The observations of Navajo elders and the refining of our understanding of conventional scientific records
Dr. M.H. Redsteer, US Geological Survey; Dr. K.B. Kelley, Navajo Nation & H. Francis, Navajo Nation
The Navajo Nation of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah in the southwestern United States, is a region that encompasses 36% of all U.S. reservation lands. In this remote dryland region, traditional people live a subsistence lifestyle that is inextricably tied to landscape conditions and dependent upon water accessibility. Increasing aridity combined with drought threaten the very existence of Navajo culture and the survival of traditional Navajo communities. Although these remote drylands have been poorly monitored, with one National Weather Service monitoring site for every 6700 km2, data from the lifetime observations of Navajo elders have advanced our understanding of the historical trends and local impacts of climate change and drought. These observations record changes in plants and animals, water availability, weather, and sand or dust storms. The observations that traditional elders have contributed to our studies provide a clear and consistent picture of the changes that began in the middle of the 20th century . Among the most cited changes was a long-term decrease in the amount of annual snowfall over the past century, a transition from wet conditions to increasingly dry conditions, and a decline in surface water features. Observations include important information on the transformation of local ecosystems that cannot be easily gleaned from meteorological and stream flow records, such as changes to plant and animal populations and animal migration routes. Climate change impacts have contributed significantly to environmental degradation and poor living conditions on Navajo reservation lands. Elders mention the decreasing capacity to grow corn and other crops as being rooted, in part, from the decline in available water. Dryland regions, such as these, are characterized by harsh, dry conditions and sparse water supplies, even during normal conditions, and are therefore highly susceptible to changes that result from increasing temperatures.
The presentation can be downloaded here in pdf format.