The Quinault Nation is among the the many in Indian Country dealing with the impacts of climate change. One of the tribe's communities along the Washington coast must relocate due to changing weather patterns. Photo by Sam Beebe

Native American Democratic leaders call for climate change debate

DNC Native American Caucus Statement

Climate Change is, without question, among the most important issues facing the United States and indeed, all of humanity. There has been an important discussion within the Democratic National Committee (DNC) whether there should be a separate, stand-alone debate of the Presidential candidates regarding climate change. The leadership of the Native American Caucus of the DNC stands in support of such a debate.

As a general matter, we agree with the contention that issue-specific debates are ill advised. There are so many issues facing our nation – the impact of automation on American jobs, the use of force by police in communities of color, the equal rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community, gender equity in the workplace, the United States obligation to Indian Country, healthcare, education and so many more. Because of the plethora of important issues, focusing on one issue does not seem wise in most instances.

But in our considered judgment, climate change is different. As important as many other issues are, there is one – climate change – that poses an existential threat to humanity. We have a limited time period to fundamentally change policies to ensure that our earth will be inhabitable for our children and grandchildren. Especially after four years of the Trump Administration which has intentionally and systematically sought to undermine efforts to combat climate change, the issue of climate change is singular in its urgency.

Because climate change is such a central issue – is so important to everything we hold dear – we think a separate standalone debate makes sense and is self-evidently distinct from other important issues. This is the sole issue which will dramatically impact all American, all humanity. And we recognize that if we do not collectively take the necessary and immediate steps as a global community to address climate change, the result will prove catastrophic.

We are also among a handful of members of the DNC who hail from Indian Country. Among tribal communities, climate change is not theoretical, it is not conjecture. Some of us have had to abandon homes because of rising tides; in some cases, entire communities have been forced to relocate. Subsistence fishing has been severely hampered as a result of water temperature changes. In many ways, tribal communities, because of their relationship with and reliance on their lands, are the canary in the coal mine for climate change.

Among our tasks as leaders of the Native American Caucus of the DNC is to reflect the concerns of our communities. And to all those who have reached out to us, we can faithfully report that Indian Country stands unequivocally in support of robust efforts to combat climate change and a standalone debate. Accordingly, we will vote to support such a debate during the important DNC meeting in California over the next few days.

Rion Ramirez, Paulette Jordan and Ambassador (ret.) Keith M. Harper are leaders of the Native American Caucus within the Democratic National Committee. Ramirez, an attorney, is a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Jordan, a former state lawmaker in Idaho, is a citizen of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. Harper, an attorney, is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

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