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

Indigenous Local Knowledge (ILK) is a combined term that reflects Indigenous knowledge, based on cultural practices, and local knowledge, rooted in local contexts and experiences. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of the United Nations responsible for evaluating the “science of climate change,” has noted that ILK is crucial to enabling communities to adapt to climate change, and that ILK is also under threat worldwide.

As a vital resource for responding to climate change, ILK is threatened by:

  1. the speed of climate change impacts outpacing the incremental application of ILK.
  2. a combination of processes, including rapid urbanization, the expansion of formalized education, economic diversification, and the adoption of new technologies which shift the focus away from agriculture, and may ‘disrupt’ how ILK is traditionally passed from one generation to the next.
  3. how the acquisition of land at a large scale, to promote mass food production, can minimize local and small scale economies in favour of the global economy.

Embedding ILK practices into local institutions can help policy decision makers to understand climate change effects on Indigenous communities in diverse locations across the world, especially where there is no formal scientific data being collected. According to the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C (SR15), climate change experts have found that ILK can provide accurate baselines for environmental processes, such as global warming, changes to weather, water quality, and landscape degradation.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

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

After completing a Rural Waterline Feasibility Study in 2017 and an On-Reserve Source Water Protection Plan in 2018, the Saddle Lake Cree Nation retained Urban Systems Ltd. to complete a Climate Change and Source Water Vulnerability Assessment of the Nation’s water source, Saddle Lake, to understand the viability of the Nation’s water supply under impacts from climate change, and increased water demand due to population and economic growth. In October 2019, the Climate Change and Source Water Vulnerability Assessment was released.

Saddle Lake Cree Nation began this project by engaging our youth, elders and general membership in a dialogue about water, climate change and perceived adaptability to address water security. In past projects we have engaged our community in a similar way but have found it difficult to extend the results of the engagement and the project itself beyond those in attendance at the sessions. Because we are a community that traditionally shares knowledge through oral teachings, the idea of documenting the project in a video was proposed. The scope of this project included community engagement sessions, projecting future climate change events related to Saddle Lake, a water quantity assessment, a water quality assessment, and a documentary with the intention that this video will be used to educate our members about our impact assessment of climate change on our ability to fulfill our growing community’s basic need for water, as well as our efforts to preserve the lands, resources and culture of our people.

The community engagement sessions brought forward knowledge that validated historical hydrological modeling which informed future climate change projections. The Assessment revealed that increasing temperatures will magnify the negative impacts associated with contaminants entering the lake. To protect Saddle Lake from such impacts, the Saddle Lake Cree Nation recognized the need to implement the strategic plan previously identified in their 2017 Protection Plan. The Assessment found that Saddle Lake water levels are expected to increase, ensuring adequate water quantity for the community. Another outcome of the Assessment revealed that the water treatment plant is equipped to handle changes in water quality however additional funding is required to invest in the water treatment system and to train the next generation of operators (a vulnerability noted by this study).

Overall, the Assessment revealed that Saddle Lake will remain a viable long-term water source for the community. However, due to the importance of Saddle Lake as a water source for the community, a number of adaptation strategies were outlined for consideration and implementation to increase the resiliency of Saddle Lake and to ensure the continued supply of clean drinking water to the community. These adaptation strategies included:

  • Implementation of a buffer zone around the lake
  • Raising awareness of the Source Water Protection Plan in the community
  • Eliminate wastewater outfalls around the lake
  • Development of a water quality monitoring program
  • Development of a formal Water Treatment Plan performance monitoring program
  • Development of user-friendly summaries of day to day operations
  • Development of a standard operating procedures for the Water Treatment Plant
  • Confirmation that pathogen reduction recommendations are being met
  • Assessment of the environmental impacts of the Water Treatment Plant residual disposal
  • Hiring of an additional Water Treatment Plant operator
  • Conduct a full analysis of operations and maintenance costs for the Water Treatment Plant
  • Conduct a cost benefit analysis of continuing to operate and maintain the Water Treatment Plant
  • Completion of floodplain mapping for the lake
  • Investigation of the influence of neighboring communities and beaver damns on the inflow to Saddle Lake
  • Collect a depth profile of Saddle Lake to improve the understanding of the lake’s storage volume
  • Continue to pursue the rural waterline expansion project to improve water delivery to our homes
  • Engagement with the youth on source water protection, water treatment, and climate change
  • Conduction of a feasibility study for developing an emergency back-up water supply
  • Decommissioning of old groundwater wells

By commissioning the Climate Change and Source Water Vulnerability Assessment, the Saddle Lake Cree Nation were able to gain a better understanding of the future of their water supply, Saddle Lake, under climate change and could begin developing plans on how to address such changes.

Saddle Lake Water Treatment Plant

Figure 1. Saddle Lake Water Treatment Plant

 

Blog Article by: Saddle Lake Cree Nation

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 community of Kahnawà:ke has observed erosion of the natural shoreline over the years, with particularly high-water levels and flooding in 2017. The shoreline and flood levels have also been impacted by interventions in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence, including construction of the seaway. With increased variability in weather patterns as a result of climate change, the community has identified a need to plan for rising water levels and shoreline erosion. In the Kahnawà:ke community, erosion & flooding poses a particular threat to houses & properties located directly on the shoreline, but also to fishing & recreation areas and a secondary drinking water inlet pipe location. We proposed to undertake a project that included a shoreline vulnerability assessment with an emphasis on the impact of climate change on shoreline erosion and flooding along the natural shoreline of the St. Lawrence River within the community of Kahnawà:ke.

We partnered with Shoreplan Engineering and with community members to complete the shoreline vulnerability assessment. Shoreplan conducted a technical coastal engineering assessment which included compiling existing data, completing a review of current & historic orthoimagery, conducting site visits to gather & quantify new data, assessing existing erosion control and the proposal of solutions to on-going erosion and flooding. The shoreline vulnerability assessment included both erosion and flood hazard assessments to determine the vulnerability of our community’s shoreline. The erosion hazard assessment allowed us to determine which structures along our shoreline are at risk of erosion in the future. The erosion hazard assessment revealed that the most significant cause of erosion on the studied shoreline was due to wind wave action, particularly at higher water levels. Wake generated by passing ships further contributed to erosion potential. The flood hazard assessment provided flood hazard limits to our community to help direct future development. It was discovered that a 20-year return period west-wind storm occurring at the 100-year water level will cause uprush that will overtop the riverbank and protection structures everywhere along the study area.

In addition to these field activities, we also hired a community member to conduct public awareness campaigns that addressed climate change in general as well as specifically in relation to this project. The hired community member also distributed a survey to land holders within the project study area to gauge impressions of erosion and flooding on land holder’s properties. Lastly, we hosted an open house event to provide additional information and gather input from the community.

A list of proposed options to address erosion and flooding along the shoreline were provided and tailored to specific reaches of the shore. These methods prioritized ‘soft’ solutions while also outlining the key characteristics for successful implementation of more engineered solutions if an individual landholder choses that approach. Among the natural methods it was suggested to use and enhance vegetation species already present on the landscape to reduce the erosive effects of wave action. This could include the implementation of a planting program with the goal of planting more of these local species of vegetation.  Infrastructure solutions discussed included the use of revetments, stacked armour stone walls, bulkheads or seawalls, groynes, breakwaters, and bioengineering alternatives.

 

Blog post: Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke