Asking the courts to require the state government to account for its contributions to a changing climate, several Indigenous Montanans this week described their fears of how those landscape-level impacts threaten their cultural heritage and connection to the land.

“It’s our way of life, it’s the way we’ve survived for time immemorial,” Sariel Sandoval, a citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, testified in a Helena courtroom Wednesday. “That connection to the land is very important because it’s who we are. It’s like we wouldn’t be here without the land. It shelters us, it feeds us, it takes great care of us, and we need to take great care of it too.”

Sandoval was a 17-year-old living in Ronan when she signed on as one of 16 youth plaintiffs in Held v. Montana, challenging the state’s stance on greenhouse gas emissions. The case is now in the first week of a trial scheduled for 10 days, in which the plaintiffs allege Montana’s policy of ignoring the effects of greenhouse gas emissions in its permitting decisions violates their right to a “clean and healthful environment” under the Montana Constitution. It was filed in 2020.