As young people and the young-at-heart go back to school this fall, it is good to revisit how Indigenous land-based learning is a way to take action on climate change. The impact of COVID-19 on society has also shed light on the importance of outdoor education.

According to a report inspired by the work of the Misipawistik Pimatisiméskanaw land-based learning program in Misipawistik Cree Nation, Manitoba, “Indigenous land-based learning typically uses an Indigenized and environmentally-focused approach to education by first recognizing the deep, physical, mental, and spiritual connection to the land that is a part of Indigenous cultures.” Indigenous land-based education teaches environmental stewardship. Simply put, Indigenous environmental stewardship reflects all the ways that Indigenous peoples honour Mother Earth, including practices of conservation and sustainability, as well as showing a responsibility for one another, as human beings.

Indigenous scholars at the University of Guelph in Southwestern Ontario have been working together with several community agencies, including the Global Youth Network, the Grand River Métis Council, and the White Owl Native Ancestry Association, to establish the Wisahkotewinowak teaching garden at the university’s arboretum. The garden is a space for youth to learn from Indigenous Elders about seasonal medicinal and edible plants. Wisahkotewinowak, is an Ojibway word that means “the growth of new shoots after a fire.” Youth are also involved in a project that involves the Niisaachwan Anishinaabe Nation and that combines learning about manomin (wild rice), an important food source for Anishinaabe people, with learning about changes to the land brought on by human settlement along the Winnipeg River. The Manomin/Wild Rice Project offers opportunities for land-based learning and intergenerational cooperation that also characterizes Indigenous food sovereignty projects.

In another example, children and youth ranging from kindergarten to grade 8 at the Biitigong Nishnaabeg Elementary School, just outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, are benefitting from learning about traditional knowledge and skills, like manomin harvesting, from Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers. The pilot project is run in partnership with Lakehead University, and has led members of all ages of the Biitigong community to learn about the benefits of land-based learning. Land-based practices characterizing Anishinaabe pedagogies, including those among communities governed by the Grand Council of Treaty #3 territories, offer insight into cultural practices, and practices that maintain a strong sense of identity among diverse Anishinaabe peoples.

The benefits of Indigenous-led education, including land-based learning, are also formally recognized, at the international scale, by the UNESCO. According to section B19 of the UNESCO Policy on Engaging with Indigenous Peoples, “effectively including indigenous peoples’ knowledge, holistic worldviews and cultures in the development of education policies, programmes, projects and practices and promoting their perspectives, would provide meaningful learning opportunities that are equally available, accessible, acceptable and appropriate for all indigenous peoples.”

There is an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and for their respective governments, to consider linking both educational policies and diverse practices that support Indigenous land-based education with climate change action.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

Climate change effects are significantly reducing the catch of salmon worldwide. Indigenous communities are taking various actions to protect salmon as a crucial food source, and not simply as a commercial and economic resource.

Salmon need cold water streams; however, with warming waters, a harmful effect of climate change, salmon become more prone to disease. Shifts in weather patterns can also wash away salmon spawning beds, while lower pH levels in the oceans (i.e., ocean acidification) reduces overall fish stocks.

Indigenous communities in British Columbia (BC) and Washington State are using climate change adaptation practices in order to protect salmon runs along the Skagit River, by creating spawning beds, and by planting shady trees in order to cool down the river. In addition, Indigenous communities in BC are calling for more emergency conservation measures to protect salmon along the Fraser River. Most recently, the First Nation Leadership Council declared the collapse of sockeye salmon stock, calling for the emergency closure of all sockeye salmon fisheries along the Fraser River and an end to all open-net salmon farming. These extreme actions are being taken by BC First Nations, alongside collaborative approaches to facilitate fisheries management and to ensure the conservation of Pacific wild salmon and their habitat.

Ultimately, Indigenous communities are taking adaptive, emergency, and legislative actions to protect salmon habitats from the harmful effects of climate change and to sustain a valuable food source for their communities.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN) in British Columbia has occupied, governed, and served as stewards of Burrard Inlet and the surrounding lands since time out of mind. As a small coastal community, TWN is experiencing impacts from climate change, particularly along the shoreline.

In April 2019, TWN coordinated a Youth and Elder Climate Change Forum and a guided tour of the Burrard Inlet shoreline to observe and discuss impacts and potential ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Dialogue from these events, along with other community member interviews, were captured in a TWN video called “Facing Climate Change: Impacts and Considerations for Action.” This video introduces some of the climate action work that the nation is already doing, and it is a call to action to keep moving forward.

With financial support from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, and other funding partners, TWN has completed a climate change hazard and vulnerability assessment, as well as a climate change resilience action plan. For more information see twnation.ca.

Indigenous-led watershed planning is crucial for Indigenous communities to adapt to the fast pace of climate change. A watershed is a physical area that absorbs rain and snow into underground sources of water, such as, rivers, creeks, and streams, and catches the elements in lakes, oceans, and other bodies of water that are all aboveground. Watershed planning involves the decisions that people make to determine what happens to water in an entire physical region, as well as what happens to it at the local community level.

