United States
Environmental Protection
 Climate  Change  and  the  Health
 of  Indigenous  Populations
 Understanding the threats that climate change
 poses to human health can help us work
 together to lower risks and be prepared.
 Climate change threatens human health, including
 mental health, and access to clean air, safe drinking
 water, nutritious food, and shelter. Everyone is affected
 by climate change at some point in their lives. Some
 people are more affected by climate change than
 others because of factors like where they live; their
 age, health, income, and occupation; and how they go
 about their day-to-day life.

 Indigenous communities and tribes are diverse and
 span the United States. While each community and
 tribe is unique, many share characteristics that can
 affect their ability to prepare for, respond to, and cope
 with the impacts of climate change on health. These

 •  living in rural  areas or places most affected by
   climate change (like communities along the coast)
 •  relying on surrounding environment and natural
   resources for food, cultural practices, and income

 •  coping with higher levels of existing health risks
   when compared to other groups

 •  having high rates of uninsured individuals, who
   have difficulty accessing quality health care

 •  living in isolated or low income communities with
   limited access to healthcare services
                                 Climate change
                                 threatens food,
                                 water, air, infrastructure,
                                 and cultural identity in
                                 different ways depending on where
                                 you live.The following pages provide
                                 examples of how Indigenous people across the United
                                 States are vulnerable to climate change.

                                  What is climate change and why does it
                                  matter for health?

                                  We've all heard of it, but what exactly is climate change?
                                  Greenhouse gases act like a blanket around Earth,
                                  trapping energy in the atmosphere. Human activities,
                                  especially burning fossil fuels for energy, increase the
                                  amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and
                                  cause the climate to warm. Climate is the typical or
                                  average weather for an area. Climate change is any
                                  change in average weather that lasts for a long period of
                                  time, like warming temperatures. Climate change affects
                                  the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we
                                  drink. It also leads to extreme weather events, like
                                  flooding, droughts, and wildfires. All of these impacts
                                  affect human health.

                                  There are steps tribal communities can take to protect
                                  themselves from these impacts. For example, Indigenous
                                  people have worked in regional networks, collaborated
                                  with scientists and academics, and leveraged Federal
                                  resources to limit vulnerabilities and build greater
                                  community resilience.Together, these actions can help
                                  to limit the negative effects of climate change on health.

   Climate change will make it harder for tribes to access safe
   and nutritious food, including traditional foods important to
   many tribes'cultural practices. Some examples of health
   risks to tribes include:

      In the Upper Great Lakes Region, already declining wild
      rice harvests in Ojibwe communities may be further
      affected by the impacts of rising temperatures and
      changing precipitation patterns on rice-growing
      conditions in lakes and rivers.
      Many Indigenous people along the West and Gulf
      Coasts rely on fish and shellfish for food, livelihoods, and
      certain ceremonial or cultural practices. Higher sea
      surface temperatures increase the risk that certain fish
      and shellfish will become contaminated with mercury,
      harmful algal toxins, or naturally-occurring bacteria.
      For many Alaska Native communities, rising
      temperatures and permafrost thaw threaten traditional
      methods of safe food storage in ice cellars or ice houses,
      and increase risk of food contamination. Climate change
      may also affect the abundance and nutritional quality of
      local Alaskan berries that are an important part of
      traditional diets.
Many tribes already lack access to safe drinking water and
wastewater treatment in their communities. Climate change
is expected to increase health risks associated with water
quality problems like contamination and may reduce
availability of water, particularly during droughts. Some
examples of health risks to tribes include:

   Existing water quality problems on the Fort Apache
   reservation in Arizona have been associated with
   diarrhea and stomach issues in children. Rising
   temperatures and more frequent and intense rain can
   cause more harmful bacteria, viruses, and algae to grow
   in water supplies. People—especially children—who
   swim in, play in, or drink this water can become ill if
   exposed to contaminated water.
   Many remote tribal households, primarily in western
   Alaska Native Villages and the Navajo Nation, do not
   have adequate drinking water and wastewater treatment
   infrastructure, increasing the risk of contaminated water
   diseases like diarrhea. American Indian/Alaska Native
   infants are more likely to  be hospitalized with diarrhea
   than other infants in the U.S.

