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Building Authentic Collaborations with Tribal Communities

A Living Reference for Climate Practitioners

Climate Science Alliance activities are informed and guided by community members and creating long-term relationships built on principles of sustained and meaningful engagement. 

Sustained and meaningful engagement is more than just being a good partner, it requires respect, reciprocity, and relationships.

Together, we strive to facilitate regular conversations on how we can cultivate meaningful and authentic collaborations with Indigenous communities and improve equity and inclusion for our staff, our projects, and within our network. Our work is successful when we are able to lift others’ voices up, make sure that climate conversations are accessible and relatable, and ensure that Indigenous ways of knowing are at the forefront of climate adaptation work.

In 2021, the Climate Science Alliance and the Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (SWCASC) co-hosted the Southwest Adaptation Forum (SWAF), which included an engaging training experience for climate practitioners interested in fostering meaningful engagement with Tribal communities. Adapted from the 2021 SWAF Attendee Workbook, each section of this resource guide provides important information, key resources, and listed actions to take prior to reaching out to build new relationships with Tribal communities.

By sharing resources from this important discussion, and continuing to update it, our hope is that others will do their due diligence in expanding their understanding and moving their work forward in a good way where all people are valued for who they are and what knowledge they hold.


Resource Menu

Understanding Tribal Sovereignty

Understand different aspects of sovereignty, including political Tribal sovereignty, Indigenous data sovereignty, and the rights of nature.

Building Understanding

  • There are currently 574 federally recognized Tribes

  • “Indian reservations are lands reserved in treaties, by executive order, or congressional acts. They are not gifts from the federal government to Tribes; they are products of massive land cessions by Tribes that created the United States” - Dina Gilio-Whitaker

  • On March 3, 1819, the Civilization Fund Act ushered in an era of assimilationist policies, leading to the Indian boarding-school era, which lasted from 1860 to 1978. Thousands of Native American children were forced to attend boarding schools created to strip them of their culture.

  • On May 9, 2019, the Yurok Tribal Council passed a resolution declaring the rights of the Klamath River and provided a legal avenue for the Klamath River to have its rights adjudicated in Yurok Tribal Court

Tribal Nations and the United States: An Introduction

by: National Congress of American Indians

Provides a basic overview of the history and underlying principles of Tribal governance and information for the public at large to understand and engage effectively with contemporary Indian Nations.

Land-Grab Universities: How the United States funded land-grant universities with expropriated Indigenous land

by: High Country News

Nearly 11 million acres of Indigenous land. Approximately 250 Tribal nations. Over 160 violence-backed treaties and land seizures. Fifty-two universities. Discover the bloody history behind land-grant universities.

Native Land Digital

The Native Land Digital Map highlights traditional territories, treaties, and languages across the United States, Canada, and beyond. Use this interactive resource to understand and acknowledge the traditional lands on which you work and live.

Tribal Sovereignty 101

by: Dr. Sharon Hausam

Provides a high-level overview of Tribal Sovereignty.

List of Federal and State Recognized Tribes

The following state-by-state listing of Indian Tribes or groups are federally recognized and eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The list also includes Indian Tribes or groups that are recognized by the states, when the state has established such authority. This acknowledges their status within the state but does not guarantee funding from the state or the federal government.

American Indian Law in a Nutshell

by: William C. Canby, Jr.

Custer Died for Your Sins

by: Vine Deloria, Jr.

As Long as Grass Grows

by: Dina Gilio-Whitaker


What You Can Do

Identify who’s homelands you reside and work on.

Upon acknowledging who’s land you're on, take the time to learn about the people and communities that are still alive and present.

Identify treaties and court cases related to local Tribes to learn more about how their sovereignty came to be.

Offer equal authorship to your Tribal partners on the publication that are created from the project experience.

Tribal governments are sovereign nations and community leaders should be afforded the same respect and regard as you would give to the leaders of any country.

Active Listening

Understand the importance of active listening when engaging with Tribal communities.

Building Understanding

  • Each Tribal nation has different discourse styles, including length of response time, traditional protocols to follow and vocabulary.

  • Incentives and gift-giving are considered common practice to express appreciation for the exchange of time. This is often demonstrated in bringing food / having parking passes for meetings, and ensuring the comfort of guests and the space that you have invited them to.

Guidance and Responsibilities for Effective Tribal Consultation, Communication, and Engagement

by: Members of the West Coast Tribal Caucus of the West Coast Alliance

A guide for agencies working with West Coast Tribes on Ocean and Coastal Issues.

