd.
U.S. Department of the Interior
Bryan Newland, assistant secretary of the Interior, speaks during the 2023 White House Tribal Nations Summit on Dec. 6, 2023.

Tribal and federal leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss protecting tribal lands from the effects of climate change. The topic was part of the 2023 White House Tribal Nations Summit on Dec. 6 and 7.

One tribal community immediately impacted by climate change is the Quinault Indian Nation. Its Taholah Village is located along the Washington state coast, where the sea level is rising and causing severe floods. That’s why the tribe is working to relocate to higher ground, with the help of $25 million from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s new Voluntary Community-Driven Relocation program.

Tyson Johnston, director of self-governance of the Quinault Indian Nation, said the tribe has known for many years that human-caused climate change is a growing issue impacting their community.

“Now that these targeted investments are starting to occur, tribes that are smaller, that don’t have access to capital, are finally getting the resources they need to move from the planning phase and into the implementation phases of their work,” Johnston said.

Sea level rise isn’t the only threat tribal communities face. Across the Mountain West region and beyond, many tribes are affected by wildfires, drought, and extreme heat, which can threaten their food, water and energy supplies.

Earlier this year, the Interior Department made $120 million available for tribes facing climate impacts.

“We have to protect the ability of tribes and Native people to live in their homelands,” said Bryan Newland, assistant secretary of the Interior. “To stay in their homelands.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.