Indigenous people show how to nurture, defend, and protect biodiversity while living off the land. Their efforts are crucial to the Convention on Biological Diversity signed by 150 countries in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to implement the principles of Agenda 21 (the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Statement principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests) and the current push to protect 30% of the Earth’s land and water by 2030. However, a coalition of Indigenous groups are calling for an increase of the target to 50%, and they have not been invited to participate in the United Nations’ (UN) Biodiversity Conference scheduled for Kunming, China in October 2021. What is global biodiversity and how are Indigenous peoples crucial to protecting Earth’s habitat?

Biodiversity has been described as the “library of life”; it reflects ecosystem diversity, species diversity, genetic diversity. Many ecosystems are vulnerable and require protection from overuse, and imbalances between “sharing and protecting activities”. Increasing the interconnection among these elements strengthens the resiliency of biodiversity in the world.

Current news stories are highlighting the contributions of Indigenous peoples in “leading the way” in nature conservation; this includes protecting the web of humans, animals, insects and plants on Earth, in the context of global warming, overharvesting of forests, overconsumption of land for food, and overfishing. As regions of high biodiversity, some UN Biosphere Reserves offer good examples of protected territories, where scientists have engaged in partnerships with Indigenous communities in land management and biodiversity conservation; one example is the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala. In Canada, biosphere reserves continue to work on how to build meaningful relationships with Indigenous peoples as partners in biodiversity protection and to practice truth and reconciliation.

Research studies have shown “that overall, Indigenous-managed lands and existing protected areas host similar levels of vertebrate biodiversity in Brazil, Canada, and Australia.” There is a strong relationship between building partnerships with Indigenous communities to enhance their land tenure and protecting land for “biodiversity conservation using a mix of conventional protected areas and Indigenous-managed lands.”

Protecting biodiversity goes together with sustainable development and meeting UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be impossible without Indigenous ecological understanding. Indigenous peoples make up “less than 5% of the population but manage more than one-quarter of the world’s land surface.”  As noted by UNESCO, Indigenous people need to be extricated from the singular category of land manager or resource user and from associated perceptions of what those roles entail, and instead, be recognized as essential partners in protecting biodiversity.

We, as humans, are running out of time to combat the destructive impacts of climate change. It is unconscionable that Indigenous people are being excluded from crucial UN talks about biodiversity. It makes no sense that while the contributions of Indigenous people to the protection of global biodiversity are recognized internationally, that Indigenous groups would be excluded from global policy discussions meant to protect planet Earth.

By Leela Viswanathan

(Image credit: Johannes Pleno, Unsplash)

Big Data involves gathering and compiling massive amounts of information from multiple data sources, rapidly, with the help of technology. Indigenous expertise needs to be included in Big Data research projects from the start, rather than being ignored or included as an afterthought, to more comprehensively understand Arctic change and to have social impact on Indigenous communities.

The Arctic Animal Movement Archive (AAMA) hosted by Movebank combines information from 30 years of ecological research, and from over 200 studies, that tracked the movements of 86 species from around the world using animal-borne sensors. The Big Data gives “a bigger picture of how animals are responding to changes in the Arctic.” For example, ice loss, an earlier arrival of the spring season, and longer autumns influence where caribou and the Pacific Walrus give birth to their calves, and affect Indigenous hunting practices. Currently, a web search for information about the inclusion of Indigenous people in AAMA research processes garners no results. To have meaningful social impact, Big Data projects need Indigenous communities to inform research processes from the start.

Big data projects may learn from attempts at co-management that aim to redress the historical exclusion of Indigenous people from research processes. For example, two St. Lawrence Island Yupik communities, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Eskimo Walrus Commission link oceanographic data with Indigenous hunters’ and fishers’ knowledge to protect walrus populations and sustain access to country food.

By Leela Viswanathan

(Image Credit: Joris Beugels, Unsplash)

Indigenous women are at the forefront of many local climate change adaptation efforts, however, gender inequality in climate change planning and decision making persists at the international level. Gender inequality can be measured by tracking “relative gaps between men and women on health, education, economy, and politics,” as documented in the Global Gender Gap Report 2020. However, adapting to climate change requires systems change; this includes transforming international climate governance bodies to ensure gender equality and Indigenous women’s engagement in all activities to protect Mother Earth.

Participatory processes that inform the development of gender inclusive approaches to climate change adaptation at an international scale include Climate Change Gender Action Plans (ccGAPs) and involves The International Union for Conservation of Nature is an international organization (IUCN) and more than 24 participating countries. The ccGAPs aim to “build on a country’s national development and climate change policy or strategy and identify gender-specific issues in each priority sector.” The ccGAPs have been linked to REDD+ plans or ‘roadmaps.’ REDD+ stands for “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and forest conservation, sustainable management and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.” At a global scale REDD+ roadmaps have played an important role in enabling countries to track the impact of climate change on forests; however, the lack of information, disaggregated by sex, negatively affects the depth of gender analyses to inform REDD+ policies. Advocacy to increase Indigenous women’s participation in REDD+ is ongoing, as are efforts to put the spotlight on Indigenous women in climate change adaptation efforts internationally.

