MISSOULA — The University of Montana is partnering with a new program that provides science-based climate information and services to Native American ranchers and farmers in Intermountain West.
The program, funded by a $1.5 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the United States Department of Agriculture, will support and enhance the role of USDA Climate Hubs in the Indian country. These centers work in 10 regions across the United States to support growers and agricultural professionals by providing region-specific information on climate change and climate adaptation strategies.
Titled “Native Climate: Strengthening the role of Climate Hubs in Indian Country,” the program will extend climate services to tribal extension workers, agricultural producers and youth educators. A key component will be the hiring of three Indigenous Climate Fellows – one will be stationed in UM’s Montana Climate Office – who will work as liaisons between the Southwest and Northern Plains Climate Centers. and regional tribal nations.
“This project increases equity in the representation of Indigenous communities in climate data monitoring and sharing and will help develop protocols to ensure the protection of climate data sovereignty for tribal nations,” said Kyle Bocinsky, Director of climate extension at the Montana Climate Office and Native Climate project co. -director. “The Montana Climate Office is honored to have been chosen for this partnership, which will expand the impact of the many tools and services provided by our office.”
UM Associate Professor Kelsey Jensco, director of the Montana Climate Office and a Montana state climatologist, said the climate outreach aspect of the program is particularly exciting.
“We have built the capacity and personnel to work with tribal nations as we also know, and the Native Climate Project will build that capacity,” Jencso said. “At the end of the day, all data and numbers only have meaning if we interpret them and convey them to the people who will use them.”
In addition to UM, the project team includes researchers, tribal extension educators, and climate leaders from the Desert Research Institute, which leads the project, as well as the University of Nevada, Reno, and Utah. of Arizona.
Native Climate will address longstanding issues of climate injustice in Indian Country through culturally appropriate information sharing, said Maureen McCarthy, DRI’s Native Climate Program Director.
“There are huge inequities across the United States in the provision of climate services and resources to tribes,” she said. “Many of these communities are incredibly resilient and forward-thinking in finding ways to adapt to this rapidly warming world, and their knowledge of the landscape predates modern science. This project is a tremendous opportunity to establish bonds and lasting relationships of trust that promote the sharing of information between all participating groups.
Caiti Steele, coordinator of the Southwest Climate Hub, said the new project will help increase their engagement with tribal representatives on Hub programs, such as their drought awareness and climate adaptation workshops.
“It will be very useful to learn from indigenous communities if the information we produce is useful,” she said, “and to learn how we at the Hub can improve our support for climate adaptation in Indian country”.
Native Climate will also create a new student internship program for Indigenous climate reporters at DRI, which will support at least three Indigenous students per year studying communications, journalism, agriculture or STEM. Other components of the project include a “native climate toolkit” – an interactive web-based resource clearinghouse – and impact reporting and warning tools. An Indigenous Climate Advisory Group will help the team engage with area tribes, leverage resources from partner organizations, and conduct culturally sensitive project assessment.
Bocinsky said the search for a fellow to work at the Montana Climate Bureau will begin this spring.