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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Melissa Hellmann

Three Indigenous American tribes to get funding to manage ocean and coasts

Penobscot Nation members drum on the Penobscot River in Eddington, Maine, on 22 July 2013.
Penobscot Nation members drum on the Penobscot River in Eddington, Maine, on 22 July 2013. Photograph: Boston Globe/Getty Images

This month, three Indigenous American tribes on the west and east coasts will collectively receive nearly $755,000 in federal funding to manage ocean and coastal problems, as well as engage in partnerships to offset the effects of the climate crisis in their regions. The tribes’ projects will blend together Indigenous knowledge and scientific data to build innovative strategies around coastal resilience.

On Monday, the federal agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), and the US Department of Commerce announced that the Makah Tribe in Washington, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians in California and the Penobscot Nation in Maine will be individually awarded between $200,000 and $290,000 for their two-year projects. The funding comes from the Biden administration’s bipartisan Infrastructure Act, which provided Noaa with nearly $3bn to facilitate environmental stewardship, build climate-resilient coasts and support infrastructure around weather forecasting from 2022 to 2026.

Amid warming waters and sea level rise, tribal engagement “is critical to be able to really benefit from that knowledge and round out our perspectives of how to act together in managing oceans and coasts”, Betsy Nicholson, the north regional director for Noaa’s office for coastal management, told the Guardian. “Tribes have a long history that we do not have in terms of having been through some of these changes before, so it’s an incredibly meaningful relationship. It takes funds to have the capacity to maintain that participation.”

Noaa has engaged with Indigenous communities on coastal and ocean management for many years. This funding will allow the tribes to hire staff, attend convenings with state and federal governments and to incorporate their traditional ecological knowledge into infrastructure planning on the coast and in oceans.

“In many cases, we are using data and tools to make decisions on where to site aquaculture, where to site offshore wind projects,” said Nicholson. “Those tools don’t necessarily include the traditional ecological knowledge and their perspective.”

The Makah Tribe will use the funds to continue work around ocean mapping, as well as to teach younger generations how to govern the collection, ownership and use of their community’s information, otherwise known as tribal data sovereignty. The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians plan to use the money to define their values around ocean and coastal management, which may include prioritizing the protection of marine mammals.

In Maine, The Penobscot Nation will conduct more research on the historical significance of their waterways, such as identifying submerged archaeological sites that were once tribal lands before the sea level rose thousands of years ago. Chuck Loring, a Penobscot Nation member and the tribe’s director of natural resources said they will also use the funds to share the knowledge that they learn from state and federal governments with four other tribes in the area – Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Mi’kmaq Nation, Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk and Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik.

“We’re going to try to continue identifying tribal priorities for offshore and inshore ocean environments, increasing the tribal involvement,” said Loring, “as well as supporting awareness of ocean-related issues of climate change and energy projects.”

For instance, he said, the tribe is concerned that birds, bats and fish may be killed by the offshore wind turbines that the state plans to erect along the coast. They also want to ensure that a mitigation plan is in place so that oil leaks from the turbines don’t contribute to water pollution.

Loring said that the funding will provide them with the resources and time to engage with the state about such infrastructure projects, given that Indigenous voices have largely been left out of discussions since the tribes are working over capacity. He hopes that the partnerships will help the Penobscot Nation learn more about their own history, which has partially been forgotten due to colonialism.

“We obviously had quite a connection to the ocean. We’ve kind of lost that since we don’t have a significant landholding down there,” Loring said. “We’re looking to rekindle that, to educate ourselves a little bit more.”

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