First Stewards Symposium

First Stewards Slideshow

View photos from a national conference on climate change at the National Museum of the American Indian in July.

Coastal Peoples Address Climate Change

Hear from several of the participants about the value of coming together to address these issues and the impact of the symposium.


Coastal tribes face higher storm surges, disappearing coastline, loss of the very land beneath their feet and the species they depend on for economic and cultural survival. And they know a lot about adapting to change. 

The Makah, Hoh and Quileute tribes and the Quinault Indian Nation teamed up with NOAA’s Office of Marine Sanctuaries, The Nature Conservancy and the Smithsonian Institute to host a national conference on climate change at the National Museum of the American Indian in July.

First Stewards Symposium

First Stewards: Coastal Peoples Address Climate Change brought together indigenous leaders and scientists from all of the United States’ coastal areas—West Coast, Alaska, Pacific Islands, Great Lakes, East Coast and Gulf Coast. Tribal and indigenous leaders, keepers of traditional knowledge and scientists shared what they have witnesses as our world’s climate has changed.

Watch video footage of First Stewards and see photos from the event.

“We need everyone engaged in working on adaptations, mitigation and strategies and solutions to climate change,” said Micah McCarty, chairman of the Makah and of the First Stewards steering committee. 

“Even the polar bears and people of the Arctic Circle cannot escape the second-hand smoke of the vehicle tailpipe and the smokestack that leave such a large carbon footprint. Arctic Circle villages must adapt and change now while still trying to preserve their culture and way of life. The rest of us have a little time if we act now,” McCarty said. 

Traditional knowledge is needed to make climate science and subsequent models meaningful on a human and local scale, participants agreed. Check out more blog updates from the event. 

“Thousands of years of on-the-ground observation is science,” said Dan Basta, director of NOAA’s Office of Marine Sanctuaries. Basta and McCarty developed the idea of the symposium together.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, gave the keynote address for the symposium. The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on the “Impacts of Environmental Changes on Treaty Rights, Traditional Lifestyles, and Tribal Homelands” on July 19, and many of the symposium participants were able to testify.

What’s Next?

Organizers plan to create an independent non-profit, First Stewards, to continue to organize the symposium and work to ensure that traditional knowledge is recognized and taken into account and indigenous people and tribal governments have a voice in planning for and adapting to climate change.


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