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Beginning in October of 2018, two members of the Gift Lake Métis Settlement began training as Environmental Monitors through a partnership between the Indigenous Community-Based Climate Monitoring Program and the Gift Lake Métis Settlement. Gift Lake is a small Métis community located roughly 400 km northwest of Edmonton, Alberta and sits in the heart of the boreal forest. It is surrounded by rich vegetation, forests and many water bodies left behind by ancient glacial meltdown. Once the Gift Lake Environmental Guardianship Program began, we focused on the primary concerns of the people within the community. This started with one-on-one interaction with elders through interviews and surveys filled with questions relating to the similarities and changes in the environment and climate of Gift Lake over the years. Through this communication it was clear what our goals would be: educating ourselves and the community, while maintaining a balance between a scientific approach to research and a sense of community through human interaction and methodology.

An elder in the community said, “nothing connects us more to our culture than the land.” She was right. Indigenous people have had a very close tie to the environment for millennia. Now we can tie culture, science and education to protect our culture through the protection of our invaluable environment. We immediately enrolled in Environmental Education programs and soon we were out in the field daily. Our efforts were split into 6 categories: air, weather, water, vegetation, traditional plants and wildlife while making sure to continually have an active presence and relationship with the community. Weather monitoring stations were installed on the north and south ends of the community and the data is collected daily in the effort to fill a data gap that has existed in the area until now. A water monitoring project was initiated through field level testing. Our main goal for the water monitoring efforts is to note any major or alarming trends that could affect quality of the water which would affect the quality of life for all living things. From our tests, three initiatives were born: bridge building for ATV stream crossings, ongoing lake sweeps for abandoned nets and waste, and the continual monitoring of the water levels in our three largest lakes.

On top of taking a scientific initiative to learn about the land and climate, we also wanted to bring awareness to the community. We have taken the opportunity to be part of land-based learning activities at the K-9 school through facilitating workshops on topics including dendrochronology, climate change, drone flying, rabbit snaring, traditional herbs and even gun safety. A High School in High Prairie, Alberta also invited us to speak to students and introduce the prospect of being employed in the environmental field. We would speak on issues regarding climate change and relate on a more personal level including our successes, struggles and overall experiences growing up in a small Indigenous community and moving into adulthood. In the spring of 2019 two high school students were hired as trainees and included in all our environmental, climate action and community engagement activities. We did this not only to teach, but to instill the importance of the environment by introducing them to the beauty of their surroundings and the amount of gratification and confidence that comes from protecting our lifeline. The youth have taken part in dendrochronology (tree aging), bridge building, water testing, weather monitoring, wildlife monitoring, well-site reclamation, tree planting, marking traditional herb GPS waypoints, facilitating a large cultural camp with 7 other communities and numerous community engagement events. They have also been given the opportunity to take part in community-based projects such as designing and building the community two new welcome signs, starting a community garden, building a children’s park and initiating a garbage clean-up with elementary school children; allowing them to play a mentorship role as well. Since returning to school both youths have contacted us expressing how much they loved the program and how they hope to come back next summer. This is the level of interest and environmental responsibility we wish to instill within the entire community.

The struggle to succeed does weigh heavy on us at times and we understand the differences in everyone’s views about climate change and environmental protection. We have seen failures, but they are over-shadowed by successes. Our environmental and climate change programs are only in their beginning stages and programs like this are extremely new to everyone around us. We welcome the challenge and treat our roles as a major responsibility to act as champions for the land. We believe there is only one possible way to achieve that: to be role models among the people.

