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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

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

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