The entire state experienced some form of drought impact the last couple of years but there is no question that north central Montana has seen the most persistent and severe drought.
The Blackfeet Reservation encompasses approximately 1.5 million acres throughout some of the areas hardest hit by drought. The reservation's economy is largely agriculture based, and over 80% of the land is utilized for agriculture.
"The plant shift is so significant — we haven't even had any berries this year. We're actually having to turn and go to a commercialized orchard," explained Termaine Edmo, the Blackfeet Tribe's climate change coordinator.
The reservation has faced issues with drought, extreme temperatures and early spring runoff. In 2018, the tribe released a Climate Adaptation Plan, which addresses the threats climate change imposes on the Blackfeet Nation.
The Blackfeet Climate Adaptation Plan includes 8 planning sectors, each with specific strategies and tactics, some of which are already in the implementation process. The planning sectors include: agriculture, cultural resources and traditions, fish, forestry, human health, land and range, water, and wildlife.
The Blackfeet tribe is the first tribe throughout the Pacific Northwest to execute a plan combatting the increasing impacts of climate change. On Thursday, September 15th, Blackfeet's environmental office welcomed over 70 individuals from an assortment of local non-profits, universities, government agencies and more to share some of these strategies, which are already being integrated throughout the reservation.
Edmo says the tribe plans to share the process with other communities, "We wanted to protect our future and most vulnerable populations, such as our language our animals, all of our relatives. We consider every thing as living, every thing has a spirit and purpose. With the planning process, we kept our traditional, native way of life at the forefront." The drought has threatened not only the economy but the culture of the Blackfeet tribe. Plants used in ceremonies have become harder to come by due to exceptionally dry conditions on the reservation. "The sweetgrass that starts our ceremonies and the berries we use in our ceremonies, these are really prominent necessities to us in order to conduct who we are as Piikani people", Terraine Edmo explains.
"It's one way we are teaching our young students. The impacts of climate change has affected our most vulnerable populations, our youth. Again, drugs and alcohol taking the parent out of the home, leaving the grandparents there. They are not able to get out on the landscape and teach them how to fish and hunt," Edmo said. She also said that the COVID pandemic struck the reservation hard and impacted the health of many of the elders.
While the Blackfeet tribe has faced its share of challenges, they are rich in resilience. “We're not the doom and gloom type. We're critical thinkers. We have to move fast and roll with the punches."