Capacity Building

Positive steps toward greater community resilience, adaptive capacity, and limiting vulnerabilities can be achieved through increased collaboration and communication.

Capacity Building Definitions

  • Adaptive Capacity is the potential of a system to adjust to change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, take advantage of opportunities, and cope with consequences.
  • Resilience includes the capability to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant multi-hazard threats without major disruption to social well-being, economy, and environment.
  • Vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of perturbations—in this case, climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.

Adapted from the report Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment (Chapter 28: Adaptation).

Tribal Nations are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because their well-being is traditionally tied to a close relationship with the natural world, and because of their dependence on the land and resources for needs such as medicine, shelter, and food. Climate change will exacerbate many existing barriers to providing for these needs, and in many cases will make adaptive responses increasingly more difficult. Subsequent shifts from traditional lifestyles and diet—compounded by persistent poverty, challenges to food security and sovereignty, the loss and degradation of traditional foods, and poor housing conditions—may lead to increasing health problems in indigenous communities. Climate change is likely to amplify other indirect effects to traditional foods and resources, including changing the timing of conditions, limiting access to gathering places and hunting grounds, and exacerbating environmental health issues. Indigenous peoples face barriers to implementation of adaptation largely due to limited funding, geographic barriers, the need to establish cooperation with non-tribal entities, and policy and legal impediments. 

The preceding text was excerpted and adapted from the report Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment (Chapter 12: Indigenous Peoples, Lands, and Resources).

Building and participating in regional networks

Positive steps toward greater community resilience, adaptive capacity, and limiting vulnerabilities have been achieved through indigenous and regional collaboration and increased two-way communication between scientists and tribal decision makers and through inter-tribal organizations, symposiums, and cooperative structures. The Alaska Native Health Consortium (ANTHC) Center for Climate and Health promotes a collaboration among health professionals, engineers, and scientists working directly with tribal communities to help build capacity to prepare for and adapt to both climate variability and climate change in a culturally appropriate manner through a variety of programs and tools. These are described in the case study Addressing Links Between Climate and Public Health in Alaska Native Villages.

The preceding text was excerpted and adapted from the report Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment (Chapter 12: Indigenous Peoples, Lands, and Resources).

Tribes also build capacity by establishing their own regional and national intertribal groups and training events to network about climate impacts and options. For example:

  • First Stewards holds a biannual symposium to unite indigenous voices to collaboratively advance adaptive climate change strategies to sustain and secure indigenous cultures and cultivate sustainable projects and educational opportunities within indigenous communities.
  • The Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup has brought together a group of prestigious tribal leaders and partners to develop both a Primer and Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges in Climate Change Initiatives. This effort provides foundational information for appropriate understanding and use of traditional knowledges (TKs) to enhance climate resilience efforts.
  • Both the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission assist tribes in comparing and expanding efforts to protect vulnerable fish species, both for food and as an important cultural resource. One such fish of concern is the migratory salmon, which is affected by climate change impacts on both the rivers in which they spawn and mature and the ocean and estuaries in which they spend some of the adult portions of their lives.

Academic collaborations

Tribes also work with state and tribal colleges in every region of the country to develop online resources, training, and programs to promote climate change awareness, proactive planning, and integration efforts, often sponsored by one or more federal agency partners:

Federal climate resource networks

A growing number of Tribal Nations have begun to benefit from participation in federal climate resource networks. Several examples are provided below:

For an inventory of expanding tribal resources and federal support to tribes, visit the BIA Climate Change tribal resource website.

Leveraging unique assets and traditional knowledges

Climate-related challenges can be addressed by creative engagement with Tribal Nations and by increasing support of community-based adaptation and mitigation efforts. Native communities have unique assets, including social networks, social capital, traditional knowledges, and indigenous institutions. Supporting Tribal Nations in developing solutions based on their unique assets will increase their capacity to adapt and innovate, while maintaining cultural integrity and sustaining traditional lifestyles.

The preceding text was excerpted and adapted from the report Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment (Chapter 12: Indigenous Peoples, Lands, and Resources).

As an example of effective assets and cultural integration, the Oglala Lakota tribe in South Dakota is incorporating climate change adaptation and mitigation planning as they consider long-term sustainable development planning. Their Oyate Omniciye plan is a partnership built around six livability principles related to transportation, housing, economic competitiveness, existing communities, federal investments, and local values. Interwoven with this is a vision that incorporates plans to reduce future climate change and adapt to future climate change, while protecting cultural resources.

The preceding text was excerpted and adapted from the report Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment (Chapter 19: Great Plains).

Banner Image Credit: 
Michael Montoya, Sovereign Nations Service Corps, Mescalero Apache Tribe. Used with permission
Last modified: 
10 January 2017 - 3:06pm