COP26 witnessed activism of Indigenous groups from around the world. However, Indigenous peoples were not included among all governmental delegations from Canada and other countries, and questions regarding fairness and justice toward Indigenous peoples, including women and youth, have been raised.

The Minga Indigena is “a grouping of collectives, organisations and communities from diverse Indigenous Nations throughout the American continent.” Minga Indigena confronts the “divide and conquer” mentality of colonialism and, at COP26, brought to the fore the environmental, social, and racial implications of the climate crisis.

Indigenous youth activists from around the world played a strong role in various fora at COP26. However, it was reported that Ruth Miller, a youth Dena’ina Athabascan and Climate Justice Director for Native Movement, a grassroots organization, was denied the platform to share their concerns and ideas with COP26 President Sharma; Miller was ultimately squeezed out “due to lack of time.” Sarah Hanson from Biigtigong Nishnaabeg  attended COP26 as youth intern for Indigenous Climate Action and offered reflections upon the community-based efforts of the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus. Furthermore, Kahnawà:ke sent their first youth delegation to COP26 and shared insights into climate change including those from the Kahnawake Collective Impact.

Indigenous advocacy at COP 26 was crucial to create a forum for disenfranchised voices and to ensure that Indigenous-led climate solutions were presented; however, there is concern whether Indigenous voices will be heeded by signatories of the COP26 decision, beyond acts of recognition and acknowledgement in the Glasgow Climate Pact.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Photo Credit: Scott Umstattd, Unsplash)

Climate change triggers emotions. ‘Climate grief’ or ecological grief refers to the emotional response to the loss and anxiety associated with the “overall effects of climate change.” Climate change has an impact on human health—physical and mental. While the physical impacts of climate change have been linked to respiratory ailments, like asthma, because of air pollution and heatstroke, various psychological ailments and mental health concerns are emotional impacts of climate change and are often overlooked.

The uncertainty associated with climate change requires people to deal with changes that have already occurred, and with complex feelings of not knowing what additional changes will emerge in the future; this exacerbates anxiety and grief. Names for climate grief can take on regional terms. For example, “winter grief” is the grief of the loss of traditional winters due to climate change. “Snow anxiety,” and grappling with simultaneous feelings of “winter joy” and “snow relief” are some of the ways that Arctic communities express the spectrum of feelings associated with managing uncertainty in the landscape due to climate change.

Climate grief is prevalent in Arctic communities. The Inuit experience of “solastalgia”—a feeling of home sickness without ever leaving home”—is linked to the psychological impact of seeing the landscape of melting ice due to climate change. The unpredictability of the “shoulder season”—the period between hunting seasons—is a cause for worry among the Inuit. Fluctuations in the amount of snow in the winter and Spring temperatures make it increasingly difficult for Inuit to plan for their lives. With the melting ice limiting access to land and water, Inuit with otherwise strong cultural connections to the landscape are experiencing a form of seasonal affective disorder. The loss of one’s home and the shifting conditions for Arctic survival are feeding a sadness, on top of the impacts of colonialism, regarded by some as a social determinant of health.

Climate change effects also disrupt Indigenous knowledge systems and feed anxiety in the loss of one’s culture. Inuit fear loss of species if there is “no more sea ice” and loss of connection to the land. The cumulative loss of land over years for Inuit communities of Nunatsiavut, Labrador, Canada and the resultant loss of sense of place, are at the root of ecological grief, with the concomitant effect of loss of local knowledge.

The Climate Atlas recognizes how mental health impacts of climate change fall into three main categories: experiences of extreme weather events; experiences of environmental changes; and awareness of climate change experiences. Climate grief and distress affects all age groups. Author of “A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety,” Sarah Jaquette Ray notes that the population born “at the tail end of the Millennial generation,” also known as Generation Z or iGen, are “the first to have spent [their] entire lives with the effects of climate change,” and that everyone should mirror their tremendous energy and address climate distress by renewing one’s “commitment to climate advocacy.”

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash)

Indigenous water rights and climate change

Indigenous peoples continue to take action to protect their rights and access to clean water worldwide. Indigenous water rights are a crucial component to a global response to climate change.

