Individual gardens, grown in backyards, balconies, and containers; community gardens developed in public spaces; and Indigenous demonstration gardens developed collaboratively, all play a role in helping local small-scale climate adaptation. Gardeners can show how to practice agency in managing climate change, while Indigenous demonstration gardens can offer public education about, and promote traditional uses of, Indigenous plants.

Gardeners face many challenges of climate change effects such as fluctuating temperatures, erratic weather extremes, water shortages, droughts, and flooding from rainstorms. These challenges are on top of common hindrances of gardeners, including, weeds, insects and animal pests, and necessary watering restrictions imposed by governments. When gardeners recognize that they have agency as “both stewards and guardians of our environment,” then there are actions that they can take locally to adapt their gardening practices to climate change. These practices are noted by the National Wildlife Federation, and include:

  1. Using human-powered yard tools vs gasoline-powered tools to reduce energy consumption and minimize pollution.
  2. Growing diverse native species of plants to manage the impact of so-called “invasive species.”
  3. Learning about the connection among birds, bees, and other pollinators in order to appreciate how plants grow, and how gardens depend on symbiotic relationships with diverse insects.
  4. Reducing water consumption and protecting topsoil by using rain barrels and by practicing mulching.
  5. Composting both yard waste and kitchen waste. While this can be done with the support of municipal services, it is also important to consider how compost can be a source of soil nutrients and as work as a natural fertilizer for diverse community gardens.

Indigenous demonstration gardens, even in high-traffic urban areas, can highlight how to manage plants in the midst of climate change, while also promote traditional uses of Indigenous plants. For example, the Bickford Teaching Garden is a biodiverse garden with five plots: pollinator plants, Indigenous sacred medicinal plants, herbs, sun-friendly plants, and a plot for seed saving. The garden, one of several Indigenous gardens in downtown Tkaronto (Toronto, Ontario), was designed and installed by Miinikaan and is maintained by volunteers. The garden beds were developed using the sheet mulching method which regenerates soil without cutting into the ground.

Another Indigenous demonstration garden is the Na’tsa’maht Indigenous Plant Garden – a “living classroom” located on the traditional territories of the Lkwungen and Wsáneć peoples, on the lands of the Landsdowne Campus at Camosun College in Victoria, BC. In addition to supplying space for Indigenous-led education, it also offers opportunities for the study and practice of sustainability at the college. Na’tsa’maht is a Salish word that means “unity or working together as one” or “being of one mind, one spirit.”

All these examples of gardens offer local, human-scale examples of climate adaptation. Whether gardening in a community garden, backyard, or apartment balcony, or volunteering in an Indigenous demonstration garden, gardening can offer opportunities to take individual and collective action in the context of climate change.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Steffi Pereira, Unsplash)

Study after study has highlighted how climate change affects women and girls more adversely, and in different ways, than it affects men and boys. Fewer studies, however, explore the impact of climate change on gender roles. Furthermore, approaches to climate adaptation need to better reflect the growing potential for changes to traditional gender roles due to climate change.

Climate adaptation “refers to actions that reduce the negative impact of climate change, while taking advantage of potential new opportunities.” Adaptation planning can help in managing the impacts of climate change on gender roles in Indigenous communities while shifting away from victimizing Indigenous populations. Instead the focus is on how “community assets and strengths could help to motivate and sustain climate action.” Incorporating a gender-responsive approach to climate adaptation would offer insights into how Indigenous communities are adapting traditional gender roles to climate change, and possibly shifting them in new ways.

An analysis of food systems and food insecurity is one place to start when considering climate adaptation and gender roles. An example of adapting women’s traditional roles in food preparation with community-based education and economic sustainability is the Inuvialuit Community Economic Development Organization (ICEDO) educational program and training facility centred on country food processing. The ICEDO courses teach aspects of “value-added processing” of country foods, including char, muskox, and moose, to show how to make the best use of “portions of meat that are often discarded” and instructs participants in developing “the knowledge and skills required to maximize the commercial viability” of these foods. These educational programs address food insecurity which is especially prevalent in Arctic communities due to the effects of climate change, including earlier melting of winter snowfall.

The call for gender-sensitive responses to the effects of climate change is not new. However, when gender is considered in relation to climate change adaptation and Indigenous peoples, as in the previous example, it remains focused heavily on normative gender binaries, of male and female, and traditional gender roles held by men and women. Experiences of discrimination of people who identify as being from 2SLGBTQQIA+ populations, often prevent them from accessing the supports that could assist them to manage adverse climate effects, including health impacts.

A gender-responsive approach to climate change adaptation would be a step beyond gender-sensitivity, and could more effectively include gender diversity and appreciate the impact of climate change on changing gender roles. A gender-responsive approach would hold the potential to break through conventional approaches to gender analysis that are limited by gender binaries and could recognize how different people experience the impacts of climate change in diverse ways. In turn, services and supports could be designed with a better understanding of the answers to “who matters, who decides, and who benefits” while recognizing people in the way that they want to be recognized. More research is needed to better appreciate and understanding the impact of climate change on gender and changing gender roles due to the impacts of climate change.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Ives Ives, Unsplash)

There are currently 197 renewable energy projects associated with Indigenous communities in Canada; however, very few are controlled by Indigenous communities. Renewable energy, or clean energy, is energy that is naturally derived and processed from resources like water, wind, and sunlight. This energy is “replenished at a rate that is equal to or faster than the rate” at which the resources are consumed. Indigenous engagement in renewable energy projects is motivated by several factors, including economic development, self-determination, and climate change adaptation.

