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Extreme heat is a problem for Native Americans in the Southwest

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Ashley Hemmers says she was driving through Nevada last week, headed to a meeting about the climate crisis, when she got heatstroke. That's how hot it is out West. It's too hot to figure out how to stop being so hot. Hemmers is the tribal administrator for the Fort Mojave Indian tribe. And at the meeting in question, she was planning on representing the special concerns that people on her reservation have about climate change.

ASHLEY HEMMERS: On my reservation, it can get upwards of 120. On the day that I got heatstroke, it was about 125. If you don't take the time to really slow it down a little bit or have even a little bit more water intake, a drive from the reservation to the airport, which is about an hour and a half, could put you in some very dangerous situations.

FADEL: So you didn't get to that meeting, but talk about what you had planned to highlight about how vulnerable people living on reservations are and how the climate crisis impacts them.

HEMMERS: My reservation is in California, Arizona and Nevada. There's a saying for Mojave people that you know that you're a Mojave if you can eat a hot bowl of stew in the middle of the summer. Heat is not something that's unusual. What is unusual is just how hot it's getting. And we are taking this very seriously for our community. Our tribal leadership makes sure that vulnerable populations, like our elders, have cooling stations or any type of emergency checks. If an elder has air conditioning that goes down, we make sure that they and their family know how to get help immediately. We need our elders. They're our language holders. They're our culture sharers. Another thing that we are doing, we've had to remind folks that when you're walking to make sure that you have shoes on, because we had had tribal members who have gotten second-degree burns from...

FADEL: Wow.

HEMMERS: ...Just standing outside of their house. And then on a broader scale, try to identify ways where we could make sure that we are building safe spaces on the reservation, whether that's green space or cooling stations or all of those things.

FADEL: When you talk about green spaces, how could that help, and what are you doing?

HEMMERS: For us, we live right along the Colorado River, and, you know, the Colorado River is in a current crisis...

FADEL: Yeah.

HEMMERS: ...Because of the extreme heat.

FADEL: It's drying up.

HEMMERS: Our tribal name is Pipa Aha Macav - People of the River. Our community have lived along the river in this desert since time immemorial. And so what we've tried to do with our new housing developments is to create safe green spaces for families with local trees, local flora and fauna, so that there are enough spaces to kind of combat against the concrete that would be everywhere.

FADEL: So really, this climate crisis, between the drying of the river and the extreme heat, is a threat to community and identity for living on your historic lands.

HEMMERS: For us, it's one of the highest threats. It impacts our geography. It impacts the ways that we teach our children about Indigenous ecological knowledge of the desert. It impacts the animals and the plants that rely on the river. This is something that we need to steward a lot more efficiently because if we keep extracting from our environment, then it's not just going to be heatstroke and second- and third-degree burns, it's going to be losing people's lives.

FADEL: Ashley Hemmers is the tribal administrator for the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, which lies in Nevada, California and Arizona. Thank you.

HEMMERS: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF GALAVANT CROSS' "ORBIT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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