Indigenous water management practices help to secure Indigenous water rights in the face of climate change effects. For example, in Ethiopia, the wells (Ella) in Borana and the pond (Harta) in Konso, have been managed by Indigenous communities for over five centuries. In addition, the Kankanaey people of the Philippines facilitate equitable distribution of water for agricultural irrigation through traditional water-sharing rituals.

Water is a human right and is recognized as a such by the United Nations International Covenant Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). According to the ICESCR, “Nations or “States” are expected to “provide resources for Indigenous peoples to design, deliver, and control their access to water.” Yet, at any given time, boiled water advisories for First Nations across Canada living on reserves are far too common an occurrence; the call for the governments to be held accountable continues.

The COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference is being hosted by the United Kingdom in partnership with Italy, from October 31 to November 12 presents another opportunity for the Facilitative Working Group (FWG) of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Platform (LCIPP) to review the gains made and the challenges that remain to include the innovations of Indigenous peoples in protecting water rights and mitigating and adapting to climate change worldwide.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Anastasia Taioglou, Unsplash)

Coastal ecosystems, or coastal wetlands, are one of the world’s most important ecological carbon sinks, storing roughly 50% of all carbon buried in the ocean. They act as “carbon stores… known as ‘blue carbon’ because they are located in places where the land meets the sea.” Simply put, coastal wetlands are the world’s blue carbon sink, and protecting them contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation worldwide.

A healthy wetland is one that “can keep carbon stored away for millennia.”  When coastal ecosystems are increasingly threatened by climate change effects and are being destroyed, they release approximately 450 million metric tons of carbon dioxide worldwide. Carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane are all greenhouse gases (GHG). Salt marshes, mangrove forests, and sea grasses provide locations for diverse habitat, offer feeding grounds for numerous species, and act as sponges that retain millions of gallons of floodwater.

The protection of coastal ecosystems has ecological and cultural benefits. As the breeding ground for fish habitat, coastal wetlands are important food sources. Coastal wetlands are also areas of environmental significance and cultural and spiritual heritage for Indigenous peoples, from the Seychelle Islands to the Arctic shoreline. Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge and stewardship are crucial to the successful management of coastal wetlands.

Coastal wetlands can act as buffers that improve the resilience of coastlines during severe storms. Furthermore, ongoing climate change effects such as sea level rise and soil erosion are damaging coastal ecosystems. However, uncontrolled coastal land development, conversion of wetlands into agricultural use, and greenhouse gas emissions from cars, shed more light on human-made impacts on coastline destruction.

The protection of coastal wetlands has been recognized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) as a key contributor to climate change mitigation and adaptation. As signatories of the Paris Agreement, countries can take actions to reduce, if not to eliminate, harmful greenhouse gas emissions and to facilitate restoration of the coastal wetlands and other natural areas to meet climate mitigation and adaptation targets. Canada’s 2021 updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement “is to reduce emissions by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030” and to “[reduce] its emissions to net-zero by 2050.” However, specific action plans for curbing emissions, which should include restoring natural areas, must be supported, and implemented. Indigenous climate leadership is addressed in Canada’s revised NDCs, noting support for “Indigenous-led and delivered solutions, equipping Indigenous Peoples with equitable resources, and ensuring appropriate and timely access to funding to implement self-determined climate action.”

Protecting coastal wetlands, the blue carbon sinks of the planet will require ongoing research, policy, and government action worldwide. The World Water Forum in 2022 will be held in Dakar and offers an opportunity for countries to review sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development, including addressing the lack of access to safe drinking water among First Nations communities, eliminating chemical pollution of watersheds, and upholding human rights to clean water and sanitation.

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: James Park, Unsplash)

Change is constant. We know this, but just how aware of change are we? If I asked you whether the moon was waxing or waning and at what time and where you would see it in your sky tonight, would you be able to answer without asking Google? The moon is a constant reminder of change. Each month, Moon guides us through a cycle of death and rebirth; she guides the oceans’ tides to ebb and flow and encourages our own inner waters to pause and stir. If we are unable to feel Moon, to notice her moods and offerings, then what else are we missing?