Climate change is expected to increase health risks
associated with poor air quality, worsening asthma, allergies,
chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and other
respiratory conditions. In Indigenous populations, rates of
these illnesses are higher than those of other racial and
ethnic groups. Some examples of health risks to tribes

   Tribal communities like the Navajo Nation in the
   Southwestern United States, especially in Arizona and
   New Mexico, face existing problems with polluted air
   from blowing dust. The Southwest will have more intense
   droughts as a result of climate change, increasing the
   potential for wind erosion to cause soil dust to become
   Changing weather patterns and more intense and
   frequent wildfires can raise the amount of pollution, dust,
   smoke, and pollen in the air. Projected increases in large
   wildfires threaten air quality for tribes in Alaska and the
   western United States, like the Confederated Salish and
   Kootenai in Montana.
Climate change threatens property, roads, buildings, and
other infrastructure, especially in tribal communities that are
already dealing with poor infrastructure. Increasing
frequency or intensity of extreme weather events can
damage electricity, water, communication, and
transportation systems, which are important to maintaining
access to health care and emergency response services.
Some examples of health risks to tribes include:

   Rural areas often have limited transportation options.
   The Navajo Nation on the Colorado Plateau face
   existing problems with roads blocked by migrating sand
   dunes, which can be caused, in part, by droughts and
   rising temperatures.
   In Alaska, as permafrost thaws into mud, it causes
   damage to roads, highways, and runways, and results in
   millions of dollars beyond what would otherwise be
   spent per year in repairs.
   Transportation systems and infrastructure in rural areas
   are particularly vulnerable to risks from flooding and
   rising sea levels. The people of several Alaskan
   Villages— including Newtek, Shishmaref, and
   Kivalina—are facing relocation due to rising sea levels
   and coastal erosion.
        Of the 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives registered
        in the U.S. Census, approximately 1.1 million live on or near
        reservations or Native lands, located mostly in the Northwest,
        Southwest, Great Plains, and Alaska.

Climate Change and Culture
The impacts of climate change are not limited to
physical health. By affecting the environment and
natural resources of tribal communities, climate
change also threatens the cultural identities of
Indigenous people. As  plants and animals used in
traditional practices or sacred ceremonies become less
available, tribal culture and ways of life can  be greatly
affected. Medicinal  plants are also at risk, which may
change the way traditional healing is practiced. In
addition, many Indigenous people, especially students
and young professionals seeking education and

  An Urban Perspective

  Though climate change is an important concern
  from coast to coast, different areas are affected in
  different ways. Understanding which climate
  change impacts are most likely to threaten an area
  can help communities plan for risks and adapt to
  changes. For example, many Indigenous people
  live in urban communities and some reservations
  are located near or in large metropolitan  areas. For
  example, many Indigenous people live in cities,
  and some reservations are located near or in large
  urban areas, like the Salt River Pima-Maricopa
  Indian Community in the metropolitan Phoenix
  area. Climate change is expected to make air
  pollution worse, especially in already polluted
  places like cities. Sea level rise caused by  climate
  change also threatens coastal cities and
  communities.The"Learn More"section at the end
  of this fact sheet provides resources that give more
  information about risks, potential impacts,
  vulnerabilities, ways to adapt to a changing
  climate, and steps to protect the health of those in
  tribal communities.
employment opportunities, have been moving away
from their rural communities and reservations to urban
areas. This relocation may disrupt the social fabric of
the community and the sharing of traditional
knowledge and oral history. Climate change, and its
impact on natural resources central to tribal tradition
and culture, acts on top of existing stressors like youth
relocation to further challenge traditional ways of life.

This fact sheet is based on "The Impacts of Climate
Change on Human Health in the United States: A
Scientific Assessment."To explore the full report, go to:

https:  health2016.globalchange.gov
Learn More

Climate Change: Human Health
Climate Change: What You Can Do

Environmental Protection in Indian Country

Indigenous Peoples, Lands, and Resources

U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit: Tribal Nations
                                                        Photo credit on cover: United States Department of
                                                        Agriculture; Jennifer Haliski, Food and Drug Administration;
                                                        Mountain-Prairie Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
EPA 430-F-16-053
May 2016