Tribal Relations & Traditional Knowledge

by: Crystal Leonetti

A presentation by the first Indigenous woman to ever serve as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Native American liaison.

Changing the Narrative About Native Americans: A Guide for Allies

by: Reclaiming Native Truth (Echo Hawk Consulting and First Nations Development Institute)

The Reclaiming Native Truth initiative is designed to eradicate harmful and toxic narratives, stereotypes, structural and institutional racism, dehumanization, and the invisibility of Native Americans.


What You Can Do

In your meetings and interactions, observe how others “listen”. Write down what you can learn from their listening skills.

List a few ways of how you might demonstrate active listening.

When you wish to ask a question or add to the conversation, consider counting slowly to 10.  Consider if a response is needed at all.

List a few things that we accomplish as a whole when we listen.

Wisdom & Reciprocity

Understand the importance of centering reciprocity while establishing and maintaining partnerships with Tribes.

Building Understanding

  • Members of the Havasupai Tribe in Arizona gave blood samples in 1989 for research on type 2 diabetes, only to find out later that the researchers had used the DNA samples for studies on schizophrenia, ethnic migration and population inbreeding without the individuals’ approval.

  • The Onondaga Nation Land Claim case is remarkable because the suit asks only for a declaratory judgment that the land was illegally taken from the Nation and that the Nation continues to have legal title to the land. The lawsuit is not a land “claim,” because to the Onondaga, the land has far greater significance than the notion of property. The Nation is primarily interested in demanding the restoration of the land from the destruction of SuperFund sites in the area around Syracuse, especially Onondaga Lake, a sacred site.

Wisdom and Reciprocity: Collaborating with Tribal Nations

A panel offering wisdom from several different perspectives on the importance of centering reciprocity while establishing and maintaining partnerships with Tribes.

Wisdom and Reciprocity: Tips on Building Effective and Meaningful Collaborations with Tribal Nations

This document encapsulates takeaways from the 2021 Southwest Adaptation Forum panel on wisdom and reciprocity. It is by no means an exhaustive list and comes from the lens of climate adaptation planning, but our hope is that it provides basic guidance for scientists and practitioners interested in collaboratively partnering with Native Nations.

Guidelines for the Use of Traditional Knowledges

by: Ann Marie Chischilly

Part of a webinar series from the Ecological Society of America TEK Section that facilitates a virtual space to welcome and hear from Indigenous voices who work to sustain and nurture traditional ecological knowledge in their communities. This presentation was made by Ann Marie Chischilly from Northern Arizona University and its Office of Native American Initiatives, and the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals.

Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges in Climate Change Initiatives

by: Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup (CTKW)

A framework to increase understanding of issues related to access and protection of Traditional Knowledges (TKs) in climate initiatives and interactions between holders of TKs and non-Tribal partners.

How to Include Indigenous Researchers and their Knowledge

by: Virginia Gewin

Researchers from Native American and Indigenous communities explain how colleagues and institutions can help them to battle marginalization.

Indigenous Experiences in the US with Climate Change and Environmental Stewardship in the Anthropocene

by: K. Chief, J.J. Daigle, K. Lynn, and K.P. Whyte

This collaboration, by more than 50 authors from Tribal communities, academia, government agencies, and NGOs, demonstrates the increasing awareness, interest, and need to understand the unique ways in which climate change will affect Tribal cultures, lands, and traditional ways of life.

Indigenous Stewardship Methods and NRCS Conservation Practices

by: USDA National Resources Conservation Science

A guidebook for NRCS employees that provides a framework for working with Indigenous communities across the conservation landscape.

Decolonization is not a Metaphor

by: Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang

“Decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools."

Recognition and Support of Indigenous California Land Stewards, Practitioners of Kincentric Ecology

by: First Nations Development Institute

It is important for regional, national, and international organizations to support Indigenous peoples in their efforts to advance the rights and opportunities of the stewards of biocultural diversity and sustainable land management practices. This will happen only when we begin to know, support, respect, and love the practices that value relationship-based kincentric stewardship as practiced by people for over a millennium. This can start today by acknowledging this deep knowledge, uplifting and advancing this work, supporting Native-led organizations and leaders, and ultimately, reinstating stewardship and ownership of California’s lands to Indigenous peoples.


What You Can Do

Recognize that communities maintain data sovereignty

Ensure there is Native Nation hiring preferences in your program, from internships to evaluators.

Support community events such as Earth Day to become a familiar face and to find opportunities to build relationships.

Consider reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, in which she describes the awakening of acknowledging and celebrating our reciprocal relationship with one another and the rest of the living world.