Target 15 of the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada states: “By 2020, Aboriginal traditional knowledge is respected, promoted and, where made available by Aboriginal peoples, regularly, meaningfully and effectively informing biodiversity conservation and management decision-making.” Although Indigenous inclusion in state-driven biodiversity planning, such as planning for watersheds, is important, it is not at the heart of Indigenous-led watershed planning.

Values behind Indigenous-led watershed planning, which can include interconnectedness, self-determination, education, and resilience, among others, are what make Indigenous-led watershed planning different from dominating non-Indigenous watershed planning practices. For example, water is a sacred life-source and holds cultural significance for Indigenous peoples. As noted in the First Nations Integrated Watershed Planning guidebook, created by the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER), First Nation-led watershed planning asks different questions than non-Indigenous-led watershed planning – questions such as: “if water is alive and represents life – if we are all connected and embody an ethic of reciprocity in our decisions and daily lives – what would be the different outcomes of a watershed planning process?”

Stewardship is integral to Indigenous-led watershed planning. The National Indigenous Guardians Network (NIGN) is an Indigenous-led and Canadian federally-funded pilot project – a network of Indigenous stewards of the land, water, and ice. Inspired by a similar network of Indigenous environmental stewardship in Australia, the NGIN has engaged in watershed planning projects across Canada. Furthermore, Indigenous communities, on their own, or in partnership with universities, are creating climate adaptation plans that include watershed planning. For example, the Karuk Tribe has created its own Climate Adaptation Plan which includes practices to protect rivers and riverbeds (i.e., riparian practices). Furthermore, the Tribal Climate Tool, a partnership among Indigenous communities, including the Swinomish, and the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, provides data to help Indigenous communities make their own climate adaptation decisions, by including measurements, such as rain fall and temperature.

Indigenous-led watershed planning can strike a balance among diverse cultural values, as well as needs of the natural environment, and of Indigenous communities. Some communities may consider including economic development priorities in their watershed plans too, such as energy conservation and generation projects, while protecting Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Climate adaptation plans that are rooted in both present needs and values and future aspirations, enable Indigenous communities to adapt to environmental changes as they happen, and hold the potential to enable Indigenous people to adapt to climate change better than ever before.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

The Indigenous food sovereignty movement promotes access to healthy food, and helps to fight food insecurity, made worse by droughts, severe floods, and other adverse weather events, which are impacts of climate change.

A key goal of Indigenous food sovereignty is to reduce the dependency of Indigenous communities on processed foods that are created by the industrial food system. By bringing together small-scale food producers and farmers, and Indigenous people who fish and hunt traditionally, the Indigenous food sovereignty movement facilitates the world-wide exchange of diverse, thousands-of-years-old practices in seed saving; catching, growing, harvesting, and storing food; and raising livestock, just to name a few. According to the Indigenous Food Systems Network, Indigenous food sovereignty is grounded in four key principles:

  1. Food is sacred and sovereign, and should not be constrained by colonial laws and practices. Human beings need to learn how to appreciate their connection to the land, plants, and animals, which are also different sources of food.
  2. Indigenous food sovereignty is action-oriented and encourages the participation of individuals, families, and communities in culturally-based day-to-day harvesting activities and strategies that can be adapted for future generations.
  3. Indigenous self-determination and food sovereignty inspire Indigenous peoples to make their own decisions about: food choices, food sources, and how much food is grown and consumed.
  4. Policy reform is central to Indigenous food sovereignty and may involve reconciling colonial economies with the values of diverse Indigenous communities.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

It’s the time of year when people across Turtle Island are turning to their gardens for food and for enjoyment. Fresh food from the garden supports health and wellness which improves our resilience as human beings. Growing a resilient garden also supports Mother Earth as the climate changes.

A garden (or a person) is resilient when it’s able to bounce back after facing extreme conditions. By learning different resilient gardening techniques, we can help our gardens withstand extreme weather caused by climate change. Practices that make gardens more resilient include, minimizing digging and ploughing (often called tilling), avoiding artificial fertilizers and chemical pesticides, and including native plants. Planting perennials, the kinds of plants that aren’t weeds, but that, like weeds, come back every year without much maintenance, also contribute to making gardens more resilient to climate change in every season.

Indigenous gardens can play a key role in promoting intergenerational cooperation and sharing Traditional Knowledge about food and the environment. For example the Winyan Toka Win Garden a program of the Cheyenne River Youth Project has met the needs of elders who want traditional foods, and Lakota youth who can learn to better reconnect with the land and with each other. These gardens help build resilient communities and serve as community spaces for hands-on learning. Gardens become outdoor classrooms and contribute to Indigenous land-based learning and Indigenous food sovereignty to fight climate change.

With global warming, the growing season across Turtle Island has become longer. Learning to grow a garden that can adapt to a wide variety of growing conditions is an important factor in adapting to global warming and climate change. So, maybe the next time you admire your Three Sisters Garden grow, or the purple-stemmed asters or another native wildflowers where you live, remember that these plants help build the resilience of all of us, and Mother Earth, to climate change.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

Since 2013, the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island (MCPEI) has supported the communities of Lennox Island and Abegweit First Nations in preparing and adapting to climate change impacts.

