Engaging the Makah Tribe in Climate Change Planning

A conversation with Mike Chang, the Makah Tribe’s Climate Adaptation Specialist.

In this interview, Mike highlights some of the community engagement efforts he was involved in as part of the Makah Tribe’s climate adaptation planning effort. 


[Harriet] Hello, my name is Harriet Morgan and I’m a researcher at the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group. Today, I’m joined by Mike Chang, the Climate Adaptation Specialist with the Makah Tribe. Mike going to highlight some of the community outreach and engagement efforts he helped design as part of the Makah Tribe’s climate adaptation planning effort. Thank you so much for taking the time to me today Mike.

Mike Chang, Climate Adaptation Specialist with the Makah Tribe

[Mike] Yeah, thank you having me.

[Harriet] Could you orient our listeners by describing where the Makah Tribe is located geographically?

[Mike] Yeah. The Makah Tribe is a federally recognized Indian tribe and they are indigenous to the Cape Flattery region in Washington State. Cape Flattery is the most Northwest area of the Olympic Peninsula and Washington. It’s also the most Northwest point of the continental United States.

[Harriet] Great. Mike is going to chat with us today about some of the Makah Tribe’s ongoing work on climate change planning. Mike, could just give a little bit of a background or summary or some of the history behind this effort?


Makah Indian Reservation

Image courtesy of Robert Norheim, CIG

[Mike] Yeah. So how the climate change planning process for the Makah Tribe initially started… we received a BIA grant to do an ocean acidification impacts assessment back in 2015. Once we began talking about ocean acidification it quickly began snowballing into this bigger effort because we can’t talk about ocean if we don’t talk about broader ocean impacts, and we can’t talk about the ocean if we don’t talk about the land and the air, and we can’t talk about all of these natural resources if we don’t really bring in the cultural aspect of what these resources mean for the Tribe. So instead of one specific project or product we are working on we are definitely viewing this as iterative planning process. There are multiple different projects associated with this including an impacts assessment, community engagement plans, and products for the community, an adaptation plan, carbon footprint analysis, and carbon mitigation plan for the Tribe. So all of these are kind of constantly being updated and mainly that’s because a lot of the information, research, community priorities, needs and environmental changes– are all dynamic processes, and so again kind of back earlier, we view this very much as climate change planning process because there isn’t really an end point that we’re really planning to was just trying be flexible to the various changing needs.

[Harriet] Great. Thanks Mike. Why was Community engagement so important to the Tribe’s impact assessment and adaptation planning effort?

[Mike] Well community engagement is important for our climate change planning efforts for several reasons. Mainly we didn’t want make strategic decisions on tribal priorities and then realize later on that those weren’t the community priorities. Through this engagement we were able to capture key concerns, baseline knowledge on climate change, level of support for the Tribe to focus on this type of work ,and ideal ways to receive information. We are planning increase our community resilience to climate change and if we don’t have the buy-in or support of the process and the product that we plan all you want, but there won’t be meaningful action or implementation on the priorities that the community wants.

[Harriet] When in the project planning phase did you guys decide to incorporate Community engagement in project? Was this something that was done early on in the project scoping phase?

[Mike] This wasn’t done early on in the project scoping phase. Mostly because of capacity limitations. Other departments, not just the natural resource departments were involved. For example, we’ve engaged Forestry, the Planning Department, Emergency Management, Public Works, the Clinic, and the Makah Museum and Cultural Research Center within our work group. And obviously, they’re also community members, but it wasn’t something in terms of targeted community engagement that we were able to do early on, which is probably be a good thing in the end because we wanted to have some sort of draft process to present to the community for their input which essentially led to the first community dinner about climate and 2017.

[Harriet] Was this community engagement actually part of the project budget?

[Mike] Yeah, it was. That was an extremely important part. We had a budget to rent a venue that was on reservation and we had budget for catering, prizes (which included generator), and gift as incentives for people to take our community climate change survey.

[Harriet] That’s great. Could you discuss a little bit more about how project funds were actually used to increase the community engagement? So talking maybe about some of the raffle prizes.

[Mike] Yeah, from previous work and events we knew that we usually have a higher turn out and engagement when we provide incentives like meals and prizes. We wanted to be invested and excited about the process so we had raffle prizes during our event. Also we wanted to compensate people who wanted to share their concerns, priorities, and knowledge with our planning team, so we gave each survey respondent a $10 gift card. I would say all of these aspects cumulatively were crucial in getting such a large turnout, we ended getting one hundred and forty surveys, which is about 10% of the population in Neah Bay.

[Harriet] Wow, that’s super impressive! So what specific strategies did you guys use to actually engage community members? Did you schedule events at specific times maximize Community attendance, for example?

[Mike] Yeah, I think this varies for each community and knowing where people usually turn to to get their information. We had posted on the community newsletter and social media and flyers and different community spaces across town, and we also scheduled the event during the time we thought we would have the highest turnout — mainly an event not during the summertime.

[Harriet] So what specific examples incentives were used to encourage participation?

Raffle prizes from the community dinner.

Image courtesy of Seraphina Gagnon

[Mike] Mainly a warm, free meal. Lots of prizes and gift cards.

[Harriet] And where these successful? If they were, could you expand little bit on that or they weren’t why so?

[Mike] Yeah, they turned out extremely successful. It was ironic because on the night where we were talking about climate change and extreme events, we had heavy rain and hail, so the power was out in parts of town, which meant a lot of people came to the event just to get a meal since they didn’t have power — also our grand prize raffle was a generator. Overall we had about 200 people come to the dinner.

[Harriet] Wow, that’s an incredible turnout for an event. So how did in engaging the community improve the vulnerability assessment and your planning effort? What did you guys gain from this community engagement. Did you see that increase survey response rates? Increased community support for the project?

[Mike] Community engagement really helped focus our impacts assessment and our planning scope. It helped notify the planning team about issues we may not have thought about, for example, the different types of infrastructure and services that weren’t on our radar before. Finally, it was really comforting that almost 90% of the community was supportive of climate change planning efforts. This was very reinforcing for the staff who work on this specific project.

[Harriet] So are any of the products being developed as part of this effort specifically designed for the community members?

[Mike] Yeah, we are trying to make informational handouts (such as one or two pagers)as a summary of impacts relevant for the community on the different impacts that we anticipate. We are also engaging the community about potential feasible adaptation actions, which will hopefully create more input the community and willingness to partake in both community-wide and individual actions.

[Harriet] What were the lessons that you guys learned from these engagement efforts? What worked well?

[Mike] The biggest lesson is having food. And along with that having budget prepared and made so some the logistical items such as food, venue, and people’s time are compensated adequately. Having input from our tribal leadership was also extremely important. At the event we had a few our tribal council members also present.

[Harriet] What would you guys do differently next time?

Laptop stations where surveys could be completed electronically.

[Mike] The biggest lesson learned was to have more paper copies the survey. We initially had our survey online and we had multiple computers set up for people to take the survey as they came to the survey table. However, we quickly learned that many of the elders just weren’t able to use computers as easily or had confusion over which buttons to push or the survey format online. So we ended up printing a lot more surveys for people to take in the end. So for upcoming community events (for which we will have another survey dressing climate adaptation) we will definitely have a lot more hard copies available and also announce a link where they can access it from the internet if they wanted to do so on their own time.

[Harriet] Great. Thank you so much, Mike.

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