By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – In the wake of the latest IPCC report on the conditions of our oceans, the House of Representative’s Natural Resources Committee approved a bill which will help Washington state’s Native American tribes mitigate the effects of sea-level rise and climate change.
“This bill will provide direct access to much needed resources for tribes to enhance their coastal resiliency and keep their people out of harm’s way,” explained Congressional Representative Derek Kilmer, the author of the bill.
The legislation, entitled the Tribal Coastal Resiliency Act (H.R. 729), expands the Coastal Zone Management Act to provide tribes which live in coastal regions $5 million each fiscal year for relocation and other measures that mitigate rising sea level and climate change threats.
It will now have to pass through the full House of Representatives, the Senate as well as be approved by the Executive to become law.
“The challenges of severe storms and increased flooding are affecting communities throughout our country – and in my district alone, there are four tribes that are actively moving to higher ground,” added Representative Kilmer.
According to the lawmakers, Washington state has over 3,000 miles of marine coastline, on which many reservations or fishing grounds are located. Tribes living along the coast are increasingly confronted by flooding, tsunami threats, and erosion.
“Indigenous communities have long been leaders in responsible stewardship of the environment, but today more than ever they are feeling the devastating impact of climate change, rising sea levels, and worsening natural disasters,” noted Representative Ruben Gallego, Chair of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States.
Among those indigenous communities are the Quinault Indian Nation, who live along the coast of Washington State.
In July, the tribe’s president, Fawn Sharp spoke at a Congressional committee hearing supporting the bill. Two weeks ago, she celebrated the passing of the bill which will give much needed aid to tribes combating climate change and urged the entire Lower House to vote in favor of measure.
“This bill will make available to tribes grant funding for the protection and preservation of tribal coastal zones and areas. This funding will be very helpful to Tribes that are dealing with rising sea level, and coastal and shoreline degradation and destabilization due to climate change,” said Sharp after the bill was passed by the Natural Resources Committee.
“We urge the full House of Representatives to take up and pass this bill with all expediency,” added the president of the Quinault tribe.
According to Sharp, her community has been feeling the effects of climate change for the past few years. “We are geographically classified now as living below sea level,” Sharp argued during her testimony before the Committee in July.
“I’ve had to declare four states of emergency at the Quinault Nation,” stated Sharp. One of the solutions found by the Quinault Indian Nation was relocation.
The tribe has been discussing the issue of relocation since 2014 with some villages already starting the process by moving some of its residents to higher ground.According to Sharp leader, the relocation process is expected to cost anywhere from $65 million to $100 million.
For the Quinault Indians the approval of the bill by the Committee is one more hurdle won in their fight against sea level rise on their ancestral land.