A Brief Description

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) are federally recognized Indigenous nations located on the Flathead reservation in Northwestern Montana. The CSKT are a culturally rich people, with a unique history and legacy, and particular strengths and vulnerabilities to climate change and its effects. 

"The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are comprised of the Bitterroot Salish, the Pend d’Oreille and the Kootenai Tribes. The Flathead Indian Reservation consisting of 1.317 million acres in Northwest Montana is home now, but CS&KT ancestors lived in the territory now known as Western Montana, parts of Idaho, British Columbia and Wyoming. This aboriginal territory exceeded 20 million acres at the time of the 1855 Hellgate Treaty."



  • The Northwest region experienced an average of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit increase over the past century (CSKT, 2013).
  • Temperatures are projected to continue to increase, which will affect the annual snowmelt and subsequently the stream discharge (Reidmiller, D.R. et al. 2018. Norton-Smith, Kathryn. et al. 2016. Ojima, D.S. et al. 2015).
  • The number of heavy precipitation events (defined as more than 1 inch per day) are projected to increase, however, the mountain regions of Western Montana will experience 25-40% less precipitation as snowfall by the end of the century (under high emission scenarios) (Reidmiller, D.R. et al. 2018).
  • Runoff has occurred 1-30 days earlier over the past few years, varying depending on the region of the Great Plains and Mountain regions (CSKT, 2013).
  • The reduced snowmelt and higher temperatures will have adverse effects on local wildlife, such as salmon, who are predicted to have higher disease rates, parasites, and the warmer water is already disturbing their reproductive cycle (CSKT, 2013).

This is a 2013 photo of the Alder Fire in Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Mike Lewelling, National Park Service

By Katie Brady from Missoula, Montana, United States - Recreation, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4834147

  • The temperature changes will potentially cause widespread species migration, which could decrease the biodiversity of the region (CSKT, 2013. Ojima, D. S. 2021).
  • The geographic zone in which malaria is present is expanding northwards into portions of the great plains (Norton-Smith, Kathryn. et al. 2016)
  • Kentucky Bluegrass, an aggressive invasive species, is spreading across the Great Plains as well (Palit, R. 2021).
  • The risk of wildfires, both in severity and frequency, is increasing in the region (CSKT, 2013. Reidmiller, D.R. et al. 2018), which is not only a danger to infrastructure (both natural and man-made), but can also adversely affect human health with increasing conditions such as asthma (Stowell et al 2022).
  • Climate change is also predicted to affect human economy and ways of living, specifically, agriculture, hunting and gathering, fishing, forestry, energy production, and recreation and tourism (Pearson, J. et al. 2021. CSKT, 2013. Reidmiller, D.R. et al. 2018. Briske, D. 2021).


Infrastructure can provide protection from the effects of climate change, however, the residents of the Great Plains commonly lack adequate housing to provide protection from extreme temperatures (Norton-Smith, Kathryn. et al. 2016).

This may very well be a result of poverty, and one in three American Indian children live in poverty, a rate that is higher in some reservations (Empey, A. et al. 2021). According to the CSKT climate adaptation plan (2013), the poverty rate for American Indian families in Lake county (the largest county on the reservation) is nearly 30 percent, and in 2007 there was a 36 percent unemployment rate among Tribal members (CSKT, 2013).

Another key impact of climate change in this region is the reduction of snowmelt and snowfall, which is key for water supply of humans and wildlife in the area (CSKT, 2013. Reidmiller, D.R. et al. 2018).

A larger concern for the CSKT community is the quality of the water supply, as the current input of impurities from local agriculture is expected to be amplified by climate change (CSKT, 2013).


The vulnerability of the CSKT is complicated to evaluate because there are two ways of thinking about their vulnerability. On the one hand, Indigenous Nations can be resilient, in accordance with the IPCC’s definition of resilience.

The CSKT are a self-governed and organized community, with the ability to determine their own response to changes and disturbances. Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is considered to increase their resilience because of its relationship with nature (specifically awareness of) and its strong intergenerational system (CSKT, 2013. Kathryn. et al. 2016. Johnson, D. E. et al. 2021. Lazrus, H. et al. 2022).

However, the resilience or vulnerability of any Indigenous nation/community is inseparable from the continuing effects of colonization, and the many other assaults they face that affect physical and mental health, sovereignty, and cultural identity (Norton-Smith, Kathryn. et al. 2016).

Indigenous peoples in the United States have a life expectancy over five years shorter than all other groups because of these compounding assaults, specifically, they typically experience disproportionate rates of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, type-2 diabetes, unintentional injuries, respiratory diseases, cancers, liver disease, cardiovascular diseases, and suicides (Norton-Smith, Kathryn. et al. 2016. Climate change is predicted to exacerbate these existing health issues (Norton-Smith, Kathryn. et al. 2016. CSKT, 2013).

By Djembayz - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41404119

By MPSharwood - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51966922

Climate change also presents a threat to the CSKT economy and livelihood. Many indigenous nation’s economies rely on self-determined management of natural resources (Reidmiller, D.R. et al. 2018. CSKT, 2013). Climate change is predicted to adversely affect agriculture (including cattle ranching), hunting, fishing, forestry, recreation, tourism, which are substantial parts of the local CKST economy (CSKT, 2013).

