Assessing Climate Change Effects on Natural and Cultural Resources of Significance to Northwest Tribes

Philip W Mote
Posted on: 7/18/2022 - Updated on: 11/07/2023

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This research project sought to understand the ways in which aspects of Native American culture have been affected by climate change in the Northwest region of the U.S. There are aspects of tribal culture, such as songs, stories, prayers, and dances that include fish, wildlife, or plants as central images or main symbolic figures, and therefore may be affected by environmentally driven changes. The intimate connections that tribes have maintained with the natural environment are more spiritually rich and complex than non-Native consumptive views of natural resources.

After careful consideration of tribe size, level of cultural activity, strength of ties to the environment, and connection to culturally significant and aboriginal geographic regions, three Northwest tribes were selected for this study--the Confederated Tribes of Salish and Kootenai, the Quinault Indian Nation, and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. Information was collected through interviews with tribal elders and individuals with substantial cultural expertise.

We found that in addition to changes in specific cultural practices, a profound disruption to identity connected with (a) changes in seasonality, disturbing the sense of natural time; and (b) a sense that wisdom passed down through generations is no longer a sound basis for which decisions are made. These observations contribute to the understanding of Northwest tribal culture and its vulnerability and adaptive capacity to a changing climate.

This research documented traditional cultural commonalities among the tribes involved with this project and illustrated inter-tribal cultural adaptations to their prevailing environmental conditions. The results of this study will also provide tribes a resource to assess climate change impacts on their cultural practices and identity.


Philip W Mote (2015). Assessing Climate Change Effects on Natural and Cultural Resources of Significance to Northwest Tribes.

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The USGS is a science organization that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and useable information.

Established in 2010, the Northwest CASC (NW CASC) provides regionally-relevant scientific information, tools, and techniques to resource managers and communities in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Its purpose is to provide scientific information, tools, and techniques that managers and other parties interested in land, water, wildlife and cultural resources can use to anticipate, monitor, and adapt to climate change.

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