Indigenous peoples bear both the weight of climate change’s impacts and carry knowledge that may help lessen its burden. That’s according to the latest National Climate Assessment published Tuesday, a federal, interagency report published by the U.S. Global Change Research Program every five years. The report’s authors emphasized that American land theft and colonization have made Indigenous peoples more vulnerable to climate change as shrinking coastlines and more frequent extreme weather events threaten historic sites, cultural practices, and food supplies.

“Historical abuses of Indigenous rights have significant responsibility for the heightened severity of climate disruption,” the report concluded.

The report cites a 2021 study that concluded that Indigenous peoples in the United States lost 99 percent of their territories through colonization, and that the lands that they were forced to move to face higher wildfire risk and worse drought than their traditional homelands. According to the authors, Indigenous peoples across the continental U.S. and its island holdings hail from more than 700 tribes and communities, and while each community has a different relationship with the federal government, all share similar experiences of colonization through stolen land, cultural assimilation, and persistent marginalization.

The report concludes that supporting Indigenous self-determination is necessary to ensure Native communities’ needs are met, but also found that those efforts are undermined by policies and institutions that uphold state, local, or federal policies or prioritize the needs of the private sector.

“The right to self-determination means Indigenous peoples should be in the position to make decisions about how to respond to climate change in ways that meet community-defined needs and aspirations,” the report says.

Nationally, Native people lead more than 1,000 efforts to address climate change, drawing up hundreds of climate change adaptation and mitigation plans. In Washington state, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community cultivates clam gardens to fight ocean acidification; in California, the Karuk Tribe has fought for their right to conduct prescribed burns.

Read the full article about Indigenous communities and climate change by Anita Hofschneider at Grist.