How attuned are we with the mice, the frogs, and the birds? Do we notice the native hare turning white in the way that we notice the leaves changing colour? Do we notice the shift from hearing singing robins to cawing blue jays? How often do we notice that the frogs have stopped serenading us and leaping about? These are ways that nature reminds us that change is constant. Yet, we seldom pause long enough to be with nature, let alone to pay attention to the implications of nature’s signals and reminders.

To me, understanding climate change is about reconnecting with ourselves. When I am in a constant state of doing, I disconnect from the earth. I run myself ragged with a constant state of busyness which begins to deplete my energy reserves. As my energy tank hits empty, I begin to push and berate myself for my lack of productivity. I begin to put eating and sleeping on the low-priority list, which perpetuates a cycle of distress, and leaves my body wide open for dis-ease.

The more dis-ease I feel, the poorer my choices become. I turn up less than a friend, a mother, a partner, and a community leader, and I become unavailable as a steward of the earth. When I lose my relationship with Earth, I lose my ability to heal. Healing with the earth is a relationship that requires presence—mine and Earth’s. When I am sick, so too are the plants and animals in my care. When I am well, I am supported by Earth’s rhythms and healing gifts.

Climate change, just like the moon’s cycles, is happening. You could debate whether climate change is a natural occurrence or man-made, but what you cannot deny, when you are one with the earth’s rhythms, is the feeling of a mother’s erratic heartbeat as she grieves, or the sight of seasonal changes in the plants and animals. And to see or feel these things, you must be present. Presence is impossible when you are in a constant state of motion. Presence requires slowing down and witnessing.

To find climate change is to learn the names of the 13 Moons, as spoken by Indigenous people in your area, and to witness the syrup run two weeks before its full moon or the blackberries ripen three weeks before their moon.

To find climate change is to notice, in your daily connection to the land, that the different black birds—crows, grackles, rusty blackbird, and redwing blackbird—have migrated 2 weeks earlier than usual.

To find climate change is to watch the frenetic pace at which mice and chipmunks forage, and the intensity of spiders eagerly trying to get indoors while it is still 30 degrees outdoors.

Change is constant, but if we have no awareness of what ‘constant’ even is—what it looks like and feels like—then we cannot possibly notice that it is change; therefore, making it easier to deny that we, as human beings, have any role in contributing to climate change or any need to help stop it. To be constantly unaware is like having a permission slip to ignore the aching heart of the earth. The price we pay is an aching in our own hearts. We are all connected, whether we want to be aware of the depth of our connection to each other or not. Where there are healthy people, there is a healthy natural environment. Regardless, the return to a healthy way of being must start with awareness—awareness of what is and what is not—and that can only happen when we reconnect to Earth’s rhythms of constant change.

 

By Tawny Stowe

(Photo Credit: Tawny Stowe)

The Indigenous World 2021 report released in April 2021 criticizes “building back better” COVID-19 economic national recovery policies world-wide as largely contradictory to climate recovery efforts. Economic recovery plans that prioritize large-scale infrastructure development and resource extraction over Indigenous sustainable development and regenerative practices work against efforts to slow down global warming; they further threaten Indigenous rights to land and ignore Indigenous experiences with COVID-19.

In April 2020, the planet experienced a 17% reduction in annual CO2 emissions, which if sustained over the next ten years could limit global warming to 1.5 oC set by the Paris Agreement. The 2021 IPCC Report, released on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (August 9, 2021) pointed to human impacts on the future of the planet and to the vital role of Indigenous peoples to enhance climate efforts worldwide. However, the shift to online, virtual meetings due to COVID-19, resulted in a steep decline in Indigenous engagement in the United Nations sustainable development activities. In turn, local and national recognition of Indigenous peoples’ engagement in climate efforts is increasingly important during the pandemic.

