Dawn on Penobscot Bay on November 7, 2022. Credit: Murray Carpenter / Maine Public

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Darren J. Ranco, a citizen of the Penobscot Nation, serves as chair of Native American Programs at the University of Maine in Orono.

Here in Maine, climate change could be devastating, especially for Indigenous people. Studies show that Indigenous Nations like the Abenaki, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot and Wabanaki will face some of the most destructive impacts of the climate crisis.

Let’s be clear: Climate change is already happening. Wabanaki people, for instance, are currently in the midst of climate adaption planning to prepare for environmental issues now and down the road. I interact with other Wabanaki folks on a daily basis, and climate change is a serious concern. Of particular concern is erosion, ongoing access to healthy fish and game and environmental impacts on drinking water and power supplies.

The problem is so severe that federal funds are already being allocated to tribes to not only plan but also potentially relocate in the future. Last year, the Passamaquoddy Tribe  received $5 million from the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocated a total of $115 million to 11 tribes across America. Government funding is only part of the solution, but an important one.

Another piece of the puzzle is public awareness. For Indigenous and other rural people in Maine, internet access is not a foregone conclusion, with tribal lands often lagging behind other parts of the state. The online world can be difficult to leverage, leading to possible gaps in education.

Collectively as Mainers, we need to treat public education like a top priority, advancing climate change awareness in all forms.

There are innovative ways to call attention to climate change. For example, the winners of The 2022 Earthshot Prize Awards were announced last year in Boston, with Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge personally in attendance to maximize publicity. The Earthshot Prize was designed to find and expand the solutions that will repair our planet this decade. One of the 2022 finalists was the “Great Bubble Barrier,” which intercepts plastic waste before it reaches the sea. Developed by ocean enthusiasts Francis Zoet, Anne Marieke Eveleens and Philip Ehrhorn, the Great Bubble Barrier catches 86 percent of plastic waste on average, and it has already been implemented in the Netherlands.

There are so, so many stories to tell, and they need to be told — across various platforms. One such platform is art, which has long served as a unique, interactive way to get important messages out to the public. For example the Abbe Museum hosted the exhibit “Wolankeyutomon: Take Care of Everything” in 2019 and 2020, with Wabanaki artists highlighting the need to take care of water, identifying one of the threats to water access as climate change.  

Starting next month, I am also cocurating an exhibit with Tilly Laskey at the Maine Historical Society called “Code Red: Climate, Justice, and Natural History Collections.” It explores the climate crisis by bringing together natural history collections and works done by Indigenous artists.

Then there’s Portland, where we offer an opportunity to tell other climate change stories through Tidal Shift, a juried competition that aims to showcase, amplify, and elevate youth artists.

Launched by the Portland Museum of Art (PMA) in 2021, the Tidal Shift Award has opened its submission period for the 2023 prizes, inviting young Americans to submit their work by the end of this month. As long as submitted artwork shines a light on various climate change perspectives, it’s fair game.

Made possible by PMA’s partnership with King Philanthropies, cash prizes will be awarded in two divisions (with three prizes per division): Division one ages 14 to 18 and division two ages 19 to 22. The outcome will be announced on Earth Day in April 2023, with division one winners receiving $2,500 each and division two winners receiving $5,000 each.

I implore all Mainers, especially Wabanaki and non-Wabanaki youth in Maine, to do the right thing and become part of the climate response. Tidal Shift is taking place now. When artists are empowered as activists, we can go a long way in solving an existential problem.

Faced with a once-in-a-generation climate crisis, Maine must lean on its youngest generations to lead us all forward.