At the World Economic Forum Davos meeting in 2020, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, President of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad voiced how climate change is destroying lives and highlighted the impact of climate change on Indigenous people. She noted that “[w]hen they say the forest is burning it’s not just the language of expression. It’s our real home that’s burning…Because indigenous people from all over the world – from Chad, Amazon, Indonesia – we’re depending on these forests. They’re our food, our medicine, our pharmacy, our education.” As Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim explains, climate change is threatening the survival of pastoral people of the Sahel and Lake Chad region, displacing Indigenous communities, and consequently, increasing the role of Indigenous women in developing innovative solutions to food insecurity and water conservation, and in better exchanging traditional knowledge.

Opportunities for Indigenous women to be engaged internationally in climate change decision making have been limited, relative to their male counterparts. When Indigenous women have opportunities and choices to participate in different processes of climate change information sharing and decision making at the international scale, they can draw from, and build upon, the numerous climate adaptation efforts of their Indigenous sisters who continue to have an impact on local communities and regions. Their efforts include protecting land rights, leading projects as waterkeepers, and forging new paths for future generations to plan for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

By Leela Viswanathan

(Image credit: Damian Patkowski, Unsplash)

Revitalizing all aspects of Indigenous oral cultures, including Indigenous languages, is necessary to enhance climate adaptation and to mitigate the loss of centuries of traditional Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous oral traditions are reflected in practices that transmit, receive, and protect Indigenous ideas, ways of knowing, art, and cultural materials, like songs and creation stories, from one generation to the next. Indigenous languages, as crucial contributors to Indigenous oral traditions, are constantly at risk of disappearing, due to ongoing colonization and climate-forced migration.

For example, South Pacific Islander oral traditions can “describe events that occurred as much as 400-700 years ago, less than one-third of the time that most western Pacific island groups have been occupied.” In turn, the Vanuatu government’s support for Indigenous language education in elementary schools could be viewed as an approach to both Indigenous language revitalization and climate change adaptation. Furthermore, to defend against language loss and to acknowledge modern environmental phenomena, Greenland’s government is legislating new words, such as ‘climate change’ (i.e., silap pissusiata allanngornera) among others, through Oqaasileriffik, their Language Secretariat, and is replacing dominant Danish place names for those in Greenlandic.

More than half of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world today will be lost within this century due to the ongoing effects of both colonization and climate change. Revitalizing Indigenous oral traditions and integrating Indigenous languages into local climate adaptation strategies are necessary to ensure the cultural and climate resilience of Indigenous peoples worldwide.

By Leela Viswanathan

(Photo credit: Filip Gielda, Unsplash)

Threatened by the effects of climate change, such as coastal erosion and rising sea levels, Indigenous people are being forced to relocate their communities and risk loss of their culture. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that by 2050, there will be 20 million people displaced due to climate change.

Migration is often presented as a last resort climate change adaptation strategy for Indigenous peoples, and while the loss of culture, due to forced relocation, is evidenced, it is also difficult to quantify in ways that policymakers can appreciate. For example, when the US government was unable to protect several Alaskan Native American communities to remain in place and to adapt to thawing permafrost and reduced marine life, these communities were forced to relocate. In turn, the Climate Justice Resilience Fund and their international allies attempted to shed light upon losses to culture brought by forced migration, and advocated to the signatories of the Paris Agreement to develop rules to prevent such losses. 

Rising sea levels caused by global warming are threatening to displace more Indigenous people living on island nations, such as Tuvalu, located in the South Pacific Ocean, just 4 or 5 meters above sea level.  Similarly, the Lennox Island Mi’Kmaq First Nation located in Prince Edward Island, Canada, is adapting to rising sea levels and potential land loss. Their efforts are being supported by research with the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island and data drawn from the University of PEI’s CLIVE tool to track the loss of land fallen into the sea and to adapt to the rapid rate of soil erosion. As another source of information on climate change planning, the PEI Climate Change Action Plan 2018-2023 helps communities to assess how to plan for the erosion of coastal lands; however, it does not address climate change-related Indigenous migration due to land loss and related cultural impacts.

