Adaptive capacity and adaptation are both crucial to addressing the impact of environmental change and degradation on the health and well-being of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. After all, nurturing a connection with Mother Earth is fundamental to the well-being of humankind.

Indigenous peoples have tremendous adaptive capacity to health risks associated with climate and environmental changes. However, social and economic stressors such as “poverty, land dispossession and globalization” are proving to be major obstacles to the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines adaptive capacity as “[t]he ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with consequences”. Adaptation involves an “adjustment in natural or human systems” as they respond to climate change, and then either manage the harm that is caused by the change, or exploit the benefits of the change.

Understanding how communities make decisions can enable more effective community responses to the health consequences of climate change, and potentially reduce risks for, as well as protect against, disease, injury, disability poor nutrition, and death, which are all possible health impacts of extreme weather events (e.g., floods, hurricanes, landslides, etc.). Therefore, to reduce health impacts and vulnerability of Indigenous communities to climate change, different strategies must consider socio-economic factors as well as environmental factors that ultimately influence a community’s ability and capacity to adapt.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Photo Credit: Zdenek Machacek, Unsplash)

Across the Interlake region in Manitoba, the impacts of a changing climate are being experienced more frequently than in previous years. Compounding this conundrum is the severity of the impacts. Take for example, as a result of severe flooding, several First Nations Communities, who are usually the most affected, were evacuated in 2011 and 2014. Climate colonialism – where the least resilient are shouldered with the responsibility of bearing climate impacts – is another challenge many First Nations communities face. To illustrate, constant water regulation has impacted the Fairford River in Pinaymootang First Nation, a once pristine riparian zone. The flora and fauna have been deeply impacted. “This was once a spawning area for Northern pike. Now, fish cannot be caught by shoreline and rod fishing anymore (rare a fish is caught)”, a community member said.  This change did take not place suddenly, it happened over a period of time – like a slow-moving emergency.

To address some of these issues, Interlake Reserve Tribal Council – a consortium of six First Nations Communities working together to advance the collective wellbeing of its members – utilised a community participatory approach that integrates indigenous knowledge in the process of formulating long term adaptation plans that are unique to each community. First, adaptive capacity measurements and increasing adaptive capacity: Sessions were designed to allow community members to discuss issues and potential solutions and for the project to gather more information. And at treaty days, throughout the summer of 2018, the project had a booth set up (In each community) for further discussions and information sharing. Pre-liminary results indicate that close to 100% of community are aware of climate change and its effect, but are convinced that communities do not have adequate resources in place to tackle these impacts. Second, Community Risk Mapping: Using a participatory approach that integrates traditional knowledge in adaptation planning, climate risks maps were produced. Community members, including leaders, resource users (hunters, fishermen.), and elders, were selected in the various mapping sessions organized. Oral stories and transect walk, in addition to qualitative assessments, were used to identify and assess climate hazards and its level of impact. These data were put on the physical map provided, and later converted into GIS layers.

Third, hazard inventory and risk analysis: Together with IRTC’s emergency management team, the project carried out a preliminary risk analysis of hazards in each community. Stakeholder engagement sessions and site visits to each of the six IRTC First Nations were conducted to acquire local knowledge and context regarding hazards and risks as they applied to individual communities. These engagement sessions included interviews and meetings with Elders and interested community members – all geared towards providing a suitable foundation for adaptation.

As can be seen, IRTC’s project has begun the process of building uniformity of perceptions/views among stakeholders, prioritizing each community’s issues, investing in capacity building, and exploring solutions.  And the one thing, though, that all communities agree on, is that continued action is required combat this slow-moving threat.


Author: Interlake Reserve Tribal Council

When discussing action against climate change, we frequently hear the words “mitigation” and “adaptation” floating around.  While often used interchangeably, the terms indeed have distinct meanings and roles, in the process of preparing for a changing climate.  The main difference between mitigation and adaptation revolves around purpose, and timing of implementation.

In theory, mitigation is the stronger approach.  Climate change mitigation seeks to avoid the problems of climate change before they occur.  It is accomplished by offsetting the causes that then create the effects.  Mitigation strategies focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced.  These strategies can also include the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.  Essentially, mitigation’s objective is to reduce and prevent the causes of climate change.

However, climate change is by nature a global issue.  Actions taken in one part of the world inevitably impact all other parts of the world.  Thus, while mitigation is the goal, the undeniable forces nature require imminent attention.  This is where adaptation comes in.

Climate change adaptation seeks to prepare communities for existing and projected climate change, equipping them with the infrastructure and resources to stay safe.  When possible, adaptation also seeks to preserve as much as it can, whether it be built infrastructure, lifestyles, or economies.  Notably, adaptation goes beyond just coping.  As was noted by climate scientists in the PEI Climate Change Adaptation Recommendations Report, adaptation requires developing a “planned, informed, forward-looking, and thorough approach”.

While we must never abandon a vision for climate change mitigation, the process of climate change adaptation is a process of great significance in many communities across the world today.  This is particularly important in the communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including First Nations communities.  In First Nations communities, adaptation practices focus on the preservation of space and place, engaging the work of many stakeholders.  Strong, unique adaptation plans for First Nations communities and their climate needs are essential in the movement to preserve traditional lands, lifestyles, and economies.


(Author Credit: Charlotte Corelli)