In September 2021, in Canada, the rate of reported COVID-19 cases among First Nations people living on reserve was 3.5 times the respective rate of the general public.  Considering Indigenous experiences with COVID-19 and that Indigenous climate adaptation practices are foundational to the planet’s survival, Indigenous solutions must be supported in both climate and COVID-19 recovery plans.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image credit: Brendan Beale, Unsplash)

The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (herein referred to as 2021 IPCC report), released on August 9, 2021, confirmed that urban growth, urbanization, and cities, intensify “human induced climate change.” In addition, the UNDP report Catalyzing Private Sector Investment in Climate-Smart Cities released in 2020, addressed the importance of catalyzing private investment for projects that enable the development of climate-smart cities. While both reports point to the role of cities in simultaneously accelerating and combatting climate change, they vary on their recognition for Indigenous knowledge in facilitating and expanding solutions for climate adaptation.

Section A.6.5 in the 2021 IPCC report projects that urban expansion will “lead to conversion of cropland” and result in “losses in food production.” It recommends that strategies be put into place that enhance food production in peri-urban regions, better manage urban growth, and facilitate urban green infrastructure. Furthermore, Section C.2.6 of the report notes that, “[c]ities intensify human-induced warming locally, and further urbanization together with more frequent hot extremes will increase the severity of heatwaves … Urbanization also increases mean and heavy precipitation over and/or downwind of cities…”

The 2021 IPCC report makes references to how the combination of Indigenous Knowledge and contemporary scientific research are crucial to understanding and combatting climate change effects. The report further notes that, Indigenous and local knowledge should be considered in situations where no scientific knowledge is evident and that “effective partnerships recognize and respond to the diversity of all parties involved (including their values, beliefs and interests), especially when they involve culturally diverse communities their indigenous and local knowledge of weather, climate and their society.” (See chapter 10, p. 120).

By contrast, the UNDP report highlights opportunities and challenges for catalyzing private sector investment in projects that facilitate and sustain climate-smart cities. According to the report, “climate-smart cities are energy efficient; reduce reliance on nonrenewable energy sources; actively encourage waste reduction; and promote the circular economy, resilient low-carbon infrastructure, low-carbon transport, water management, green spaces, and nature-based solutions” (p. 12). The climate-smart city focuses on development that upholds the UN Sustainable Development Goal 11 – “making cities more resilient, sustainable, inclusive and safe.” However, it is disappointing that the UNDP report does not also consider how private investments in Indigenous innovation and a promotion of Indigenous procurement practices could also bolster projects for climate-smart cities and regions.

Both the IPCC and UNDP reports provide insights into how cities play an integral role in developing solutions for climate change adaptation. Cities are located on Indigenous lands and in Canada, approximately “45% of Registered Indians, 76% of Non-Status Indians, 50% of Inuit, and 70% of Métis live in urban areas,” as reported in the 2020 Report to Parliament delivered by the Minister of Indigenous Services and based on the 2016 Census. Consequently, any investment in climate change adaptation solutions for the climate-smart city must include Indigenous-led solutions.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Chuttersnap, Unsplash)

Land reparation is key to climate reparations for Indigenous peoples. Climate reparations refer to practices that address the unequal impacts of climate change among communities and include “a systemic approach to redistributing resources and changing policies and institutions that have perpetuated harm—rather than a discrete exchange of money or of apologies for past wrongdoing.”

Land reparation may come in the form of land or cash back (including land transfers or land returns). Mitigating land loss helps to sustain Indigenous livelihoods and culture in the context of ongoing colonization and climate change impacts. The Native Land Conservancy is an example of a land-return effort and the Sogorea Te Land Tax is an example of a voluntary cash back program for non-Indigenous people to facilitate land return; both are Indigenous-led efforts. In the context of climate-forced human migration instigated by adverse impacts of climate change, reparations can also take the form of policies that respond to loss of land, livelihood, and infrastructure worsened by colonization.

Resource Generation calls upon non-Indigenous people to take steps to engage in the process of land reparation through foundational self-reflection. Questions for self-reflection can include:

  • What are the visions and struggles of Indigenous peoples in the area where you live or have access to land?
  • What does informed consent look like in the offer for donation or transfer of land?
  • How will you learn about the specifics of what is possible as far as land transfers and land reparations?

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Dave Hoefler, Unsplash)

Over this past year, a small group of Communities in Ontario met monthly over Zoom to learn about topics of mutual interest, share their project successes and challenges, and network. Some of these meetings were recorded for the benefit of other communities and organizations interested in climate monitoring and adaptation.

