How NWF is fighting for climate justice in tribal communities

This guest blog post was written by Myra Wilensky, NWF’s Tribal Global Warming Outreach Manager. She is based in Boulder, CO. For more information on her work towards achieving climate justice for Native peoples, email her at

For Native American communities, climate change is an enormous environmental justice issue. Tribal people are disproportionately bearing the brunt of climate change, and their economic, cultural, and spiritual practices, which are closely tied to the natural world, are suffering. Socioeconomic conditions, already dire on many reservations, are being further exacerbated by the deterioration of natural habitats and the thinning of critical plant and animal populations.

Myra Wilensky works with tribal communities across the US as part of NWF's Tribal Lands Program.

Climate change will also increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Native American communities are already ill-equipped to manage extreme weather, and climate change will worsen the impact of these events. Already strained by poverty, crime and public health issues, tribes lack the capacity to deal with the problems created by climate change, and will have to rely increasingly on federal support.

As a result, the National Wildlife Federation is working among Native peoples across the nation to increase awareness of climate change and to generate active responses to confront the climate crisis head-on.

NWF’s Tribal lands staff work on securing strong, achievable solutions to the climate crisis by developing model energy efficiency projects in tribal communities; building tribal college youth capacity in green jobs skills to participate in the new energy future and facilitating opportunities for renewable energy projects on tribal lands.

Building on these initiatives, NWF’s Tribal Lands Program partnered on two workshops this spring in order to facilitate a conversation on the benefits and achievability of weatherization, energy efficiency, and small scale renewable energy projects.

  • The Energy and Tribal Communities workshop was co-sponsored by the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals and was held in Phoenix, Arizona on March 22-23, 2011. Participants gathered from nine different tribes in Arizona and New Mexico. The workshop was designed to facilitate idea-sharing and to increase the knowledge base for funding such projects and taking advantage of available non-monetary resources. Participants said the information they learned was very helpful and would like to see a future workshop that is geared toward hands-on learning for energy efficiency and weatherization upgrades.
  • The Empowering Native Lands Workshop was co-sponsored by the Montana State University’s Engineering Department.  It was held in Bozeman, Montana on March 31-April 1, 2011, and representatives from six tribes based throughout Montana attended. This workshop focused on a broader scope of renewable energy incentives as well as energy efficiency and weatherization upgrade opportunities for tribes in Montana.

Between the two workshops there were 87 attendees representing 15 tribes and 25 organizations and agencies, displaying the growing reach of our Tribal Lands Program.  Several workshop participants said they would like to see future workshops on hands-on training for energy efficiency and weatherization upgrades. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  In one attendee’s words, “It is important to communities to look at these issues. The education it brings to tribes is very needed. Thank you.”

What struck me most in the workshop was the opportunity for participants to learn from each other. Many are in different project stages – some are just thinking about implementing an energy efficiency project and others are nearing completion stages on a project. Participants got the chance to share wisdom and advice with each other, and all attendees were able to take away some valuable information.

Stay tuned on future developments and information on new workshops!