Soboba Tribal Environmental Department hosts Talking Circle

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Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians | Contributed

In an effort to assess climate adaptation on the Soboba Indian Reservation, Soboba Tribal Environmental Department Director Christian Aceves and his team hosted a Talking Circle on Sept. 14. In partnership with SoCalGas, a presentation about the past, present and future challenges was provided to Tribal and community members and Soboba employees.

To determine Soboba’s climate change vulnerability, STED and Prosper Sustainably consulting group reviewed literature, data, staff knowledge and community observations to determine the extent Soboba may be exposed to various climate changes now and in the future. The first time Soboba’s Vulnerability Assessment (VA) was explored was in 2018 with no historical data available. The Talking Circle was scheduled to collect input to develop better plans to minimize climate change impacts to the environment and human health to be included in the next VA.

“We are asking questions to get a better understanding of the past and helping to bring it into the present,” Aceves said. Tribal members attending the Talking Circle cited the absence of certain herbs and mushrooms as well as quail and rabbits they recall seeing in abundance when they were growing up on the reservation. The lack of these items and other plants and animals can cause food insecurity since everything is part of a connected system. Climate change can also affect the infrastructure as erosion and other environmental impacts can damage roads and hillsides.

STED hosts a Talking Circle to provide information about its next Vulnerability Assessment and to encourage community input.

Aceves said the main purpose of the current assessment is to understand and pinpoint the areas where Soboba is most vulnerable to climate change threats. The VA allows STED to gauge the range of vulnerabilities from extreme heat to road infrastructure and more. “By understanding our vulnerabilities, STED can then make the proper efforts to mitigate these impacts and develop project plans that will make Soboba less vulnerable to said impacts,” he said. “STED does reference the VA when applying for grants because it makes the grant application more competitive.”

A general rule of thumb for climate Vulnerability Assessments is to amend them every five years. This is because climate change is observed over a long period of time. In a five-year span, climate scientists can make observations on climate trends and update plans accordingly.

“This Talking Circle was the first step in assessing the VA and determining if the plan was accurate,” Aceves said. “The next step is to begin drafting an updated VA that will take into account the community input STED receives. Following the completion of the VA, a Climate Adaptation plan will be developed that highlights key projects that if completed, will improve Soboba’s resiliency to climate change threats.”

Geoffrey Danker, who works closely with the Tribe in terms of policy and environmental strategy for SoCalGas, shared his company’s Vulnerability Assessment Review and some of its ongoing projects at the Soboba Indian Reservation. His company’s and other utility service providers’ major concern is how climate change affects the end users. “You tell us what you want; help us help you,” he told the audience. “Input from the community is crucial. We can look at climate models, but we want to tailor our efforts to Soboba and find feasible solutions that are under our control. We don’t want Sacramento to forget about Soboba because they are so far away; it makes sense for them to hear from you and this is your opportunity.”

Consultant Hector Perez-Pacheco and Soboba Tribal member Virginia Duenaz were among those who participated in the recent Climate Adaptation Talking Circle hosted by the Soboba Tribal Environmental Department.

Perez-Pacheco Consulting Inc. has been working alongside SoCalGas in their pursuit to coordinate with local Tribal nations and reached out to Soboba. Hector Perez-Pacheco is the president, CEO and strategist with Perez-Pacheco Consulting Inc. and works closely with governments and others as a Tribal liaison among his other community relations endeavors. He said a concern he has heard voiced is the lack of culturally sensitive plants available on reservations due to climate changes. “Many have to go outside their own reservations to find materials and they are unable to harvest traditional foods,” he said. “This amounts to a cultural genocide that is very scary and serious.”

Aceves said STED is actively working on trying to revitalize and reintroduce many native plants but it takes a lot of upkeep and maintenance and the lack of access to certain areas plus less water has made it difficult.

“STED has been making active efforts to build partnerships with local, regional, state and federal agencies to maximize resources and meet similar goals,” Aceves said. “The partnership with SoCalGas is a newer partnership that was formed to combat climate change threats in the region.”

Aceves said STED’s biggest take away from the Talking Circle event resulted from the posed discussion questions that Tribal members participated in. “STED took note of what Tribal members shared and will include these topics in the update to the 2018 Vulnerability Assessment (VA),” he said.

Some topics discussed by Tribal members were weather extremes, water insecurity, food insecurity and loss of native animals and plant life. It is always important for STED to obtain community input to compare community needs to the previously developed VA. In doing so, STED was able to check how accurate the VA was and determine what should be considered in the updated VA coming in 2024.

“STED is developing a Climate Adaptation plan that will highlight projects that can be done to increase Soboba’s resiliency to climate change threats,” Aceves said. “By identifying ‘shovel-ready projects’ STED will become more competitive when pursuing funding.”

Attendees of STED’s Climate Adaptation Talking Circle were encouraged to share their main concerns about climate change: temperature change, extreme heat, precipitation, sea level rise, wildfires, cascading events or drought.

The majority of STED’s funding comes from federal grant funding from the EPA. Recently, Aceves has been able to obtain additional state and private funding for Climate Adaptation planning. The Soboba Tribal Council and General Membership has also set aside funding for general events and work conducted by STED.

The Soboba Tribal Environmental Department is currently fully staffed and always happy to hear from the Tribal community on what they feel is important. Environmental Director Christian Aceves said, “All input helps STED pick a direction to go in as we are constantly trying to expand programs and look for new grant opportunities.”

Aceves manages and oversees all the environmental programs and natural resources on the Soboba Indian Reservation. This includes, but is not limited to, air quality, water quality, waste management, wildlife and human health. Environmental Specialist Katelyn Thomas oversees the Clean Water Act 106 and 319 grant programs among other delegated tasks. Environmental Assistant Christine Rodriguez conducts general administration duties and aids in project completion for the Soboba Tribal Environmental Department.

“For the VA, Tribal members have a couple more months to chime in as redrafting will begin in early 2024. Although STED will always accept input as the document is living and can continue to be updated following the updated version in 2024,” Aceves said. “There are a variety of ways for Tribal members to share and discuss topics of importance. They can always come to the Environmental Department office in Tribal Administration as we have an open-door policy.” Additionally, the community can contact STED staff directly by email or phone. Christian Aceves: [email protected], 951-654-5544 ext. 4154; Katelyn Thomas: [email protected], 951-654-5544 ext. 4130 and Christine Rodriguez: [email protected], 951-654-5544 ext. 4129.

STED Environmental Director Christian Aceves said, “Together we’re stronger; all it takes is one stone to create that ripple effect.”

The community can also visit STED’s website at https://epa.soboba-nsn.gov, and/or on Instagram at www.instagram.com/sobobaenvironmental to actively interact with STED and learn more about upcoming events, ongoing projects and provide input.

Feedback is encouraged as much as possible as it helps the department determine what type of funding opportunities should be pursued to maximize efforts and find solutions.

“STED has multiple ongoing projects from pollution prevention to erosion control,” Aceves said. “Mostly, STED is continuing to work diligently to improve the environment and ensure that Soboba’s natural resources are protected today, tomorrow and in the future.”

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