Indigenous-led efforts to conserve caribou, highlight efforts to sustain cultural and ecological connections among First Nations and endangered species. According to a 2013 report by the Assembly of First Nations and the David Suzuki Institute, in Canada, “boreal woodland caribou herds share the land with approximately 300 First Nation communities.” Both boreal caribou and Southern Mountain caribou, in British Columbia, Canada, are listed as “threatened” under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Caribou contribute to the lives and cultures of Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island (the continent of North America). For example, caribou is a traditional food among the Inuit and the parts of the caribou that are not eaten, such as the skin and fur, are transformed into material for tents, clothing, and bedding. The hunting and harvest of caribou play social and spiritual roles in maintaining kinship and community relationships.

Indigenous led-conservations efforts are saving caribou from local extinction (also referred to as extirpation), thus contributing to the protection of Indigenous self-determination. For example, the size of the Klinse-Za caribou herds (one of 54 subpopulations of caribou in British Columbia) on the traditional territories of the West Moberly First Nations and the Salteau First Nations, have declined from approximately “250 in the 1990s to only 38 in 2013.” However, about nine years of conservation efforts by these First Nations have increased the size of the herd to 101 caribou in 2021, and more recently, to 114 caribou . The increase in the numbers of caribou, is attributed to the leadership and conservation actions undertaken through a conservation partnership agreement between West Moberly First Nation and the Salteau First Nation. The partnership agreement provides habitat protection for the Klinse-Za and for other caribou subpopulations in neighbouring areas. In addition, the agreement aims to “stabilize and expeditiously grow the population” to self-sustaining levels and to maintain consistency between traditional caribou hunting practices and harvesting practices and Aboriginal and Treaty rights. The conservation agreement also invites the reinstatement of cultural traditions of caribou hunting.

The degradation of caribou habitats has contributed to the steep decline of caribou in British Columbia as well as in other parts of Canada. For example, in Northern Québec and Labrador, the George River caribou herd has declined by 98% since 2001. Although the numbers of caribou in the herd went up slightly in 2020, they went down again in 2022, and while non-Indigenous people are banned from hunting the caribou, the Innu and Cree Nations are also taking measures to curb hunting. On January 24, 2022, the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee and Innu Nation of Québec jointly signed the Maamuu nisituhtimuwin/ Matinueu-mashinaikan atik u e uauinakanit or mutual understanding, that “establishes mutually agreed upon terms by which Innu communities in Québec will be able to access caribou within the Cree traditional territory of Chisasibi, Eeyou Istchee.”

Indigenous-led caribou conservation protects not only the caribou, but also Indigenous ways of living with the land, and “maintaining balance” between Indigenous cultures and biodiverse ecosystems.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Orna Wachman, Pixabay)

Recently, the United Nations (UN) chastised the governments of Denmark and Greenland for undertaking mining without having first consulted with the Inuit who make up the majority of Greenland’s inhabitants. The UN highlighted colonialism as a root cause for these countries’ errors in not seeking the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples. Consultation, however, should not be conflated with or considered a replacement for FPIC.

Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is embedded within fundamental human rights to self-determination. The framework by which FPIC is legally implemented internationally, includes the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as well as the International Labour Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ Convention (ILO 169), and the Convention of Biological Diversity. The FPIC process is not just a means to consult Indigenous Peoples and seek consent about a project; rather, “it is also a process in itself, one by which Indigenous peoples are able to conduct their own independent and collective discussions and decision-making” at their own pace and using culturally appropriate approaches on any matters that concern them.

Engaging in an FPIC process may involve participatory processes and does not guarantee consent by Indigenous communities. Outcomes of an FPIC process include obtaining consent of an Indigenous community about undertaking a project, making changes to the conditions under which a project is intended to happen, or withholding consent to a project or activity and doing so at any time.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Photo Credit: Johannes Plenio, Unsplash)

Indigenous-owned solar energy projects are contributing to meeting a net-zero carbon emission target while building the self-sufficiency of their communities. Becoming energy sovereign, requires a community to build their “ability… to control, regulate and manage their own energy.”  Solar power is among the cheapest forms of renewable energy and the Pembina Institute reports that from 2015 to 2020, renewable energy projects in Canada, nearly doubled across remote communities.

Launched on November 17, 2020, the 2.2-megawatt (MW) Three Nation energy (3NE) solar farm in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, is owned by Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Mikisew Cree First Nation, and Fort Chipewyan Métis Association. It is reported that the 3NE solar farm and ATCO’s 600-kilowatt (KW) solar farm and “a battery storage system will reduce the need for more than 800,000 litres of diesel fuel each year.” Together, these solar projects are “the largest remote solar farm in Canada” found northwest of the Alberta’s oil sands.

With the Arctic warming three times faster than the rest of the planet, Inuit communities have become leaders in tackling climate change by engaging in renewable energy projects, including harnessing solar power. Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation located in Yukon,  is one of the first Indigenous communities in Canada to declare a climate emergency. The community has set a goal to reach net-zero carbon emission by 2030, which is 20 years ahead of the Canadian federal government’s commitment to net-zero carbon emission by 2050. The Old Crow Solar Project of Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation consists of 2,160 solar panels to maximize the capture of the sun’s rays during long summer days. Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation holds a 25-year electricity purchase agreement with ATCO Electric Yukon. The energy that is generated by the Old Crow Solar Project will be bought at a similar cost to diesel. According to Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation., over $410,000 is returned to the community through the electricity purchase agreement, and can then be reinvested in additional renewable energy projects.