Click on the links below to access the recordings and other resources:

Topic Date Speaker and Organization Links
Community Engagement September 2020 Mike Jacobs, Cambium Indigenous Professional Services Recording

Presentation

Strategic Planning October 2020 Jeff Jacobs, Sierra Consulting Recording

Presentation

Worksheet

Climate Change Adaptation Planning November 2020 Al Douglas, Climate Risk Institute Recording

Presentation

Magnetawan First Nation’s Climate Monitoring Project December 2020 Cory Kozmik, Magnetawan First Nation Recording
Métis Nation of Ontario’s Climate Monitoring Project March 2021 Ted Cousins, Métis Nation of Ontario Recording
Beausoleil First Nation’s Climate Monitoring Project April 2021 Nancy Assance, Beausoleil First Nation

Kerry-Ann Charles, Cambium Indigenous Professional Services

Recording

 

The sessions were organized and facilitated by Cambium Indigenous Professional Services (CIPS) with support from the Indigenous Community-Based Climate Monitoring Program at Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada.

 

Blog prepared by: Molly Morse, ICBCM Program, CIRNAC

 

(Image credit: Chris Montgomery, Unsplash)

Extreme heat and the resultant forest fires are an annual occurrence in Canada. The impacts can be devastating for communities and could alter Earth’s climate. There is growing recognition that Indigenous fire stewardship has a positive long-term impact on managing forests and mitigating the risk of uncontrollable fires around the world.

Indigenous fire stewardship (IFS) is the use of fire by diverse Indigenous people to assist in “responding to climate and local environmental conditions to promote desired landscapes, habitats, [and] species.” IFS serves “to increase the abundance of favored resources to sustain knowledge systems, ceremonial, and subsistence practices, economies, and livelihoods.” Indigenous fire stewardship practices are collaborative and attempt to support communities to become more “fire dependent” by enhancing a community’s reliance on fire to create optimal conditions in the landscape that support a community’s livelihood and capacity to protect the ecosystem from the adverse impacts of wildfires. This compares to simply being “fire adaptive” and remaining “informed and prepared” to “safely coexist with wildland fire.”

Diverse Indigenous nations are implementing fire stewardship practices and are “revitalizing traditional burning” to develop “wildfire mitigation strategies that can maintain or enhance cultural attributes of First Nations communities.” Also referred to as “cultural burning” the controlled burning of dead grass, for example, improves the habitat for some animal species, and encourages new vegetation. Drawing from intergenerational knowledge about fire and sharing “beliefs and practices among fire-dependent cultures,” IFS consists of a combination of “fire regimes, fire effects, and the role of cultural burning in fire-prone ecosystems and habitats.” The impact of IFS on Indigenous communities is strongest where there is also a connection between rural wildland and urban regions, and where a combination of permanent and seasonal human settlements exists, along with trails and roads that involve managed habitats for food, among other gifts of Mother Nature.

Along the West Coast of the United States (i.e., region of California), the Karuk Tribe and the Yurok Tribe have engaged in partnerships with the Nature Conservancy Training Exchange (TREX) and the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership to ensure that Indigenous fire stewardship practices are implemented across multiple tribal, federal, and private lands and jurisdictions. In another example, The First Nations Adapt Program, funded by Indigenous Services Canada,  assesses  “climate change vulnerabilities and [identifies] Indigenous cultural values and traditional burning knowledge.” The partnership of The First Nations Emergency Services Society – Forest Fuel Management (FFM) and three First Nations communities, the Shackan Indian Band, Xwisten (Bridge River First Nation) and the Yunesit’n National Government, has resulted in key educational outcomes including a storytelling project and videos from the Shackan and Xwisten Indian Bands, outlining the importance of cultural burning revitalization.

Given that complete fire suppression is impossible, fire can be used as a tool for forest management. In turn, centuries-old Indigenous practices of controlled burning – fighting fire with fire – must become part of a global solution to reduce the risk of wildfires ravaging the planet.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Matt Palmer, Unsplash)