Indigenous communities in what is now the United States are disproportionately burdened by wildfires and wildfire smoke and, as support from the federal government has stagnated, are taking steps to protect themselves from the air pollution produced by the blazes, Grist reports. As climate change, caused mainly by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, continues to supercharge wildfires, the rights of Indegenous communities to hunt and fish established by treaties with the government are increasingly threatened. They are also disproportionately burdened by the fires’ deadly air pollution.
EPA air grants to help with air quality monitoring and infrastructure upgrades to deal with the increased pollution have remained stagnant for the last two decades, so tribes are working together to install real-time air quality sensors and distribute air filters.
The failure to adequately monitor air quality in Native communities is, of course, compounded by the innumerable structural inequities perpetrated upon Indigenous communities by the country and government now failing to adequately protect them — illustrated by the many members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in what is now Minnesota who lack access to air conditioning. Even when the air is so thick with smoke — as Brandy Toft, an air quality specialist for the tribe put it — “we can cut the air with a knife,” residents are forced to keep their windows open. “They can’t shelter in place in 90 degree weather and close up their house,” Toft said. (Grist; Climate Signals background: Wildfires)