Empty Cellars, Melting Ice, and Burning Tundra: Climate Change and Native Peoples in the United States and Canada

By: Bruce E. Johansen, PhD


Climate change induced by human consumption of fossil fuels impacts everyone everywhere, and has become the signature environmental issue of our time. Native peoples of North America, with their close philosophical connection to the Earth and subsistence styles of life, are among the first to be significantly affected by a rapidly changing climate. This is most evident in the Arctic, which is warming more quickly than any other region on Earth, where an Inuit world built on ice is melting away. Alaskan Native communities also face climate-induced change, including relocation of entire coastal villages. Elsewhere in North America, Native water resources and food sources have already been damaged by a warming climate.

  • ISBN: 978-1-926476-08-7
    Price: $30.00
    Binding: Paperback
    Date: 2016
    Rights: World
    Pages: 233
    Size: 6” x 9”

  • Table of Contents

    Table of Contents


    1. Consulting with Native Peoples

    2. Droughts, Deluges, and Devastating Harvests

    3. The Navajo’s Sea of Sand Dunes

    4. Fire, Drought, Bark Beetles – and Environmental Justice

    5. Devastating Ocean Harvests

    6. Sweating in Iqaluit

    7. An Ice World Melts

    8. The Hunter’s Life in Todays Arctic

    9. Alaska Native Villages Fall to Encroaching Seas

    10. Defusing the Climate Bomb: Native Resistance to Tar Sands Mining

    About the Author

  • Bruce E. Johansen, PhD

    Bruce E. Johansen, PhD is Jacob J. Isaacson Professor of Communication and Native American Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he has been teaching and writing since 1982. He has authored 40 published books, the most recent Up from the Ashes: Nation-building at Muckleshoot (2014) and Eco-Hustle! Global Warming, Greenwashing, and Sustainability (2015). Dr. Johansen writes frequently about environmental subjects, including The Encyclopedia of Global Warming Science and Technology (2 vols., 2009), Global Warming in the 21st Century (3 vols., 2006), The Global Warming Desk Reference (2001), The Dirty Dozen: Toxic Chemicals and the Earth’s Future (2003), and Indigenous Peoples and Environmental Issues (2004), a 200,000-word encyclopedia of Indigenous Peoples’ struggles with corporations with a world-wide scope. Dr. Johansen’s first academic specialty was the influence of Native American political systems on United States political and legal institutions; his best-known books in this area are Forgotten Founders (1982) and Exemplar of Liberty (with Donald A. Grinde, Jr.), published in 1991. Johansen has described the present-day debate over this issue in Debating Democracy (1998), and Native American Political Systems and the Evolution of Democracy: An Annotated Bibliography (Greenwood, 1996; volume 2, 1999). He also writes as journalist in several national forums, including the Washington Post and The Progressive, with letters to the editor in The Atlantic, New York Times, National Geographic, Wall Street Journal, et al. He was co-editor of the Encyclopedia of American Indian History, a 4-volume set (ABC-CLIO, 2007), as well as a 2-volume Praeger Handbook of Contemporary Native American Issues (2007). He recently wrote The Global Warming Combat Manual: Serious Solutions for a Sustainable World (Praeger, 2008). His Eco-Hustle! Global Warming, Greenwashing, and Sustainability was published in 2015.

    Dr. Johansen lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with his wife Pat E. Keiffer, a Spanish-English interpreter and family therapist, her son, Shannon Keiffer-Rose, and two grandchildren Samantha and Madison Keiffer-Rose.

  • Enlightening, alarming and strongly recommended… here is a very important book for anyone who has an interest in the plight of humanity…Bruce Johansen writes “Climate change induced by human consumption of fossil fuels impacts everyone everywhere, and has become the signature environmental issue of our time”… this book is a plea for environmental justice which sends a powerful and articulate message to the reader that climatic change is not fiction, but a real threat…lethal fire storms, devastated harvests, prolonged droughts, floods, burning tundra and melting ice caps…natural disasters from human actions…Much praise to Johansen for bringing attention to the critical position of Native Americans…“ significantly affected by a rapidly changing climate” …indeed it is through the connectivity and knowledge of Natives Peoples that solutions may be found to a current globally unsustainable environmental pathway…a remarkable book which is extraordinarily insightful leaving the reader with plenty of opportunity for consideration and reflection!!!

    Greg Blyton, PhD

    The Wollotuka Institute (Indigenous History)
    University of Newcastle

    In this timely work, Johansen adds his formidable voice in calling attention to the alarming effects of climate change affecting us all here on Turtle Island. He thus continues his life-long work as ally and advocate of Native peoples by noting both the vulnerability of Indigenous communities, through their close connections to the earth and reliance upon sustainable resources, and their strength in this battle as an “early warning system” of change. Johansen compiles mountains of data; he takes the words of Indigenous elders seriously, and he hears the “trees scream”. A must read for people of conscience and action!

    Brian T. Broadrose, PhD

    Assistant Professor Sociology/Anthropology
    University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

    Empty Cellars takes us on a journey through climate change and its affect on the First Nations of North America. It brings together works from scholars from a range of disciplines to explicate how this phenomenon is not only threatening the Earth, but everyone and everything living on it as well. The book provides heart-wrenching research of how traditional First Nations living is very quickly moving from a daily struggle to impossibility. Despite continuing official denial of its pervasiveness and impact, this book provides case by case examples of how the living environments of First Nations and Creation—mineral, plant, animal and human—are being drastically and permanently transformed by climate change to make everyday living a struggle for land, water, air and life. An important book for anyone interested in seeing how the fight for mino bimaadizwin (good life) is playing out on the ground level and for those interested in learning about the challenges facing First Nations now and in the future.

    Michael Hankard, PhD

    Assistant Professor/Chair
    Department of Indigenous Studies
    University of Sudbury

    Referring to climate change as “apocalypse-in-the-making,” Dr. Johansen describes the devastating impacts of climate change on tribal communities around the country – from the Arctic, to the desert, to the ocean. Dr. Johansen begins by acknowledging the substantial value of traditional ecological knowledge possessed by many tribal communities in combating the localized impacts of climate change. He then details how climate change is negatively impacting various communities regardless of their natural environments. He provides in-depth treatment of such dire situations. The book therefore serves as an excellent introduction to this “apocalypse-in-the-making” as faced by tribal communities.

    Elizabeth Kronk Warner, JD

    Citizen, Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians
    Associate Dean of Academic Affairs
    Professor of Law, and
    Director, Tribal Law and Government Center
    University of Kansas School of Law

    Another incisive message from a writer of exceptional insight and clarity. The United States significantly overconsumes and is the world’s second largest polluter but it remains largely in denial about the immediate need for action on climate change. Diverse and often urbanized, its indigenous peoples nonetheless lead the way in coping and adaptation strategies. Their most important leadership message is that we need to recalibrate how we relate to the non-human world. This book is an admirably easy read but its message demands immediate and inclusive change.

    Joy Porter, PhD

    Professor of Indigenous History
    University of Hull
    United Kingdom
    Author, Native American Indian Environmentalism