Strong social networks play an important role in sustaining an Indigenous community’s resilience to climate change. The term social capital  is used to explain the ties that connect a community together through common identity, like kinship ties (i.e., bonding), and the ways in which one community builds a connection with another, beyond shared identity (i.e., bridging). Social capital is characterized by “levels of trust” and by how people are able to secure and transfer resources and benefits of social capital through their engagement with each other’s different social connections.

Social capital is enhanced by community resilience and is threatened by community vulnerabilities. However, communities experience both resilience and vulnerability to climate and environmental changes, simultaneously.  Vulnerability among Indigenous communities is created by processes that undermine Indigenous knowledge systems, that promote landscape fragmentation and land dispossession, and that threaten Indigenous rights and sovereignty, on top of the rapid pace of environmental change. In some Indigenous pastoral environments, as in arid and semi-arid regions in Kenya, gender, age, education, disability, are contributing factors to climate change vulnerability. Resilience is enhanced through connecting and learning from the land and exchanging knowledge about the land through social networks, especially in smaller communities.

As documented among Canada’s Northern Indigenous communities, when social networks are strong, there is less dependence on government policies and on infrastructure, to deal with the various “environmental stressors” associated with climate change. A criticism of Canadian policy is that it does not recognize differences between how Indigenous communities in Northern regions adapt to climate change compared to those communities located in Southern regions. Geographically isolated communities in Northern Canada depend heavily on social networks and traditional knowledge. Currently, social capital is not included in Canada’s overall policy approach to climate change adaptation. Government policy on climate change should incorporate factors like food security and resource distribution, which are key benefits of social networks.

Indigenous communities benefit from social capital through collective action to fight climate change. Collective action and is supported through acts of solidarity and practices of sharing and reciprocity. Sharing can include exchanges of food, offering shelter, different kinds of social support, and labour; it can also involve the sharing of risks. The impact of collective action varies in relation to power differences among group members or across different communities that work together. Collective action is affected by power relations in decision making, and so it may not always lead to community resilience. Ideally, collective action promotes flexibility, shared leadership, and exchanges of innovative adaptations to climate change.

How Indigenous communities draw from social networks to address the immediate impacts of climate change on their communities, and to adapt to climate change over time, needs further exploration. Ultimately, social capital is a crucial component to Indigenous climate change adaptation and it should be taken more seriously by climate change policy makers, in order to better understand and address, the vulnerability and the overall resilience of Indigenous communities to climate change.

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Photo Credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel)

According to the Centre for Climate Change and Energy Solutions “Climate resilience is the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to hazardous events, trends, or disturbances related to climate.” An Indigenous community may improve its resilience to climate change by considering current and future risks associated with climate change, and by drawing from their shared values to influence legislation protecting the environment.

Indigenous communities are taking an active role to build their own climate change resilience through local and traditional knowledge systems and control over their resources. If these aspects are undermined by non-Indigenous and Western scientific knowledge and land management practices, Indigenous climate resilience is threatened.

The values of diverse Indigenous peoples contribute to strengthening Indigenous climate resilience worldwide by:

  • Sustaining a physical and spiritual connection with Mother Earth;
  • Upholding the sense that one’s personal and community’s well-being is connected to the well-being of the environment; and
  • Fostering Intergenerational equity: “the principle that every generation holds the Earth in common with members of the present generation and with other generations, past and future.”

In Aotearoa (New Zealand), the Māori principle that the well-being of humans and nature are connected, influenced the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017, which granted the Whanganu River, and the nearby forest, the same “rights, powers, and duties of a legal person.” Many Indigenous communities, inspired by this legislation, are trying to enact similar laws in their own jurisdictions, and contribute to their own climate resilience.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

Planning for climate change in Canadian municipalities can include different approaches undertaken by city governments to manage natural resources, land uses, transportation, infrastructure, and city services in order to mitigate, or adapt to, climate change. These approaches may also involve diverse members of the public in decision making processes.

An official plan (or general, community, or master plan), is a formal document that helps a city or community to outline a vision, and key objectives for various aspects of land use and development in their jurisdiction, and over a long period of time (sometimes 10 years or more). In Canada, cities of different sizes are required by provincial law to have an official plan, like in Ontario. Official plans can be amended from time to time too. In 2010, the City of Iqaluit (Nunavut) was the first municipality in Canada to incorporate climate change in its General Plan (see section 2.5). The extent to which municipalities include climate change goals in their official plans varies widely across Canada.

Some municipalities are seeking guidance to find innovative ways to address climate change through their official plans, and they have developed different kinds of partnerships to achieve their goals. For example, the Clean Air Partnership published a report based on their collaboration with approximately 30 municipalities in Ontario to seek ways to promote clean air initiatives and to address climate change through municipal official plans. In another example, the National Measures Report 2019, released by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), highlights how 400 municipalities, members of the FCM’s Partners for Climate Change Protection (PCP) program, developed 420 projects across Canada to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the local level. These are projects, rather than plans, that show how city-operated facilities and services, as well as local businesses, homes, and transportation, are all vital to reducing GHGs in the atmosphere.

The Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP), working on behalf of planners across Canada, offers various informational resources on climate change and planning. The CIP’s Policy on Climate Change Planning, encourages professional planners to incorporate climate change-informed planning into all aspects of planning for cities and regions in order to meet an ethical obligation to the planet. However, among the barriers that prevent planners from incorporating climate change priorities into planning practice are the lack of political support and of up-to-date information, for decision making and forecasting.

The Climate Alliance, a network of 1,800 European municipalities – large and small, urban and rural – has developed a partnership with Indigenous peoples of the Amazon Basin to address climate change at the global scale and to emphasise the importance of sustainable forestry worldwide. Since Canadian municipalities are located on Indigenous lands, municipalities might consider assessing how their climate change priorities could align with the climate change priorities of the Indigenous communities whose lands they occupy. Such an effort may highlight shared or divergent priorities in fighting climate change, and the potential for communities’ resilience to climate change effects.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), with the support of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), are looking for comments and ideas regarding current and future freshwater management challenges in Canada and the role that a new Canada Water Agency could play in maintaining Canada’s freshwater sources. The Canada Water Agency would “work together with the provinces, territories, Indigenous communities, local authorities, scientists and others to find the best ways to keep our water safe, clean and well-managed.”

The groups of focus for the consultation period include non-governmental organizations, including watershed organizations, academic institutions, municipalities, industry stakeholders, Indigenous peoples, and youth.

Consultation is being conducted through PlaceSpeak, an online engagement platform. Individuals can provide feedback via a discussion page on PlaceSpeak or they can contact ECCC directly at ec.water-eau.ec@canada.ca. Through PlaceSpeak ECCC also plans on posting detailed discussion aids and specific questions in the future to gain a sense of direction Canadians would like to see the Canada Water Agency take. The link for the PlaceSpeak page can be found here: http://www.placespeak.com/CanadaWaterAgency.

This project is open from comments from May 13, 2020 – May 31, 2021.

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