According to a multi-year study published in the journal Science last year, Indigenous nations have lost nearly 99% of their historical land base since Europeans arrived on the continent. Most of the homeland that tribes were allowed to retain are places that not only lack natural resources but that are most vulnerable to climate crisis, the study notes. Indigenous people in Alaska and the Pacific north-west are being displaced by rising sea levels. But in the south-west, it is the increasing desertification of already arid areas making life for the Navajo and other nations especially hard.
“When we think about how to address climate change, we sometimes forget that past US policies and actions have led to conditions in which some groups are burdened more by climate change than others,” said Justin Farrell, a Yale professor and the study’s lead author, to National Public Radio.
Although the average temperature in the south-west has increased beyond the threshold of 1.5C, it is even hotter in north-eastern Arizona where Mendez’s ranch and most of the Navajo Nation is located.