Canada’s federal government does not have a plan in place to address climate-forced displacement of Indigenous peoples. Considering the lack of state-based government policy on displacement, even with financial investment in climate change adaptation, there is a need for world-wide coordination with Indigenous communities to learn how these communities envision their own futures under climate change threats. In Australia, researchers have reported on the diverse dimensions of climate change-induced migration, noting that any attempts at a one-size fits all adaptation policy for Indigenous communities should be replaced by efforts to develop “place-based adaptive strategies” with Indigenous communities.

Grassroots coalitions across not-for-profit, religious organizations, human rights organizations, and Indigenous communities have convened discussions to put forward Indigenous-led solutions to climate change adaptation. They also consider how to mitigate the violation of human rights related to climate-forced migration. In turn, it is vital to learn from the experiences of Indigenous peoples to humanize the impact of climate change effects and to consider how communities are simultaneously addressing the environmental impacts of climate change and the pressures of climate-forced relocation.  

By Leela Viswanathan

(Image Source: https://pxhere.com)

Climate Science 2050 (CS2050), a report released in 2020 by Environment and Climate Change Canada provides diverse perspectives on climate science, including Indigenous perspectives, and offers future directions for climate change research in Canada. The report recognizes the impact of “western scientific research practices and colonial policies” on the marginalization of Indigenous perspectives in climate change research and encourages researchers to rectify this historical practice. Guiding principles for CS2050 include Indigenous self-determination and recognition that Indigenous knowledge must ‘coexist’ alongside western science rather than to be subsumed by it. In addition, “collaboration across generations, disciplines, sectors, orders of government, organizations and regions” is highlighted. Examples from Indigenous-led climate change projects are offered throughout the report. At times, the report comes across as geared to a primarily non-Indigenous western audience intending to, or already working with, Indigenous communities. This is especially evident in statements about “supporting capacity building” within Indigenous communities rather than warning against engaging in extractive forms of scientific research. There is a missed opportunity to critique capacity-building approaches often imposed upon Indigenous communities, and to answer the question: capacity for whom, by whom? The report succeeds when it spotlights the climate change priorities of First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities, and the benefits of co-developing research with Indigenous research partners. Readers are encouraged to direct their attention toward supporting, if not funding, Indigenous-led knowledge creation and climate science that contributes to promoting the resilience of future generations.

By Leela Viswanathan

(Image Credit: Michael Hoyt, Unsplash)

The Power of Natural Capital

Adapting to the impacts of climate change requires a “systems thinking” approach. This is especially true given the non-linear nature of these impacts. Over the last two years, the IRTC (Interlake Reserves Tribal Council) climate project has reported on how these impacts have caused displacement and continue to threaten sources of livelihoods. While adaptation strategies have been largely focused on infrastructure engineered solutions, nature-based solutions (NBS) provide a more sustainable approach to combating the threat of climate change.

Benefits

These natural capital – including peatlands, forests, mangroves, wetlands, savannahs, coral reefs and other landscapes – can provide a wide range environmental, economic, and social benefits, when projects are developed (or co-developed) and led by First Nations. For instance, without mangroves, it has been estimated that more than 18 million people worldwide would experience coastal flooding. Furthermore, the First Nations carbon collaborative further gives an insight into the opportunities and challenges that NBS presents.

Using the power of natural capital, NBS can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in adaptation efforts. This process involves restoring, protecting, and managing ecosystems that are critical in the prevention of biodiversity loss. The International Union for Conservation of Nature describes NBS as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.”

In addition to the primary benefit, NBS provides a wide range of co-benefits. For example, deploying NBS in flood management can reduce flood risk, improve water quality, and aid in nutrients sequestration. Engineered solutions (dykes, floodwalls, and levees, for instance), on the other hand, provide a single benefit and often require long term maintenance.

Within our communities, discussions on nature-based solutions are happening. These discussion stem from our stewardship laws and principles – principles that have been passed down from generation to generation.

These guiding principles include making offerings to the land when hunting or gathering plants and harvesting only the necessary quantities of resources to avoid depletion and improve conservation efforts.

Within the context of our lived reality, NBS can complement more traditional engineered solutions, according to community members. Due to its potential benefits, community members have expressed the need to advance NBS around the Interlake region. However, there are barriers to indigenous participation in NBS.

These barriers are rooted in the systemic exclusion of our communities in environmental governance and management – and underpins some of the environmental challenges we currently face.

Part of this, according to a 2018 report on indigenous led conversation, stems from the fact that: “Indigenous worldviews differ fundamentally from the philosophies that guide many Crown-protected areas, where conservation is achieved by restricting activities and limiting access. In Indigenous worldviews, conservation is achieved when the relationships and uses that have conserved the lands and waters for thousands of years remain intact or are re-established.”

Notwithstanding, conversations with community members suggests that these challenges can be surmounted. What, then, is the way forward? In part 2, we’ll explore some of these.

