The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, located on the southeastern peninsula of Fidalgo Island in Washington State, was recognized at the 2014 National Congress of American Indians’ annual meeting in Atlanta for their remarkable efforts to address climate change impacts on tribal lands. The UW Climate Impacts Group was a key partner in helping secure the recognition, which was given by the Honoring Nations Program from Harvard University’s Project on American Indian Economic Development.

Part of the College of the Environment, the Climate Impacts Group is an interdisciplinary network of scientists and technical experts who work closely with decision makers to provide the fundamental scientific understanding, projections, modeling, and adaptation guidance needed by decision makers to prepare for and manage the impacts of climate variability and change. Their data, tools and approaches are widely applied by decision makers at local, state, and national levels to increase social and ecological resilience to climate variability and change.

Swinomish Indian Tribal land
Swinomish Indian Tribal lands and surrounding area in northwestern Washington.

Swinomish community interest in preparing for climate change was prompted by a strong storm surge in February 2006 that inundated parts of the reservation and caused widespread property damage. Recognizing this as a preview of impacts to come with sea level rise, the Swinomish Tribal Council passed a proclamation in 2007 directing Tribal staff to start planning for climate change. This planning effort was formally launched in 2008 as the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative and continues to serve as a model of adaptation planning to tribal and non-tribal governments alike.

The Climate Impacts Group support for the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative included technical analysis of climate change impacts to reservation land and resources important to the Tribe. They also provided technical guidance on the adaptation effort, participating in advisory meetings and document review, and the Tribe employed vulnerability assessment methods detailed in Climate Impacts Groups’s groundbreaking adaptation planning guidebook
Preparing for Climate Change: A Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments to assess local climate risks and develop a concrete adaptation plan.

The Swinomish are now implementing projects, including coastal protection measures, code changes, community health assessment, and wildfire protection, to increase their climate resilience. Their efforts have put them at the forefront of preparing for climate change, a role for which they were recognized in Atlanta.

“I have been continually impressed by the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative and the program’s ability to look across sectors and time horizons to develop an approach to planning for climate change that so effectively tackles the complexities and interdependencies of climate impacts and preparedness planning at the local level,” noted Climate Impacts Group Director Amy Snover. “It has been an honor and a privilege to be part of the effort,” she added.

Recognition by the Honoring Nations Program comes on the heels of a competitive process where the Swinomish were named one of six finalists in August 2014. They received honors, and two other Washington State tribes were also among the six finalists: the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe received high honors for achievements with their Child Welfare Program, and the Lummi Nation received honors for their innovative Wetland and Habitat Mitigation Bank.

Read more about the Honoring Nations Program, the Swinomish Climate Change Initiative, and the Climate Impacts Group.