Conference delves into effects of climate change on native people

As the planet warms and oceans rise, indigenous people around the world find themselves directly and disproportionately confronting climate changes that threaten long-held ways of life.

The vulnerability and resilience of native peoples to a shifting environment will take center stage at the upcoming third annual Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples Conference at the University of Oregon. The two-day event will discuss issues faced by native peoples, research by UO students through ground-breaking partnerships and a talk by one of the nation’s leading figures on the effects of climate change on indigenous people.

The event takes place Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 2 and 3, and is free and open to the public. A complete schedule is available here. Registration is optional and can be done on the conference website.

More than an academic symposium, the conference is a rare intersection of student involvement, on-the-ground research and original problem-solving. It features work by dozens of UO students in three different courses that examine climate change from the perspective of people who are among the first to feel it in their daily lives.

“This event not only examines critical issues related to climate change and indigenous peoples, but it also features 63 UO undergraduates who have done high-quality research through three innovative Robert D. Clark Honors College and environmental studies courses,” said history professor Mark Carey, associate dean of the Honors College and an organizer of the event. “The insights and contributions from these students are incredible, with implications for the general public, indigenous students and tribal nations more broadly.”

What makes the effort stand out is how students are able to make real-world contributions by working directly with Oregon’s tribal and native communities. The students come from courses taught by the four conference organizers: Carey; Kathy Lynn, environmental studies instructor and director of the Pacific Northwest Tribal Climate Change Project; Jennifer O’Neal, UO historian and archivist; and Kevin Hatfield, Honors College history professor.

Their courses explore separate issues but have related themes that revolve around ideas of traditional knowledge and science, historic and future threats to sovereignty and effects on indigenous culture. Students will highlight their findings through panel discussions and visual displays.

Carey and Lynn have integrated their two courses by using a Williams Fund grant to teach what they call "simultaneous courses," in which students from both classes regularly meet and teach each other about climate change and indigenous people’s issues that they have learned separately.  This type of innovation has created fresh approaches to teaching, has inspired dialogue about climate change and indigenous peoples throughout the Americas and has generated new conversations across disciplines involving both students and faculty.

O’Neal and Hatfield are involving their students in community-based research in their course Decolonizing Research: The Northern Paiute History Project. Their students will share original research generated through collaborations with tribal community partners of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Burns Paiute Tribe.  The keynote speaker for the conference is Patricia Cochran, executive director of the Alaska Native Science Commission, who served as chair of the 2009 Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change and is co-chair of the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Network on Climate Change. She will discuss issues of vulnerability and resilience facing indigenous peoples from climate change and the novel approaches they use to mitigate and adapt.

Shayleen Macy, a Warm Springs tribal member, language teacher and environmental activist, will offer comments on Cochran’s talk.

Events will take place in the Global Scholars Hall and the Many Nations Longhouse, both located on the east side of the UO campus in Eugene.The conference is co-sponsored by the UO Williams Fund for Undergraduate Education, Clark Honors College, Environmental Studies Program, Climate Change Research Group, Office of the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and University Housing and the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.

—By Greg Bolt, Public Affairs Communications