 

Blog by: IRTC (To learn more about IRTC, visit https://irtc.ca)

(Image Source: IRTC)

An appreciation of place is crucial to understanding the impact of climate change on the health of Indigenous peoples. A place-based understanding of climate change can help to recognize how changes in the environment effect physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual facets of both individual and community health and well-being.

The terms ‘place-focused’ and ‘place-based’ are used primarily by non-Indigenous governments, academics, and planning and design professionals. For example, the Government of Victoria, Australia has offered explanations for how they use both place-focused and place-based approaches in their work. Place-focused approaches involve highlighting a particular place to ensure that government-driven or other service-related plans cater to the characteristics and experiences of people living in a specific geographic area. By contrast, place-based approaches engage with people from a particular geographic area to bring meaning from their cultural and environmental contexts, histories, and practices, to develop solutions to problems, using a process of shared-decision making.

While land dispossession and other impacts of colonialism, and climate change effects continue to disrupt the attachment to place for many Indigenous communities, not all place attachments have been lost. Increasingly, Indigenous communities are engaging in their own community planning processes that could be considered by non-Indigenous planners as “place-based.” Examples of Indigenous-led community plans in Canada, that incorporate elements of culture, health, and well-being, include the Six Nations Community Plan and M’Chigeeng First Nation Comprehensive Community Plan, among others. By comparison, Canadian municipal official plans often exclude direct references to cultural and health factors; these become the content of supplementary plans and policy reports. However, place-based approaches to community planning and official plan processes are becoming more popular among local governments for reasons that often include climate change resilience.

The emotional and psychological health effects of climate change among Indigenous peoples around the world are largely understudied, however, the existing literature attributes these effects to “changes in place attachment, disrupted cultural continuity, altered food security and systems,” and other factors. For example, in the community of Nain, located in Northern Labrador, Canada, an “appreciation of place” is crucial to understanding how sea ice, and its uses by the Inuit, have a positive impact on Inuit mental health, even with the increase in physical injuries, and reduced access to their traditional environments, brought upon by climate change.

Focusing on the ongoing impact of the current combined pandemics of climate change and COVID-19, the Indigenous Health Adaptation to Climate Change (IHACC) program highlights a connection between the protection of key places for Indigenous foods and medicines in remote Indigenous communities in Uganda, the Peruvian Amazon and the Arctic ecosystem, and the protection of Indigenous knowledge, practices, and rights of Indigenous peoples to access their lands.

Place, climate change, and Indigenous health are connected. Together they reveal how different threats to Indigenous traditional environments negatively impact overall Indigenous health. Subsequently, the contributions made by Indigenous-led community plans to reduce climate health effects on Indigenous communities are also worth further exploration.

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Photo Credit: Erik McLean, Unsplash)

Adaptive capacity and adaptation are both crucial to addressing the impact of environmental change and degradation on the health and well-being of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. After all, nurturing a connection with Mother Earth is fundamental to the well-being of humankind.

Indigenous peoples have tremendous adaptive capacity to health risks associated with climate and environmental changes. However, social and economic stressors such as “poverty, land dispossession and globalization” are proving to be major obstacles to the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines adaptive capacity as “[t]he ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with consequences”. Adaptation involves an “adjustment in natural or human systems” as they respond to climate change, and then either manage the harm that is caused by the change, or exploit the benefits of the change.

Understanding how communities make decisions can enable more effective community responses to the health consequences of climate change, and potentially reduce risks for, as well as protect against, disease, injury, disability poor nutrition, and death, which are all possible health impacts of extreme weather events (e.g., floods, hurricanes, landslides, etc.). Therefore, to reduce health impacts and vulnerability of Indigenous communities to climate change, different strategies must consider socio-economic factors as well as environmental factors that ultimately influence a community’s ability and capacity to adapt.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Photo Credit: Zdenek Machacek, Unsplash)

The Alberta provincial government has released draft flood maps meant to improve public safety, support emergency management, and help build safer and more resilient communities over the long term. Engagement opportunities are open for Albertans to provide feedback on new flood maps. Feedback will help ensure this work is technically sound. Share your thoughts on the draft flood maps by going to https://www.alberta.ca/flood-study-engagements.aspx by January 15, 2021.

The engagement for these studies is part of an initiative that developed 18 new provincial flood studies, covering over 1,500 kilometres of river through more than 60 municipalities and First Nations, including the five following First Nations:

New flood maps are available for many communities across Alberta. You do not need to be an engineer or flood expert to view or provide feedback. The Alberta provincial government will carefully consider all feedback received and will revise the draft reports and flood maps to address technical errors, as appropriate.

 

Information from: Government of Alberta, Ministry of Environment and Parks.

 

(Photo Credit: Joshua Woroniecki , Unsplash)