The Impacts Of Climate Change on Indigenous  Communities

Climate change impacts Indigenous communities across Canada in serious ways.  Above all, climate change threatens the ability of Indigenous peoples and communities to exercise their constitutionally protected rights, including the rights to hunt, fish and carry out traditional lifestyle practices and ceremonies. Indigenous communities are more likely to experience the adverse effects of climate change in a number of ways: having their diets altered as a result of changing ecosystems and migration patterns; changing their modes and pathways of transportation; their cultural ways of life; and, their abilities to access essential resources and services such as clean drinking water.

Climate change poses critical implications on Indigenous cultures and livelihoods, including the transfer and use of Traditional Knowledge (TK), also known as Indigenous Knowledge (IK). Certain elements of Traditional Knowledge that are threatened by climate change may include, but are not limited to: weather and climate indicators (ability to predict weather or seasonal forecasts) and ways of learning. Sacred sites and ceremonies, which are site-specific or rely on certain resources (medicines, plants, herbs, animal resources, etc.) are threatened the effects of climate change; for example, severe drought or heavy rains can impact which plants grow and where. Intergenerational Knowledge transfers can be disrupted by climate change in the event of an extreme or emergency situation, such as floods, fires, droughts, etc. that result in relocation, evacuation, or death of community members.

Equipping Indigenous Communities To Take Preventative Measures

Indigenous communities often operate with limited financial resources and other matters such as health and education, are given greater priority which results in communities being ill equipped to deal with emergency situations (such as flooding or forest fires) or their abilities to take preventative measures against extreme weather events. This often results in greater ecosystem and infrastructure damages – along with economic damages sustained throughout the event and the high costs of repairing damages.

Furthermore, remote Indigenous communities are at an even greater risk because external emergency responders may be too far to mitigate the impacts of dangerous situations. Warmer temperatures will decrease the access of winter road use for remote and northern communities, which will impact the delivery of supplies like lumber for building and gasoline for vehicles. Winter roads are often described as “lifelines” because they provide access to isolated regions where permanent, all-weather roads are limited or do not exist. These are often called “fly-in” communities because they rely heavily on plane transportation for food, supplies, and travel.  Rising temperatures caused by climate change is a growing concern because it causes ice thickness to decrease making winter roads less reliable and unsafe.