Renewable energy is recognized as an economic opportunity by, and for, Indigenous Peoples. The Cowessess Renewable Energy Storage Facility is one example of a First Nation-owned renewable energy project that contributes to the economic sustainability of the nation. The facility harnesses energy from both solar power and wind power, and as such, is referred to as a hybrid facility. This project was developed by Cowessess First Nation in 2013, and in partnership with the Saskatchewan Research Council; it provides enough power for 340 homes. SaskPower, the power authority in Saskatchewan, is contracted to buy electricity from the project for 20 years, with profits going to Cowessess First Nation. In addition, the project supports Indigenous businesses and trains and hires members of the First Nation to sustain the project.

In another example, the Pic Mobert First Nation (population 350) owns 50% of the Gitchi Animki Hydroelectric Project located in White River, Ontario. The Pic Mobert First Nation also operates the two generating stations of 18.9-megawatts that were constructed with band members, in partnership with Regional Power Incorporated. The project generates revenue that benefits the community and has been supplying energy to the province of Ontario’s power grid since 2016.

A primary motivator for Indigenous-owned-and-operated renewable energy projects is energy autonomy, a form of self-determination. Also referred to as energy self-sufficiency, energy autonomy, reflects a community’s ability to generate, store, distribute, and sustain an energy system locally, without the need of external intervention. In turn, some Indigenous communities are “participating in renewable energy development as a way to assert their collective rights to land and self determination.” The 20/20 Catalysts Program is one way that Indigenous communities are supported to learn and build knowledge and skills in developing community-based renewable energy projects.

Indigenous-led renewable energy projects and associated infrastructure projects, like energy-efficient housing, can contribute to climate change adaptation efforts. A recent report by the Indigenous Clean Energy (ICE) Network calls for energy efficiency as a catalyst for a future that embraces clean energy as foundational to Indigenous health. Financing the construction of energy efficient homes and the retrofitting of older homes to be energy efficient is proposed by ICE as a crucial component to both climate adaptation and sustainable development, by reducing energy emissions, and by facilitating job creation for Indigenous people.

Fostering reconciliation through renewable energy projects demands free, prior, and informed consent and financing to ensure that more Indigenous communities control their own projects, both during and after the development phase.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Karsten Wurth, Unsplash)

Indigenous weather and climate forecasting indicators offer important information to facilitate adaptation to climate and weather variability. Dynamic processes involved with linking modern meteorological climate and weather forecasting with traditional Indigenous approaches, point to opportunities for the co-production of knowledge.

Among farmers and pastoralists in Eastern Africa, Indigenous weather forecasting indicators are varied and can incorporate meteorological and astrological components. Forecasting seasonal climate change at the local level is crucial for farmers and pastoralists, and Indigenous “traditional weather and climate forecasting remains the most accessible and affordable source of weather and climate information.” For example, the Afar pastoralists from the Horn of Africa predict climate and weather changes by observing behaviours and indicators from trees, insects, animals, birds, and livestock and triangulate this traditional information with scientific information from modern sources. Afar pastoralists use a system of three different traditional approaches to “collect, share and analyse” climate and weather information gathered from both scientific and traditional sources. The system consists of information gathered from traditional scouts on rangelands (the Edo); a traditional network for secure and reliable information sharing and exchange (the Dagu); and the traditional Afar governance system (the Adda) to facilitate information analysis prior to community decision making.

Creating synergies between Local Indigenous Knowledge on weather forecasting and modern scientific meteorological methods can meet the short-term and long-term climate information needs of local Indigenous farmers to support their decision making to adapt to climate change.

 

By Leela Viswanathan

 

(Image Credit: Alfred Quartey, Unsplash)

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

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

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

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

By Leela Viswanathan

(Image credit: Damian Patkowski, Unsplash)

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

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

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

By Leela Viswanathan

(Photo credit: Filip Gielda, Unsplash)

The Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER) is pleased to announce the launch of the Climate Change Adaptation Planning Toolkit for Indigenous Communities.

The objective of the Indigenous Climate Change Adaptation Planning (ICCAP) Toolkit is to provide a suite of user-friendly tools, resources, and key considerations to support Indigenous individuals and communities interested in undertaking climate change adaptation planning. The intent is for the toolkit to be used by communities at all different stages of the adaptation planning process, including communities with little or no prior experience. The ICCAP Toolkit is currently available in English and will soon be available in French as well.
The ICCAP Toolkit was created by the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER) in partnership with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada’s (CIRNAC) First Nations Adapt program. The ICCAP Toolkit consists of the following 4 key components:
    1. Indigenous Climate Change Adaptation Guidance document
    2. Climate Change Adaptation Planning Guidebooks for Indigenous Communities
    3. Indigenous Languages Glossary Workbook
    4. ​Two Indigenous Language Glossaries

To learn more about the toolkit, click here.

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)

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.

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