Climatic Change

, Volume 120, Issue 3, pp 601-614

First online:

The impact of climate change on tribal communities in the US: displacement, relocation, and human rights

  • Julie Koppel MaldonadoAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, American University Email author 
  • , Christine ShearerAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, University of California at Santa Barbara
  • , Robin BronenAffiliated withAlaska Institute for Justice, University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • , Kristina PetersonAffiliated withCenter for Hazards, Assessment and Response Technology, University of New Orleans
  • , Heather LazrusAffiliated withNCAR Earth System Laboratory, National Center for Atmospheric Research

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Tribal communities in the United States, particularly in coastal areas, are being forced to relocate due to accelerated rates of sea level rise, land erosion, and/or permafrost thaw brought on by climate change. Forced relocation and inadequate governance mechanisms and budgets to address climate change and support adaptation strategies may cause loss of community and culture, health impacts, and economic decline, further exacerbating tribal impoverishment and injustice. Sovereign tribal communities around the US, however, are using creative strategies to counter these losses. Taking a human rights approach, this article looks at communities’ advocacy efforts and strategies in dealing with climate change, displacement, and relocation. Case studies of Coastal Alaska and Louisiana are included to consider how communities are shaping their own relocation efforts in line with their cultural practices and values. The article concludes with recommendations on steps for moving forward toward community-led and government-supported resettlement programs.