Recent studies have shown that climate change is contributing to sea-level rise, coastal erosion, and increased storm surges on Prince Edward Island, putting communities such as Lennox Island at risk. Coastal residences, critical community infrastructure, sacred grounds, and medicinal plant sites are all under threat from climate change and we needed to prepare for these challenges.

Having the community identify their priorities and concerns has been integral to the success of this project. We hosted workshops with Lennox Island and Abegweit First Nations to identify and prioritize key climate risks to the community. Issues related to emergency response and human health, vulnerability of infrastructure, sea-level rise, coastal flooding, and vulnerability of traditional fishing and hunting areas were identified as key concerns by the community. “Climate change adaptation and the protection of our home, Lennox Island, is one of the most pressing challenges we face today” stated Chief Darlene Bernard of Lennox Island First Nation. “We appreciate the partnerships that have formed to help us achieve that goal.”

We also partnered with the University of Prince Edward Island’s Climate Land and Simon Fraser University’s Spatial Interface Research Lab on the Coastal Impact Visualization Environment (CLIVE). CLIVE combines historical erosion data, model projections of sea-level rise, aerial imagery, and high-resolution digital elevation data to draw map out coastal erosion and future sea-level rise scenarios. By using 3D game engine technology, CLIVE is able to communicate climate change information to community members that is visual and easy to understand.

We are planning future activities that will include continued community consultations, development of an archeological climate change risk assessment tool, and training on how to operate UAVs for community members. Our project will culminate in the development of an adaptation plan that will help our communities improve their resiliency to climate change.

Caption: Audience at Lennox Island (PEI) attending community workshop on climate change

 

Blog Post from: Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island

The Imalirijiit (Those who study water in Inuktitut) Program began in 2016 following a partnership between local organizations in Kangiqsualujjuaq (Nunavik, Quebec), and a group of university-based researchers. Kangiqsualujjuamiut were concerned about the possibility of a rare earth elements (REE) mining project starting its operations in the upper watershed of the George River (Strange Lake). The George River is essential to the traditional activities of fishing, hunting and gathering and the community wanted to start its own long-term community-based environmental monitoring program to collect baseline (or reference) data before any mining activities impact the water and environment quality in the watershed.

The Imalirijiit program includes Science land camps (Nunami Sukuijainiq), training workshops, and biomonitoring of atmospheric, aquatic and terrestrial conditions in the George River watershed, as well as interactive mapping of land use and local knowledge.

The community aims to track changes in its changing environment, especially by involving the youth in environmental stewardship. Among other things, they are studying the evolution of vegetation over the last 50 years in the river’s watershed. They are also developing a component for monitoring the abundance and characteristics of locally available shoreline country food species (Tininnimiutait), such as seaweeds (kuanniq), mussels (uviluq), clams (ammuumajuk) and other animals that are harvested or that provide a food source for the harvested species in Nunavik marine waters. This new aspect aims to enhance the dietary quality of these organisms and improve our food security and sovereignty.

Imalirijiit intends to stimulate interests toward science, and provide scientific educational and training opportunities for youth and other community members, through a land-based and hands-on approach. It also fosters intergenerational and intercultural knowledge exchanges and provides local jobs (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Objectives of the Imalirijiit Program.

Figure 2. 2019 Science Land Camp.

Figure 3. Collection of macroinvertebrates in the sediments at the bottom of a small tributary of the George River.

Figure 4. Collection of lichens for monitoring the air quality.

Figure 5. Tree coring to characterize the tree population (e.g. age and growth).

 

 

Look at our 2019-2020 report!
IMALIRIJIIT and NUNAMI SUKUIJAINIQ – Winter 2020. Results Summary for Community Organizations and Contributors.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1WfWKju-C-QiZ9mGxe96hEYZEuLLEozWK/view?usp=sharing

Watch our videos!
NUNAMI SUKUIJAINIQ, 2020. Short documentaries series about the 2019 Science Land Camp on the George River, Nunavik.
10 minutes version: https://youtu.be/5MxC73SW-pw
4 minutes version: https://youtu.be/EUhdCs7Aodg
1-minute trailer: https://youtu.be/Qdmi9katTQg

Visit our websites!
http://www.imalirijiit.weebly.com
http://www.nunamiskuijainiq.weebly.com

 

Article By: The Imalirijiit Team, June 2020.

Indigenous communities in Canada are leading the way in climate change action through community-led projects that integrate Indigenous knowledge, science and technology. You can read about some of these projects on the Indigenous Climate Hub blog.

The Indigenous Climate Hub is an online platform, which shares Indigenous climate change stories with a national and international audience. By actively sharing climate action stories and wise practices, Indigenous communities have the opportunity to inform and inspire future climate change projects in other Indigenous communities.

If your Indigenous community has a great climate action story you’d like to share, we invite you to submit your article via email to admin@okwaho.com.

NOTE: Not sure how to write a blog article? Click here to view our Blog Writing Guide for some helpful tips.