Biden sends millions to tribal communities to fight devastating effects of climate change


The funds will be used to help pay for projects that will help tribes adapt to climate change, as well as pay for the management of ocean and coastal assets.

The Department of the Interior announced on Monday the allocation of $46 million to assist tribal communities in addressing the ongoing effects of climate change, which has it says poses "unique" and "existential threats" to Native American communities.

According to a press release from the Interior Department, the funds will be used to help pay for projects that will help tribes adapt to climate change, as well as pay for the management of ocean and coastal assets.

The funds are being allocated under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by President Joe Biden on Nov. 15, 2021, and with money appropriated by Congress. The infrastructure law will provide the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which operates under Interior, with $466 million over a five-year period, including $216 million to address climate issues.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in the department's statement:

As the effects of climate change continue to intensify, Indigenous communities are facing unique climate-related challenges that pose existential threats to Tribal economies, infrastructure, lives and livelihoods. Coastal communities are facing flooding, erosion, permafrost subsidence, sea level rise, and storm surges, while inland communities are facing worsening drought and extreme heat. President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law's historic investments in Tribal communities will help bolster community resilience, replace aging infrastructure, and provide support needed for climate-related community-driven relocation and adaptation.

Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, was nominated by President Joe Biden and confirmed by the Senate to her position in March 2021 by a vote of 51-40.

The infusion of funds comes as Native American communities are being severely impacted by a host of issues related to climate change.

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has noted that climate change "exacerbates the difficulties already faced by indigenous communities including political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination and unemployment."

The results of a study published in the journal Science in 2021 that had compiled data over multiple years found that U.S. policies of forced displacement from their original lands resulted in Native Americans being resettled in regions that are less hospitable and are now more threatened by climate change.

The study notes that those regions are facing more instances of extreme heat, less rain, and heightened exposure to wildfires, among other challenges.

For instance, the Navajo Nation in the Southwest has faced shortages of drinking water, while the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma is dealing with difficulties growing crops.

Additionally, Native American communities have historically been neglected by the federal government, which, the New York Times noted, has resulted in a lack of sufficient housing and infrastructure deal with climate-related issues.

In August 2021, Haaland highlighted the problems when she visited the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington. The tribe there has been forced to relocate buildings from its village in Grays Harbor County, which was located at sea level, after the seawall protecting it was overrun by ocean water, leading to flooding and evacuations.

The increased attention and funding on the part of the Biden administration follow years of policies under former President Donald Trump that prioritized the interests of the oil and gas industries and neglected the environment.

In 2020, the Alaska Native village of Kivalina, along with the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe, the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, and the Grand Bayou Village, all of Louisiana, filed a complaint with the United Nations asking for an investigation into how the United States has handled tribal nations affected by climate change. The complaint, under the title "Rights of Indigenous People in Addressing Climate-Forced Displacement," says, "By failing to act, the U.S. government has placed these Tribes at existential risk," and provides a list of actions the tribes demand that the government take to protect their rights and their lives.

In October 2021, the tribes urged Biden to invite U.N. observers to investigate, stating in an op-ed, "President Biden can officially invite the UN Special Rapporteur to investigate and provide an independent report about the consequences of the climate crisis on our lives so that government action responds, meets our needs, and ensures we receive the resources we need to be resilient in the face of accelerating environmental change."

In addition to the allocation of funds, the Biden administration in February suspended a project authorized by the Trump administration that would have constructed a 211-mile road for mining interests in Alaska. The road had been described as a "threat to our people" by the Tanana Chiefs Conference, which applauded Biden's action.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.