Indigenous Climate Change Conference on Sea Level Rise and Tribal Groups of Southern Louisiana

Indigenous Climate Change Conference on Sea Level Rise and Tribal Groups of Southern Louisiana. By Dr. Jim Riach, FIU Dept of Earth and Environment.

The Conference on Sea Level Rise and Tribal Groups of Southern Louisiana drew over 100 people into the FIU Wertheim Conservatory on November 9. Theresa Dardar of the Pointe-au-Chien Tribe and Bob Gough from the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy and co-founder of the Rising Voices: Collaborative Science for Climate Solutions program headlined the conference.

Also in attendance

  • Aranzazu Lascurain, Program Coordinator of the Southeast Climate Science Center in North Carolina State University
  • Nancy Maynard, PhD, Senior research scientist (Emeritus) in the Cryospheric Sciences Branch at NASA GSFC - currently located at CIMAS/RSMAS at U. Miami as a Visiting Scientist.
  • Julie Maldonado, PhD, Department of Environmental Studies, UC Santa Barbara


The conference started with the screening of the 2012 PBS video entitled "Native lands Wash Away as Sea Level Rises." The video documents the impacts that sea level is has having on the land and the tribal communities that live in the coastal bayous of Louisiana. Theresa Dardar of the Pointe-au-Chien Tribe, one of the conference participants, is highlighted in the this video.

Following the video, Theresa provided in depth details on current environmental and cultural stresses the tribal communities are facing in the region and the types of increasing threats they expect to experience over the next several years. There is a deep concern that not just the well-being of the tribes, but their ways of life, their sacred lands, and their very identity as communities are at risk of disappearing if solutions to these problems are not found very soon. Theresa commented on the priorities they have identified in the strategies they have developed for responding to these threats. However, she also discussed how the many different legal, economic, political, and cultural challenges of responding to these threats make finding solutions so difficult. Many of these same issues were further elaborated by Bob Gough who also commented on the extensive amount of research that has already been done on this topic.

Some ideas were suggested, not as solutions, but as continuing efforts to address the problems being faced by the communities. Among these was the idea of developing a group of interested researchers from FIU to collaborate with members of the native communities to identify how best to help the communities. Raising awareness about the critical nature of these problems and demanding assistance for the tribal groups at the upcoming UNFCCC COP 21 at Paris was also suggested.

If we are to address the threats that climate change and sea level rise pose to indigenous peoples, we need to stay connected and work together. There is strength in unity. Please visit the following websites of some groups that are already working on this front.

National Climate Assessment – Climate Change in the US – Chapter 12: Indigenous Peoples, Land and Resources

Rising Voices Collaborative Science on Climate Change Solutions program. The site includes links to reports and recommendations generated from meetings held in 2015 and previous years.

Lowlander Center: A non-profit organization based on community participatory principles and methods. The work of the Lowlander Center is to help create solutions to living with an ever-changing coastline and land loss while visioning a future that builds capacity and resilience for place and people.

North Carolina State University SE Climate Science Center: A DOI climate science center that includes work with indigenous groups

Florida Climate Institute: A multi-disciplinary network of national and international research and public organizations, scientists, and individuals concerned with achieving a better understanding of climate variability and change.

The institute is planning to hold their 2016 Sea Level Rise Summit “A Warming Arctic: Shared Futures from Alaska to Florida” in spring.

FIU Sea Level Rise Solutions Center: A newly founded center at FIU dedicated to efficiently developing and implementing the policies and strategies necessary to address the threat of sea level rise in low-lying coastal communities world-wide.