Michele “Shelly” Vendiola of Swinomish discusses the ways climate change interferes with tribal treaty rights and sovereignty in a column, “Tribal Sovereignty is jeopardized by climate crisis” in the Earth Day edition of Race-Talk:
Now tribes face a serious quagmire in the face of climate change that makes it challenging, if not impossible, for sovereignty to occur. How can the Swinomish exert their sovereignty over the shellfish beds on the west side of March Point if the place is highly contaminated? As sea-level rise occurs and with more frequent storm surges the tribe’s cultural sites and homelands will be disturbed.
Climate change does not stop or start at the reservation border, it impacts surrounding townships throughout coastal areas. As such, a climate crisis exposes duality, increases adversity and brings allies onto tribal lands and waterways from multiple sectors. Tribes cannot, nor should not, fight this battle alone. Most importantly we must strive for honorable community engagement.
Vendiola is the communications facilitator for the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative:
[T]he 2009 Swinomish Climate Change Impact Assessment Report indicates high threats to cultural specific sites such as fish and shellfish habitat, burial sites, cultural practice and gathering sites due to sea level rise. According to the 2006 Department of Ecology Climate Change Impact report, the Swinomish reservation is the second highest risk area for sea level rise in Washington State.