Skip to main content

Tribal Nation Partners and Indigenous Peoples

Tribal nations and Indigenous communities are stewards of natural resources to sustain environmental and human health, traditional ways of life, and cultural identities. This important relationship with both land and water ecosystems makes Tribal Nation governments, agencies, and communities particularly concerned with the impacts of climate change, which can include drought, increased wildfires and extreme weather, sea-level rise and melting glaciers. 

Tribes within the Northeast Indigenous Climate Resilience Network

Drawing upon a strong history of adaptation and innovation, Tribal nations and Indigenous communities are key collaborators on adaptation work within the Climate Adaptation Science Center (CASC) network. The CASCs partner with Native and Indigenous communities to better understand their specific knowledge of and exposure to climate change impacts, to increase or assist with capacity to support adaptation planning, and to identify and address their climate science needs.

The CASCs have funded, organized, and participated in a variety of research projects, training workshops, and stakeholder meetings. The CASCs have also worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to support Tribal Resilience Liaisons who provide another avenue for communication, engagement, and research between Indigenous peoples and the CASCs. These Liaisons are dedicated to increasing CASC engagement with Tribal nations, Tribal consortia, and Tribal organizations so that the CASCs can further understand and meet their information needs.

The projects CASCs have funded to support and assist Native and Indigenous communities can be grouped into four main categories: 1) assessing science needs; 2) increasing capacity; 3) understanding impacts to food, water, and culturally important resources; and 4) incorporating traditional knowledge into adaptation planning.

Input & Engagement

Direct input from and engagement with Tribal and Indigenous communities is crucial for the CASCs to provide the appropriate science needed by these communities. Input is also important so that, when appropriate and acceptable, researchers can understand and consider Traditional Knowledge. Input is, in part, gathered through participation from these communities in the regional CASC Stakeholder Advisory Committees.

CASCs have also engaged with Native communities through efforts such as inter-tribal workshops and climate related training classes in the South Central U.Scollaborative partnership established in the Southeast, and interviews with tribal elders in the Northwest.

The College of Menominee Nation has been a long-time academic partner of the NE CASC and has worked to build engagement and capacity with Indigenous communities in the Northeast and Midwest regions through the development of the Northeast Indigenous Climate Resilience Network, the Shifting Seasons Summit, the Indigenous Planning Summer Institute, a Best Practices for Tribal Engagement Training for Scientists, and Tribal youth engagement and educational opportunities.

The Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has also placed Tribal Climate Scientist/Technical Support Coordinators ("Tribal Liaisons") at several of the CASCs to help identify climate information and research needs of tribes and indigenous communities and work with federal partners to address those needs.

Tribal Resilience Liaisons

Tribal nations and native communities face significant challenges in responding to long-term trends in climate and extreme climatic events. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the US Geological Survey, and Tribal groups have collaborated to station Tribal Resilience Liaisons at Department of the Interior Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs). Liaisons are generally employed by Tribal organizations and work at CASCs, and will increase the resources available to:

  • Help Tribal nations access information, data, and expertise at the CASCs and elsewhere
  • Facilitate research integrating Traditional Knowledge
  • Support Tribal forums and information exchange

These efforts are designed to better understand, communicate, and meet the needs of Tribal nations through partnerships to build Tribal capacity and promote more resilient Tribal communities. 

Casey Thornbrugh
Casey C. Thornbrugh
Northeast and Southeast Tribal Climate Science Liaison

Casey Thornbrugh serves as the liaison between Tribal nations in the Northeast and the Southeast, the United South and Eastern Tribes Inc. (USET), the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and climate science researchers. Based out of the Northeast CASC at UMass Amherst, he provides current climate science information to Tribal Nations on the East Coast and in Gulf Coast states, as well as identifies climate research needs and priorities, and provides climate adaptation planning support for the Tribes. Casey participates in the network of Tribal climate science liaisons within the Climate Adaptation Science Centers, as well as a national workgroup of Tribal organizations, Tribal colleges, and other partners to address policy and resource issues associated with Tribal climate resilience.

View Profile for Casey C. Thornbrugh View Profile
Steph Courtney
Steph Courtney
Northeast and Southeast Assistant Tribal Climate Science Liaison

Steph Courtney is the Northeast and Southeast Assistant Tribal Climate Science Liaison with United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. (USET). She seeks to connect Tribal Nations and their staff with relationships, tools, and opportunities to improve their adaptation to climate change from the northern Woodlands to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Appalachians to the Everglades. She collaborated with the Southeast CASC throughout her graduate studies at Auburn University, where she studied climate change communication. Her Ph.D. research examined how different audiences interpret and apply climate change science by applying social scientific methods to physical science subject matter. She has studied and practiced science communication for many years and is using this experience to distill climate adaptation research into information that is beneficial and applicable to Tribal Nations.

View Profile for Steph Courtney View Profile