 

Installation of north end weather monitor

Installation of north end weather monitor

 

Building ATV crossing on a fish bearing stream

 

Community garbage clean-up

Community garbage clean-up

 

Climate change workshop during Gift Lake Culture Camp

Climate change workshop during Gift Lake Culture Camp

 

Gift Lake Culture Camp

Gift Lake Culture Camp

 

Youth trainees on left after completing the construction of a small playground

Youth trainees on left after completing the construction of a small playground

 

Youth trainees after finding a 1950 Buick Riviera while marking waypoints on historical trails

Youth trainees after finding a 1950 Buick Riviera while marking waypoints on historical trails

 

Mentorship during reclamation project on abandoned well-site

Mentorship during reclamation project on abandoned well-site

 

Youth use an increment borer to find the age of a tree

Youth use an increment borer to find the age of a tree

 

Youth expresses his love for a 150-year-old tree

Youth expresses his love for a 150-year-old tree

 

Youth pulls abandoned gill net from Utikumasis Lake during lake sweep

Youth pulls abandoned gill net from Utikumasis Lake during lake sweep

 

Pre-school session on the importance of moose. Included making birch bark callers

Pre-school session on the importance of moose. Included making birch bark callers

 

Grade 3 and 4 nature walk. Session on the role of rabbits in the environment and traditional snaring activity

Grade 3 and 4 nature walk. Session on the role of rabbits in the environment and traditional snaring activity

Grade 3 and 4 nature walk with information session

Grade 3 and 4 nature walk with information session

 

High School presentation and information session

High School presentation and information session

 

One of two signs designed and installed by Gift Lake Youth

One of two signs designed and installed by Gift Lake Youth

 

New community garden

New community garden

 

Author: Gift Lake Métis Settlement

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

On March 28, 2019, a webinar on Eco-Cultural Approaches to Climate Change Adaptation was presented by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (people of the Inlet). This webinar provides an introduction to the TWN Climate Change program, youth stories, and community climate resiliency planning.

We have received permission to share the recorded webinar on this website as it may contain valuable information and insights for other First Nations communities working on climate change projects in Canada.

Click on the image below or click here to start the webinar (length – 1:02:08).

(Note: You may be prompted to download Adobe Connect to watch the video – a link to the download will appear automatically).

Globally, we have been discussing the effects of a changing climate for quite some time.  However, it has been only recently that these discussions have widely acknowledged the urgency of this change- an urgency that acutely reflects the experiences of many First Nations communities.  This acknowledgement is represented by the very words we use to talk about our planet’s climatic situation.

Following the Paris Agreement discussions of 2015, many have adopted the term “climate crisis”, when referring to the extreme shifts in our global climate.  Terms previously used for these shifts included “climate change” and “global warming”.  This progression in terminology reflects our evolving understanding of the environmental situation our planet has ben put in.  Interestingly, it also shows a transformation in our understanding of how people respond to the situation, depending on the labels we use to talk about it.

Through to the mid-2000s, “global warming” was the term widely used when referring to our changing climate.  Slowly though, many began to realize that the term “global warming” not only falsely represented the true complexity of the issue we were creating, but that a slightly warmer planet even sounded appealing to some.  And so came our use of the term “climate change”.

While “climate change” succeeded in acknowledging the complexity of this phenomenon, and is still the most accepted term used today, it has proven unable to captivate the majority of people into taking meaningful climate action.  It dampens the message of urgency that the world needs to hear, leading to the acceptance of these changes as a fact, rather than a fault.  Instead, we need words that instil meaningful action.  We need words that convey urgency.

For the first time, we have a label that now directly reflects the realities faced by many communities around the world, as the planet struggles to keep up with the lifestyles of many humans.  The “climate crisis”.  First Nations communities in Canada are among the many able to articulate this crisis experience.

In the past few years alone, the increase in extreme weather events, including forest fires, flooding, and higher annual temperatures have been notable.  Habitats and wildlife are being lost.  Lifestyles are being threatened.  First Nations communities are often the first to feel these changes, through effects including the loss of traditional means of gathering food, reduced access to winter roads, and the destruction of traditional revenue sources.

This coming week, leaders from various First Nations communities will be gathering in Ottawa for the 2019 Indigenous Climate Adaptation Gathering.  They will be discussing their current and future experiences with the climate crisis, some of which will be shared across communities, others of which will be unique.

Just as the statistical reports of scientists have shown us around the world, the lived experiences of First Nations communities prove that we can no longer passively hope that our planet will be okay.  Instead, we must act on creating meaningful change, and we must encourage the development of realistic adaptation plans for the communities most vulnerable to these changes.

 

(Author Credit: Charlotte Corelli)

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)