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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Since August 2019, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada’s Climate Change and Clean Energy Directorate has partnered with the First Nations Health Authority, Fraser Basin Council, and Naut’sa mawt Tribal Council on supporting an Indigenous delegation to attend the Adaptation Canada 2020 conference in Vancouver on February 19-21, 2020. The conference brought experts and leaders from diverse sectors, regions, and jurisdictions to bring forth solutions to the most important global challenge of our time — how to build climate change resilience in our communities, ecosystems and economy.

Indigenous peoples have been adapting to environmental change for millennia and have a wealth of knowledge to share of how climate has been changing and ways we can adapt. As such, Fraser Basin Council and other partners strived to have a strong Indigenous representation at Adaptation Canada 2020 and encouraged First Nations, Inuit, and Metis groups to submit project abstracts. Some of the abstract themes included: raising awareness of climate impacts, addressing climate change inequalities, strengthening capacity building, showcasing adaptation solutions, and promoting ecological resilience in communities. The call for abstracts was met with a resounding response — over 30 Indigenous presenters were scheduled to present their projects, and over 90 Indigenous delegates attended the conference. This overwhelming response speaks to the growing network of Indigenous adaptation leaders from across Canada who are leading innovative climate change adaptation projects, including a number of youth-led initiatives.

One such example is a group of teenagers from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories who produced a 22-minute documentary on climate change. The documentary “Happening to us” aired in Chile in December 2019 at the 2019 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. A few youth from the community had the opportunity to travel to Chile. Indigenous delegates attending the conference were fortunate to see a screening of the documentary.

Indigenous delegates were also invited to participate to a networking event one day prior to the beginning of the conference. The purpose of the gathering was to provide a space where Indigenous peoples could network with one another and learn more about what other participants are doing to address climate change in their respective communities. The conference also hosted an Indigenous gathering space at the conference venue. This space was available to Indigenous participants to gather, reflect, share, network, practice and celebrate their cultures and traditions throughout their time at the conference. Two Elders were on-site to provide council, support and general assistance during the conference.

Researchers and Community looking at maps of flooding events

(Image: Researchers and community members looking at maps of flooding events in YQFN)

Introduction:

Being no stranger to threats from climate change through growing up with constant flooding, forest fires, and extreme weather overwhelming his community, Myron Neapetung, a Councilor at Yellow Quill First Nation, had an idea to help his community be better prepared for the future. Over the years, he had built relationships with the University of Saskatchewan, and felt like it was time to start gathering the Elders’ stories and working with scientists on climate change concerns so that ongoing problems could finally be resolved. In May 2018, together with Lori Bradford, an Assistant Professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan, Myron launched a First Nations Adapt Program grant to look at their community’s vulnerability to more frequent flooding brought on by the effects of the climate emergency.

The project had four main parts. Looking back through records at the Band office, and the urban services office in Saskatoon, Myron realized that the community was short on record keeping and mapping capacities, so the first step was to contract LiDAR services (Light Detection and Ranging, a remote sensing method that uses a pulsed laser to measure ranges) for the entire watershed. With this very detailed information about the elevation of the land around the reserve, computer modelers at the University of Saskatchewan were able to put together risk maps and put these maps into models that predict flooding. The community was presented with maps that showed where water would likely go if there were a variety of storms, like 50- and 100mm flooding events. Elders and knowledge holders in the community verified these maps to help the computer modelers improve their accuracy. With a shortage of LIDAR available in Saskatchewan, the University-based modelers were very grateful to be involved in this work and learning from those experiencing flooding was incredibly valuable to them.

Picture 1: LIDAR DEM Map showing elevation

lidar map

The second step involved bringing people, young and old, from the community together to talk about flooding. That involved many community meetings in the summer of 2018, interviews with Elders and knowledge holders, projects with school students, and sharing circles. We also used a variety of other data gathering techniques like drawing and taking pictures of flood effects, going on extensive community tours, hosting poster sessions for feedback on any information gathered already, and enjoying many community lunches together. Myron, University students, and the researchers then analyzed the combined data from these activities and made posters and presentations to share with the community and other researchers at conferences.

