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Native Land Conservancy Tackles Climate Change from Indigenous Perspective

Nearly 40 people gathered for a conversation about climate change from an indigenous perspective at the Native Land Conservancy’s annual meeting on Sunday.

The event, held at the Waquoit Bay Estuarine Research Reserve, offered a window into how personal climate change is for Wampanoag people.

“It elicits emotion because this is what we know. We know the water. We’re a fishing tribe,” said Leslie Jonas, vice-chair of the Native Land Conservancy, as her voice broke. “And we’re some of the most vulnerable to losing our homes to the onslaught of climate change.”

The Cape is expected to see as much as 10 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, fundamentally changing where people can live.

“This Cape Cod land and seascape is in our DNA,” she said. “The power of this place is our identity as indigenous people. It’s our connection to our history and our ancestors. It’s our connection to one another.”

For indigenous people, Jonas said, dislocation, or forced re-location from climate change, is much more than an inconvenience.

“Everything we think and do is for the next 7 generations. That’s how we protect our culture…. So if we’re from here—literally I’m not from any other place—think about that land going underwater.”

Also, she added, warming and rising seas will force change not only for indigenous communities, but for everyone on the Cape and Islands.  

“Bulrush, cattails, vegetables, clams, fish: These are things we all enjoy,” Jonas said, adding, “Warming seas threaten all of that.” 

The Native Land Conservancy is based in Masphee. The organization was founded in 2012 as the first native-run land conservation group east of the Mississippi. It purchases land to prevent development, preserves habitat areas, and restores indigenous plant species to protect the Cape’s natural resources. 

The Conservancy also aims to highlight the importance of getting indigenous voices into broader conversations about climate change.

“We feel that our voice is missing,” Jonas said. “We really need to be seated at that table and very much a part of that conversation on climate change.”

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.