Due to the change/degradation of the region, climate change also threatens the sites, practices, spiritual and ceremonial places, and other aspects of the culture (Reidmiller, D.R. et al. 2018. CSKT, 2013). These places are crucial for heritage, identity, and are tied to the physical and mental health of the CSKT people. Climate change is likely to amplify historical trauma by adversely affecting these important places (Reidmiller, D.R. et al. 2018. Norton-Smith, Kathryn. et al. 2016. Pearson, J. et al. 2021.).

Some of the causes of increased vulnerability of Indigenous Nations are institutional, as the still present effects of colonization, displacement, and genocide, create limitations on the abilites of the tribes to be resilient (Reidmiller, D.R. et al. 2018). The reservation system limits the traditional territory of the CSKT people, and limits the funding of projects, both of which reduce their ability to adapt, and make them more vulnerable (Reidmiller, D.R. et al. 2018. Norton-Smith, Kathryn. et al. 2016). 


In 2013, the CSKT Tribal government drafted a climate adaptation plan. It's a comprehensive and thorough framework of current climate change effects, future predictions and trends, and possible adaptations. While there are specific addresses for each potential hazard, the overall goal is summarized at the end of the Climate Adaptation Plan with the following list. 

  • Establish and maintain a Climate Change Oversight committee which  would coordinate funding requests and collaboration with regional climate change centers, research centers, academic institutes, and other relevant entities.  
  • Monitor and measure progress in implementing the preparedness actions  you have recommended, and identify whether these efforts are helping the Tribes meet their goals regarding climate change preparedness.   
  • Review basic assumptions, including those related to assessing the vulnerabilities and risks that guided  the  planning  committees in identifying  of priority planning areas, the Tribes’ overarching  vision and goals, the  preparedness  goals  that  establish  the  priority  planning  areas, and the information collected measuring the results of the actions. 
  • Continue to research Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and its application  towards climate change adaptation and mitigation planning.  
  • Incorporate the strategic planning results into the guiding documents such as the Flathead Reservation Comprehensive Resource Plan and the Forestry Management Plan. 
  • Update  the climate change adaptation plan regularly, based on  the information collected  from measuring progress and reviewing assumptions. 

Sources Cited


  • Briske, D. D., Ritten, J. P., Campbell, A. R., Klemm, T., & King, A. E. H. (2021). Future climate variability will challenge rangeland beef cattle production in the Great Plains. Rangelands, 43(1), 29–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rala.2020.11.001 

  • Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Climate Change Strategic Plan. (2013) 

  • Empey, A., Garcia, A., & Bell, S. (2021). American Indian/alaska native child health and poverty. Academic Pediatrics, 21(8). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acap.2021.07.026 

  • IPCC, 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.

  • Johnson, D. E., Parsons, M., & Fisher, K. (2021). Indigenous Climate Change Adaptation: New Directions for Emerging Scholarship. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 251484862110224. https://doi.org/10.1177/25148486211022450 

  • Lazrus H, Maldonado J, Blanchard P, Souza MK, Thomas B, Wildcat D (2022) Culture change to address climate change: Collaborations with Indigenous and Earth sciences for more just, equitable, and sustainable responses to our climate crisis. PLOS Clim 1(2): e0000005. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pclm.0000005

  • Ojima, D. S., Conant, R. T., Parton, W. J., Lackett, J. M., & Even, T. L. (2021). Recent climate changes across the Great Plains and implications for Natural Resource Management Practices. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 78, 180–190. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rama.2021.03.008 

  • Ojima, D.S., J. Steiner, S. McNeeley, K. Cozetto, A.N. Childress., A. Cole, J. Brown, G. Collins, L. Ferris, B. Gough, J. Gross, J. Hestbeck, D. Kluck, R. McMullen, J. Rattling Leaf, M. Shafer, M. Shulski, J. Yarbrough, M. Drummond, J. Morgan, T. Howell, S. Markstrom, H. Lazrus, K. Averyt, S. Skagens, K. Kunkel, L. Stevens, S. Stevens, M. Kruk, D. Thomas, E. Janssen, K. Hubbard, N. Umphlett, K. Robbins, L. Romolo, A. Akyuz, T. Pathak, T. Beragntino, E. Wood, K. Miller, B. Gascoigne, S. Tellinghouse, V. Tidwell, C. Aldridge, M. Rose, L. Wellings, T. Brown, J. Ramirez. 2015. Great Plains Regional Technical Input Report. Washington, DC: Island Press.

  • Palit, R., Gramig, G., & DeKeyser, E. S. (2021). Kentucky bluegrass invasion in the Northern Great Plains and prospective management approaches to mitigate its spread. Plants, 10(4), 817. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants10040817 

  • Pearson, J., Jackson, G., & McNamara, K. E. (2021). Climate-driven losses to indigenous and local knowledge and cultural heritage. The Anthropocene Review, 205301962110054. https://doi.org/10.1177/20530196211005482 

  • Stowell, J. D., Yang, C.-E., Fu, J. S., Scovronick, N. C., Strickland, M. J., & Liu, Y. (2021). Asthma exacerbation due to climate change-induced wildfire smoke in the western us. Environmental Research Letters, 17(1), 014023. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ac4138 

  • USDA: Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples: A Synthesis of Current Impacts and Experiences Kathryn Norton-Smith, Kathy Lynn, Karletta Chief, Karen Cozzetto, Jamie Donatuto, Margaret Hiza Redsteer, Linda E. Kruger, Julie Maldonado, Carson Viles, and Kyle P. Whyte Pacific Northwest Research Station General Technical Report PNW-GTR-944 October 2016

  • USGCRP, 2018: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II: Report-in-Brief [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 186 pp.