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Tribal Nations

Drought is a challenge most tribal nations face. Even small changes in the timing or amount of precipitation can induce drought conditions that negatively impact tribal communities, traditions, ecosystems, and economies.

Drought Conditions for Tribal Nations

U.S. Drought Monitor
U.S. Drought Monitor
U.S. Drought Monitor
Tribal Nations

Key Drought Impacts on Tribal Nations

Cultural Impacts

Water holds a strong cultural significance for tribal nations and is often used in ceremonies. A lack of water impacts the survival of plants and animals, which hold additional cultural importance to tribal nations, as well as medicinal purposes. For example, during a drought, wild rice becomes more difficult to harvest and fewer berries are available. Warmer climates also allow invasive species to take hold (e.g., emerald ash borers are destroying ash trees, which are vital for basket making).

Ecosystem and Wildlife Impacts

The amount of vegetation that grows is often reduced during drought, impacting the amount of food available for wildlife on reservations. Reductions in wildlife can impact hunting and tribal-guided hunting opportunities. During drought, wildlife may also be more at risk for disease, and decreased water quality may lead to reduced fish populations, also crucial for subsistence.

Economic Impacts

Tribal nations are often engaged in farming, or lease their land to non-tribal farmers. Drought reduces the productivity of these lands, leading to significant economic losses for the tribal nations. Drought reduces the availability of the plants and animals available for hunting and gathering, undermining the economic resilience of tribal families.

Human Health Impacts

Drought is often accompanied by excessive heat, which increases stress on certain populations within tribal nations, including elders, children, and those without access to air conditioning. Existing economic stresses can also exacerbate the mental and physical stress of tribal community members during drought.

Drought Planning and Tribal Nations

Proactive drought planning and risk mitigation are essential for communities to prepare for and cope with the impacts of drought. Tribal nations often face unique challenges in the drought planning process, including limited funding and a shortage of reservation-specific data and monitoring stations.

Over the past few years, an increasing number of tribal nations have worked to better understand drought occurrence and its impacts on their lands and livelihoods, and develop drought preparedness and response plans to help minimize these impacts. However, despite this planning, many tribal resource managers have expressed frustration that this has not always translated into action on the ground. A major reason for this has been the lack of adequate funding for implementation of drought resilience activities and the competing priorities of other emergencies, such as flooding.

Another key challenge voiced by tribal resource managers is that there is limited reservation-specific monitoring and forecasting data available for use by tribal nations. In many cases, tribal resource managers have to rely on county-level data, which is not always reliable or reflective of drought conditions on the reservations.

There are many tribal nations taking action to better understand and prepare for drought conditions. Tribal drought activities include quarterly climate summaries and Drought Decision Dashboards for the Wind River Indian Reservation (see the case study below) and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, in partnership with the High Plains Regional Climate Center, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance, and NIDIS. Additional regular activities include partnering on a monthly climate summary and outlook webinar series, delivered since 2012 for the North Central U.S.; and a webinar series with and for the New Mexico Pueblos, produced jointly with the Pueblo of Santa Ana Department of Natural Resources, NIDIS, the Quivira Coalition, USDA Southwest Climate Hub, and the New Mexico State Climate Office through the 2020 growing season. 

Additional NIDIS support for tribal drought preparedness includes support for the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS, a NOAA RISA team) to collaborate with the Hopi Tribe Department of Natural Resources (HDNR) to develop a local drought information system. When the project started in 2010, there was a lack of weather and climate data that accurately and reliably captured local drought conditions on the Hopi Reservation. The purpose of the drought information system was to collect, analyze, and communicate local data and information that was relevant and appropriate for the Hopi Tribe’s needs in drought monitoring, response, and planning. The drought information system that was created was used to support informed decision making during drought and also for updating the Hopi drought mitigation and response plan. The process and methods used to engage the tribal community and co-create an effective and appropriate local drought information system were documented in this report and can be used to support the establishment of other local drought information systems.

These resources are critical to providing partners, including tribal nations, with the latest climate and drought conditions. There are also a growing number of technical and financial resources available for tribal nations to develop and implement drought-related plans.

Crystal Stiles

Meet Crystal Stiles, NIDIS Tribal Engagement Coordinator

Have questions, feedback, or want to get involved? Contact Crystal Stiles, the NIDIS Tribal Engagement Coordinator, or sign up for the NIDIS Tribal Engagement email list.

Email Crystal

Drought Monitoring and Planning in Action

Submit Drought Impacts

Report local drought-related conditions and impacts via the Condition Monitoring Observer Reports on Drought (CMOR-Drought).

Funding Opportunities

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, and other partners offer funding opportunities related to drought early warning research, planning, and preparedness. 

Sign Up for Emails

Sign up for the NIDIS Tribal Engagement email list to receive updates on drought news, funding opportunities, and upcoming events and webinars for tribal nations across the United States. 

Case Study

Wind River Tribes Create New Drought Monitoring Tools

The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming have contended with periodic droughts, several of which have been particularly severe and impactful during the past two decades. After the drought of 2012 severely impacted these tribal nations’ water supply, the Tribal Water Engineer (TWE) wanted to find new ways to monitor conditions to help inform the Water Board’s decision making on whether or not to declare a drought during the spring. So, the TWE and their non-tribal partners created climate and drought summaries, which they produced on a quarterly basis to better track climate conditions, including drought. These tools have garnered interest from other tribal nations, which has resulted in subsequent partnerships to provide training on how to use climate information and produce climate summaries. 

Climate and drought summary for the Wind River Indian Reservation

Drought & Climate Resources for Tribal Nations