Swinomish Tribe Assesses Climate Change Impact



The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community conducted a health assessment to address climate change impacts on first foods, incorporating local knowledge and tribal values within the scientific research process.

A person is on the Swinomish Indian Tribal Reservation digging for clams

Clam digger on the Swinomish Indian Tribal Reservation. (Photo – Myk Heidt, Swinomish Community Environmental Health Program)

September 3, 2020

The environmental impact of climate change poses a significant threat to the health of communities worldwide, putting the foods we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe at risk. For the Swinomish Indian Tribal Communityexternal icon, preserving first foods from the effects of climate change is of particular concern. First foods, also known as traditional foods, include salmon, crabs, clams, wild plants, and other foods that are integral to the tribe’s health, well-being, and history. Hunting, harvesting, and preparing these first foods not only provides nourishment, but also upholds cultural values and traditions through jobs, intergenerational storytelling, and sense of community.

To study the potential effects of climate change on first foods, researchers from the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community undertook an innovative, value-based health assessmentexternal icon that incorporated the tribe’s priorities, values, and needs throughout the research process.

Researchers hypothesized that changes in first foods’ habitats from climate change would negatively affect many aspects of Swinomish life, including social, cultural, mental, and physical health. To test this hypothesis, they used a five-step process:

  1. Performing mathematical modeling and mapping to forecast the biophysical impacts on Swinomish food habitats in the year 2100
  2. Working with Swinomish community members to assess the effects of changes to Swinomish food habitats on six indigenous health indicators—education, resilience, cultural use, resource security, community connection, and self-determination
  3. Engaging community members—including clam diggers, fishers, Elders, leaders, and youth—to evaluate which indigenous health indicators tribal leaders should prioritize for climate action
  4. Empowering participants to prioritize Swinomish first food sites for action based on cultural significance and indigenous health indicators
  5. Presenting the assessment’s findings to the Swinomish Senate and the governing body of the tribe to guide climate change adaptive management strategies

This climate change health assessment, founded on values-driven data from the community, used local priorities to inform climate adaptation decisions. Through this process, researchers and other community members were able to better understand the possible impacts of climate change on Swinomish health.

For more information
Jamie Donatuto, Community Environmental Health Analyst, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community

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Page last reviewed: February 24, 2022