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Volume 14: 2013-2014


“Salmon People” in an Era of Depleting Salmon: The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s Climate Adaptation Action Plan as a Manifestation of Tribal Sovereignty

By Kelly Davis

Climate change presents novel challenges to indigenous peoples striving to maintain their place-based subsistence cultures. Climate change is altering physical environments, tribes are experiencing detrimental impacts, and adaptation is necessary to preserve indigenous lifestyles. The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, a Coast Salish tribe in northwestern Washington State, has taken the initiative in tribal climate change adaptation efforts. In 2010, the Swinomish Office of Planning and Community Development issued a thorough Climate Adaptation Action Plan, which delineates strategies the vulnerable coastal, salmon-dependent tribe must take. Resilient social systems, like American Indian tribes, are capable of anticipating and planning for the future. As demonstrated through the Swinomish Climate Adaptation Action Plan, tribes that adapt on their own terms by incorporating traditional law and indigenous knowledge, voices, and rights in their progressive climate adaptation policies, do so as an exercise of tribal sovereignty.

This paper provides background on climate change, adaptation, and the detrimental impacts climate change will effectuate in the Pacific Northwest region. It then analyzes the chthonic legal tradition and the history of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in relation to the Climate Adaptation Action Plan. Finally, it explores the Climate Adaptation Action Plan and its inclusion of traditional ecological knowledge, public participation, and traditional treaty rights to fish as a manifestation of tribal sovereignty.