The Role of Traditional Knowledge in Coastal Adaptation Priorities: The Pamunkey Indian Reservation

Nicole S. Hutton and Thomas R. Allen
Created: 4/15/2021 -


Coastal reservations are increasingly vulnerable to hazards exacerbated by climate change. Resources for restoration projects are limited. Storm surge, storms, tidal flooding, and erosion endanger artifacts and limit livelihoods of tribes in coastal Virginia. GIS offers a platform to increase communication between scientists, planners, and indigenous groups. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe engaged in a participatory mapping exercise to assess the role of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in coastal management decision-making and its capacity to address flooding. Priorities and strategies were spatially referenced using maps of potential sea level rise for 2040, 2060, and 2080, input into a resilience matrix to identify benchmarks for each phase of disaster resilience building, and contextualized with oral histories. Results highlight increased immediacy to protect housing and heritage sites along the shoreline as well as maintain access to the Reservation. Preferences toward structural solutions guided by and facilitating TEK options were expressed. Additional community capacities, tribal council support, federal assistance, impact assessments, and coordination would facilitate risk reduction project implementation. The screening process integrates TEK with planning and is transferable to neighboring tribes.

Published On


Adaptation Phase
Tribal / First Nation
Sector Addressed
Rural / Indigenous Livelihoods
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Capacity Building
Conduct / Gather additional research, data, and products
Host adaptation training or planning workshop
Create stakeholder engagement processes to develop and implement adaptation strategies
Create/enhance resources and tools
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Sea level rise
Habitat/Biome Type
United States