Indigenous witnesses testify to "traumatic loss" in Montana climate trial

Helena, Montana - Montana's groundbreaking climate trial continued on Wednesday with powerful testimonies from Indigenous witnesses.

The father of youth plaintiffs Lilian and Ruby testified to the cultural losses they suffered as Montana's groundbreaking climate trial continues.
The father of youth plaintiffs Lilian and Ruby testified to the cultural losses they suffered as Montana's groundbreaking climate trial continues.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Shane Doyle, father of plaintiffs Ruby (15) and Lilian (12), spoke on Day 3 of the Held v. Montana trial about the challenges his family has faced in maintaining precious Crow Nation traditions amid the worsening climate emergency.

One of those traditions involves the picking of chokecherries, a fruit commonly found near the family's home in Bozeman.

Normally, chokecherries are ripe in late summer, but heat and drought driven my human-made warming have made the fruit's season less predictable. These changes have enormous implications for the annual fair at the Crow Indian Reservation, where chokecherries typically play a central role.

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"I don’t think there’s anything comparable in American society to what kids experience at the Crow Fair," Doyle testified, according to The Guardian.

But with the shifting seasons, the ability for Crow people to uphold their cultural heritage has come under threat. "It’s something that people have so closely associated those two things for so long, over 100 years, and now we’re seeing a shift," Doyle said.

Wildfires, smoke, and heavy rains are also wreaking havoc on the summer fair, leading in some cases to cancelations. For Ruby, who has been diagnosed with asthma, the conditions exacerbate respiratory conditions and make it more difficult to participate.

Doyle described having to miss the festivities as a "traumatic loss" for his daughters.

Indigenous witnesses testify about threats to their cultural traditions

Sariel Sandoval speaks from the witness stand at the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse in Helena on the third day of the Held v. Montana trial.
Sariel Sandoval speaks from the witness stand at the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse in Helena on the third day of the Held v. Montana trial.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

In the landmark trial, 16 youth are suing the state of Montana for violating their constitutional right to a "clean and healthful environment."

Human-made climate change threatens the future of all Montana youth as well as that of Indigenous Peoples, plaintiffs have laid out.

Michael Durglo, head of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes' tribal historic department, testified that climate change is making it difficult for Indigenous communities to rely on their traditional food and medicine.

Sariel Sandoval (20), another plaintiff in the case and a member of the Salish tribe, spoke about how these threats affect her.

The University of California Berkeley student said she plans to return to the Flathead Indian Reservation after her graduation so she can help pass down traditions like digging for bear root, which is used as a form of traditional medicine – a practice that could become increasingly difficult with accelerated climate change.

"It’s been something that’s been very much ingrained in me," she said. "It makes us who we are."

The historic trial is set to run until June 23.

Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

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