Climate Adaptation Workshop and Extreme Precipitation Scenarios for Indigenous Tribes

Funded by: Graham Sustainability Institute

Project Summary

As a result of our continued engagement with Tribal partners in the region and their attendance at the 2016 Great Lakes Adaptation Forum, the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan (ITCM) approached GLISA to work with them to develop extreme precipitation scenarios and localized climate fact sheets for ecoregions in the state of Michigan. Motivated by a 2016 extreme rainfall and flooding event experienced by the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa in northern Wisconsin, ITCM worked with GLISA to identify and to learn of tools to better understand impacts from extreme precipitation events. GLISA submitted a proposal as part of our effort to deepen and strengthen our engagements with Tribes in the region, and the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute awarded a Catalyst Grant to GLISA to co-host a workshop with ITCM to advance climate adaptation initiatives.

Climate Localization Documents for ITCM Ecoregions

ITCM had already worked on a vulnerability assessment for over 100 species throughout Michigan chosen by 9 of the 12 Member Tribes. As part of this assessment, ITCM divided the areas of interest into four different ecoregions spanning over the state of Michigan. Then, ITCM reached out to GLISA for climate information in the form of a customized document for each ecoregion ITCM would share with the Member Tribes. GLISA previously created a climate localization document through its partnership with U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station and the College of Menominee Nation Center for First American Forest Lands, and GLISA shared this document with ITCM as a model to gain their feedback. GLISA created climate localization documents tailored for each of the four ecoregions, which are listed with one example fact sheet for the Western Upper Peninsula:

ITCM and GLISA closely worked with each other to define the specific climate information for each of the ecoregions, and the information consisted of historical observations and climate model projections. The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) Climate Divisions provided the historical observations due to their spatial resolution fitting well with the already defined ecoregions. The climate model projections were selected from the University of Wisconsin Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Change Research, and maps from the Third National Climate Assessment described the projected changes in temperature and precipitation for each ecoregion. These documents proved useful in helping ITCM integrate Western Sciences with Indigenous Knowledges.

Extreme Precipitation Scenarios

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa experienced a large storm in 2016 which flooded the reserved lands of the Tribe. Emergency services and personnel couldn’t access the area due to infrastructure and roads inundated from the precipitation of the storm. In addition to the ecoregion climate localization fact sheets, ITCM worked with GLISA to create a different document focusing on extreme precipitation scenarios. The Extreme Precipitation Scenarios guide intends to aid Tribal members’ adaptation practices by presenting possible weather conditions and impacts from an extreme precipitation event. GLISA climatologists created the scenarios to reflect the possible weather and environmental conditions occurring in certain seasons. GLISA received feedback from ITCM, which made the scenarios relevant to the extreme precipitation events Member Tribes have experienced in the past. The types of scenarios included the following:

  • Extreme rain during a dry period in Spring/Summer, where an intense one-day storm or multi-day storms occurred on a completely dry ground;
  • Extreme rain during a wet period in Spring/Summer, where an intense one-day storm or multi-day storms occurred on a saturated ground due to a previous wetter season;
  • Extreme rain event over bare, frozen ground, where an intense one-day storm or multi-day storms occurred on a frozen ground without much snow from the previous winter; and,
  • Extreme rain event over deep snowpack, where an intense one-day storm or multi-day storms occurred on a snow-laden ground.

During the 2017 Climate Adaptation Workshop, Tribal members and representatives used the guide to fill out the most-impacted services, resources, and people. The guide prompted discussions about the importance of understanding the climate information available, and the steps necessary for implementing solutions for their climate adaptation practices.

Game of Floods

The Climate Adaptation Workshop participants also engaged in the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) Game of Floods, and the activity involved creating a fictional vulnerability assessment for a coastal city experiencing rising sea levels. Each team was given a set of conditions to follow based on the sea level rise scenario they received, and each individual  was randomly assigned a role (e.g., the Mayor, City Engineer, and Community Advocate) to play in the creation of the vulnerability assessment. Stipulations, such as budgets and costs of research, made the participants consider the necessary steps to implementing sound planning with community priorities and the increasing threat of rising sea levels.

GLISA staff facilitated the game for the Tribal members during the second day of the workshop, which focused on the Extreme Precipitation Scenario planning and an overall Great Lakes climate overview. The GLISA facilitator gave a presentation as primer for the game, and additional presentations gave pertinent information for participants to apply in each part of the game. Additional GLISA personnel participated with each of the teams to help the teams if there were any questions or concerns. At the conclusion of the game, the “mayor” of each team discussed their methods and results of planning, and the facilitator asked for feedback about improvements and shortcomings of the game. Participants gave valuable feedback, which included ways the game can be better tailored to Tribes’ real-life challenges of environmental racism and injustices.  Participants felt this exercise could be a helpful way to start a conversation about climate adaptation in their communities. By playing fictional roles and making decisions about a possible situation, participants could discuss contentious issues without involving local concerns that can raise tensions.

Additional activities for the Climate Adaptation Workshop consisted of a creative exercise of mural drawings and talks discussing the role of women as educators and caretakers of the water. The collaboration between ITCM and GLISA provided additional opportunities between the organizations to help the Michigan Tribes’ with their adaptation practices through future work.

Learn more about the Game of Floods.

Project Accomplishments

Nine of the twelve Member Tribes of the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan were able to gather together to discuss some of the practices they have done for climate adaptation. GLISA contributed climate information focused on the Great Lakes region to frame the conversation of extreme precipitation scenarios and climate trends, where participants engaged in discussions and provided valuable feedback. The interactive Game of Floods from USDN helped participants take on various roles as they create a vulnerability assessment for rising sea levels in a coastal city.

Research Findings

The partnership with ITCM provided lessons of engagement with Tribal communities, and the work and time required to facilitate discussion and opportunities for the Member Tribes. Feedback after the workshop provided further guidance for GLISA’s interactions with Tribes and Tribal organizations. The co-production with ITCM showcased the products and partnerships that were created through communication and collaborations, and the interactions provided further insights into cultivating opportunities for future climate adaptation practices.

Project Partners

  • Robin Clark, Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan
  • Aubrey Maccou-LeDuc, Bay Mills Indian Community
  • Graham Sustainability Institute (funder)

GLISA Contact

Omar Gates, Climatologist,