Tribal Coastal Resilience Report 2023

Beth Roach, Dr. Ryan E. Emanuel, Jocelyn Painter
Posted on: 1/22/2024 - Updated on: 1/22/2024

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The Tribal Coastal Resilience Team formed in 2020 in response to an invitation from the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership (APNEP) to examine ways in which agencies involved in coastal climate resilience planning might better engage and coordinate with tribal nations in the region. The team’s overarching goal is to increase awareness among tribal communities around the risks and threats of climate change, and to foster discussions about adapting to these changes. Project activities have raised awareness about coastal resilience planning among tribal communities in North Carolina and Virginia, and they have strengthened networks and relationships between state agencies, tribal governments and non-tribal entities such as the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs. These networks and relationships will be important conduits for information-sharing, decision-making, and other activities related to climate resilience planning. To date, the team’s work has been supported by funding from APNEP, which partly covered efforts by team members at North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs.

Team members have participated in a wide range of public engagement activities - including conferences, cultural events, and social media - that together reinforce the idea that the APNEP region (Figure 1) is a shared homeland for many tribal nations and Indigenous peoples. Even though only a few of these groups live within the APNEP region today, large numbers of Indigenous peoples in North Carolina, Virginia, and elsewhere consider the region to be their ancestral home. These groups include federally recognized and state recognized Tribes, as well as Indigenous communities who are not formally recognized as tribal nations by outside entities. Together, these groups are all part of the complex social and political strata that exist within the APNEP region today. It is important to recognize that Indigenous peoples’ connections to the APNEP region extend back hundreds or thousands of years, but more than 400 years of colonialism has altered Indigenous peoples’ ability to engage with their ancestral home.

Climate resilience planning efforts that aim to uphold environmental justice and to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples must first acknowledge the longstanding harms of colonialism in the APNEP region. A promising path forward will involve deliberate efforts by resilience planners and practitioners to foreground the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples who still hold cultural ties to the region and who - in many cases - have only recently begun to reestablish these ties. Given the complexity of tribal identities and relationships to land in the region, decision-makers must be inclusive in identifying Indigenous communities. Methods of communication and timelines for resilience planning must be developed in collaboration with these communities. Decision-makers must also recognize that even well-staffed tribal governments with ties to the region may not have appointed or paid positions to contribute to this work. With that in mind, ample time and compensation should be provided to members of Indigenous communities who provide feedback and recommendations, or who assist in other ways with resilience planning.

This report highlights some of the team’s recent experiences working with Indigenous communities who have ties to the APNEP region. Although our efforts were affected by the COVID19 pandemic, we were able to adapt our engagement activities to online venues and in other ways. This report also highlights early results from a review of tribally-led climate resilience plans from across Turtle Island (i.e., North America). This work aims to give APNEP planners and practitioners an idea of what topics they are likely to encounter in future engagements with Tribes and Indigenous peoples. It is part of a larger dissertation by Duke University PhD student Jocelyn Painter, who works under the supervision of Ryan Emanuel in the Nicholas School of the Environment.


Beth Roach, Dr. Ryan E. Emanuel, and Jocelyn Painter (2023). Tribal Coastal Resilience Report. Albemarle Pamlico National Estuary Partnership (APNEP), NC Commission of Indian Affairs, NC State University, and the Virginia Coastal Policy Center at William and Mary Law School.

Affiliated Organizations

The mission of the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership (APNEP) is to identify, protect, and restore the significant resources of the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system. APNEP pursues its mission with guidance and support from its overarching Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP), the Management Conference (advisory groups) and regional partners.

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