Picture 2: Community meeting with posters

Community meeting with posters

The third step involved hiring three summer students in the community to look at the emergency management planning documents, and talk with emergency personnel, such as firefighters, road crews, water treatment officers, Chief and Council members, health care workers, wellness center staff, and others involved during emergencies. These students catalogued everyone’s ideas to improve emergency plans in the case of flooding. The three summer students are in the middle of summarizing their results and comparing them to what is written in the official documents.

Picture 3: Photo of records of previous work on flood engineering

Flood engineering

The last step for the vulnerability assessment was to invite some engineering experts to do an infrastructure assessment in the community to give a thorough review of important infrastructure that is at risk from ongoing flooding. The First Nation PIEVC Infrastructure Resilience Toolkit process will be occurring August 19-23rd in Yellow Quill with the assistance of the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Cooperative, Stantec Inc., and the Saskatchewan First Nations Technical Services Co-operative.

Picture 4: Where the water will go for certain flood events

Yellow Quill FN Watershed

 

The overall goal is to learn about the vulnerabilities of Yellow Quill First Nation so informed decisions about how to prepare for a future of unpredictable climate-related challenges can be made in a way that respects community-held knowledge and experience while also harnessing some of the hydrological modelling sciences to predict how climate change might affect daily life. This first climate change adaptation opportunity has spearheaded YQFN’s involvement in a number of research projects around water at the University of Saskatchewan and farther afield in Canada, and has provided a lot of capacity building opportunities for people from Yellow Quill to learn more about climate change, floods, research, and emergency management.

 

Authors: Myron Neapetung, Yellow Quill First Nation and Lori Bradford, University of Saskatchewan

At Kanaka Bar, preparing for climate change is seen as an important milestone towards the achievement of community’s vision of self-sufficiency.  It is being incorporated in everything that is being done by the community on a day to day basis.  The Traditional Territory of Kanaka Bar is located 14 kilometers south of Lytton, B.C., in the Fraser Canyon. Water plays a critical role in the health of the community. Kanaka Bar has five watersheds: Kwoiek Creek, Morneylun Creek, Nekliptum Creek, Siwash Creek and Four Barrel Creek, all of which support traditional food sources, wildlife and agricultural activities, provide drinking water to the community and hydroelectric power to BC Hydro’s grid.

Over the recent years, many changes have been observed throughout the Traditional Territory. Community members have noticed that wildlife is moving away from the community and travelling further up-mountain, salmon numbers are decreasing and are swimming deeper in the Fraser River in search of cooler temperatures and vegetation growth is changing. As well, consistent rainfall has been replaced by long periods of dry weather and unpredictable storms. These local observations are consistent with scientific predictions of how climate change is likely to affect the region. Although drought has not yet affected the community’s water resources, there is substantial concern that they may be threatened as climate change impacts intensify.

In response to these concerning changes within their Territory, Kanaka Bar has undertaken a Community Vulnerability Assessment to better understand how their environment may continue to change, and how these changes may impact key community values and areas of concern.

Understanding Kanaka Bar’s concerns and priorities was the first step in the Vulnerability Assessment process. Together with environmental professionals from Urban Systems, community members gathered at engagement events to ask questions, and express their concerns about climate change and how it would impact community life and well-being.

After priorities were identified, current and future effects of climate change on these areas were studied. Some anticipated changes that emerged from this research were warmer temperatures year-round; less precipitation in the summer but more in the fall, winter, and spring; less snow; more frequent and intense storms events; changes in water resources; continued stress on the salmon population; changes in the availability of traditional foods; and increased risk of forest fire.

Understanding the ways in which Kanaka Bar was vulnerable to climate change has allowed the community to take meaningful steps towards reducing their risks and becoming more resilient by developing an adaptation strategy. Kanaka Bar’s Adaptation Strategy supports their goal of self-sufficiency while increasing their resilience. It maps out short and long term adaptation actions in six priority areas: Water Resources, Forest Fires, Traditional Foods, Access Roads, Supporting Self-Sufficiency and Youth and Community Engagement and Education. These actions range from installing weather monitoring stations in the community, to expanding food production initiatives, to hosting annual workshops on climate change. Together they represent a “Made at Kanaka, by Kanaka for Kanaka” adaption plan that will benefit the community in a holistic way that goes far beyond coping with climate change.

To learn more about Kanaka Bar and the great strides they’re making towards climate resilience and self-sufficiency, visit their website.

Figure 1Kanaka Youth at Morneylun Water Gauging Station

 

Author: Kanaka Bar