David Brown, USDA-ARS Grazinglands Research Laboratory
Jay Lemery, University of Colorado
Xiaomao Lin, Kansas State University
Cindy Loeffler, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Gary McManus, Oklahoma Climatological Survey
Esther Mullens, DOI South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center
John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas A&M University
Mark Shafer, NOAA-RISA Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program
Cecilia Sorensen, University of Colorado
Sid Sperry, Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives
Daniel Wildcat, Haskell Indian Nations University
Jadwiga Ziolkowska, University of Oklahoma
Ellu Nasser, Adaptation International
Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech University
Susan Aragon-Long, Senior Scientist
Christopher W. Avery, Senior Manager
<b>Kloesel</b>, K., B. Bartush, J. Banner, D. Brown, J. Lemory, X. Lin, G. McManus, E. Mullens, J. Nielsen-Gammon, M. Shafer, C. Sorenson, S. Sperry, D. Wildcat, and J. Ziolkowska, 2018: Southern Great Plains. In <i>Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II</i> [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 987–1035. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.CH23
Tribal and Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to climate change due to water resource constraints, extreme weather events, higher temperature, and other likely public health issues. Efforts to build community resilience can be hindered by economic, political, and infrastructure limitations, but traditional knowledge and intertribal organizations provide opportunities to adapt to the potential challenges of climate change.
The 45 federally recognized tribes (48 if state-recognized tribal nations are included) located in the Southern Great Plains show considerable economic, social, cultural, and linguistic/language diversity.176,177,178 The 4 tribes of Kansas (59,130 people), 39 tribes of Oklahoma (482,760 people), including 1 state-recognized tribe, and 5 tribes of Texas (6,210 people), including 2 state-recognized tribes, experience the same climate change impacts as the rest of the Nation.14 However, these sovereign nations within the United States are faced with infrastructure (social and physical), economic, political, and cultural challenges, as well as unique opportunities, in their response to climate change impacts (Ch. 15: Tribes).
Climate Change Threats to Tribal Cultural Traditions and Community Resilience
No climate change impacts are as significant to the tribes and Indigenous peoples of the Southern Great Plains as those that threaten the ability to procure food, water, shelter, and preserve ancient cultural activities.179180181 Given the ancient symbiotic relationship between environment and culture that shapes tribal identities and life-way practices, climate-induced changes to the seasons, landscapes, and ecosystems pose an existential threat to tribal cultural traditions and community resilience.182,183,184 For example, climate change, including the impacts of excessive heat, drought, and the disappearance of native species, is already disrupting ceremonial cycles in Oklahoma.185 However, many climate change adaptation initiatives and strategies are being developed by tribes throughout the United States. Specific examples in the Southern Great Plains can be found in Figure 15.1 in Chapter 15: Tribes.
Physical and Organizational Infrastructure
The region’s tribes and Indigenous peoples vary greatly in size, from small nations with fewer than 1,000 enrolled members to larger nations with over 50,000 enrolled members; the largest of the tribes is the Cherokee Nation with more than 317,000 enrolled members.186 The smaller nations, given their population size and respective size of government, often struggle to exercise their sovereignty to respond to climate change due to a lack of organizational and physical infrastructure.187,188 The social organizational infrastructure needed to adapt to climate change impacts like extreme weather events, rising temperatures, shifting seasons, invasive species, air and water quality issues, and a host of health impacts is often lacking or underdeveloped in small tribal nations. Consequently, the smaller tribes depend largely on the services, grant programs, and technology transfer capabilities of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other Federal Government departments, agencies, and bureaus to assist in their climate adaptation efforts. There are exceptions—larger and wealthier tribal nations, such as the Chickasaw Nation, Citizen Band Potawatomi, and Muscogee (Creek) Nation, can develop and shape, to a much larger extent, their own climate adaptation strategies.169
Lack of physical infrastructure, tied directly to limited economic resources and power, poses a substantial obstacle to climate change adaptation for the tribes of the region. While cities and other governmental jurisdictions make plans to build resilient physical infrastructure by using bonds, public–private partnerships, and taxes and tax instruments, only a handful of tribal nations have the ability to use these tools for climate adaptation. Most tribes and Indigenous peoples remain dependent on underfunded federal programs and grants for building and construction activities to improve the resilience of their infrastructure in the face of climate change threats. Many larger and wealthier tribes have modeled construction and design of homes and large commercial building best practices on “green” or resilient net-zero carbon footprint designs. Increasing activity in community gardens, food recovery, recycling, water conservation, land-use planning, and investment in climate-resilient community design all signal opportunities for tribal nations to leapfrog significant obstacles other city, county, and state governments face when dealing with the costs of existing physical infrastructure that often make climate change adaptation difficult and incremental.