More examples of First Nation communities who are leaders in generating solar power and who are actively contributing to the effort to reach net-zero carbon emissions include:

More solar projects are in the works in British Columbia, including a new solar project on the Upper Nicola Band Reserve in collaboration with the Okanagan Nation Alliance and FortisBC.

Through their diverse solar energy projects contribute, Indigenous peoples are minimizing their communities’ dependency on fossil fuels, especially diesel, while becoming energy sovereign.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image credit: Nuno Marques, Unsplash)

Polar bears and humans – especially Inuit – have a symbiotic relationship. This close relationship reveals the impact of climate change on both polar bears and Inuit, and points to the possibilities for climate adaptation.

Several compounding effects of climate threats experienced by polar bears and humans are highlighted by Polar Bears International. For example, climate warming largely created by human and industrial consumption of fossil fuels has led to longer seasonal periods where no Arctic ice is formed. Consequently, polar bears go through longer fasting periods, which in turn decreases the bear population. The potential for polar bear population collapse can be mitigated through conservation practices, including community-based wildlife management and conservation-hunting to counter overharvesting and unregulated commercial and sport hunting. These management practices would also contribute to “preserving the Inuit connection to the land and their cultural identity.”

As the Arctic becomes warmer, and at a fast rate, the relationship of polar bears – a predator at the top of the food chain – with birds and humans, changes. Melting sea ice results in polar bears spending more time on shore and this encourages the likelihood for conflicts with humans. Shrinking sea ice dramatically reduces the polar bears’ usual hunting range, such that the bears will hunt for food alternatives, like bird eggs, on the land. Climate change also slows down ocean currents and can contribute to extreme weather occurrences during the winter months. The wind and ocean currents carry high loads of toxicity and pollutants. When polar bears eat fish and seals, they “absorb [pollutants] at higher levels.” Reducing pollutants will help both the bears and humans, especially in the context weather extremes associated with climate change.

Canada is the home to two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population. Polar bears are a species of concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) and are a protected species under provincial and territorial legislation. Harvest management practices that adapt to climate change assist Inuit to maintain their cultural links with polar bears and other wildlife, and can facilitate the conservation of polar bear species in Canada. The International Union for Conservation and Nature has classified the polar bear as a vulnerable species.

Since 2016, the collaborative research project BEARWATCH has been monitoring the impacts of Arctic climate change through polar bear activity, genomics, and Traditional Ecological Knowledge in and around the Inuit community of Gjoa Haven, located on the southeast coast of King William Island, North of the Arctic Circle. The project’s team has developed a toolkit for analyzing the molecular composition of bear droppings, or bear “scat,” in order to better monitor the polar bear population and to support and sustain Indigenous community-based monitoring programs.

Facilitating meaningful engagement of Inuit in collaborative climate change research and policy development could not only bring recognition and respect for Inuit ways of knowing and livelihoods, but could also help to sustain the strong cultural, environmental, and economic connections between Inuit and polar bears.

By Leela Viswanathan

(Image Credit: Noaa, Unsplash)

Climate change triggers emotions. ‘Climate grief’ or ecological grief refers to the emotional response to the loss and anxiety associated with the “overall effects of climate change.” Climate change has an impact on human health—physical and mental. While the physical impacts of climate change have been linked to respiratory ailments, like asthma, because of air pollution and heatstroke, various psychological ailments and mental health concerns are emotional impacts of climate change and are often overlooked.

The uncertainty associated with climate change requires people to deal with changes that have already occurred, and with complex feelings of not knowing what additional changes will emerge in the future; this exacerbates anxiety and grief. Names for climate grief can take on regional terms. For example, “winter grief” is the grief of the loss of traditional winters due to climate change. “Snow anxiety,” and grappling with simultaneous feelings of “winter joy” and “snow relief” are some of the ways that Arctic communities express the spectrum of feelings associated with managing uncertainty in the landscape due to climate change.

Climate grief is prevalent in Arctic communities. The Inuit experience of “solastalgia”—a feeling of home sickness without ever leaving home”—is linked to the psychological impact of seeing the landscape of melting ice due to climate change. The unpredictability of the “shoulder season”—the period between hunting seasons—is a cause for worry among the Inuit. Fluctuations in the amount of snow in the winter and Spring temperatures make it increasingly difficult for Inuit to plan for their lives. With the melting ice limiting access to land and water, Inuit with otherwise strong cultural connections to the landscape are experiencing a form of seasonal affective disorder. The loss of one’s home and the shifting conditions for Arctic survival are feeding a sadness, on top of the impacts of colonialism, regarded by some as a social determinant of health.

Climate change effects also disrupt Indigenous knowledge systems and feed anxiety in the loss of one’s culture. Inuit fear loss of species if there is “no more sea ice” and loss of connection to the land. The cumulative loss of land over years for Inuit communities of Nunatsiavut, Labrador, Canada and the resultant loss of sense of place, are at the root of ecological grief, with the concomitant effect of loss of local knowledge.

The Climate Atlas recognizes how mental health impacts of climate change fall into three main categories: experiences of extreme weather events; experiences of environmental changes; and awareness of climate change experiences. Climate grief and distress affects all age groups. Author of “A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety,” Sarah Jaquette Ray notes that the population born “at the tail end of the Millennial generation,” also known as Generation Z or iGen, are “the first to have spent [their] entire lives with the effects of climate change,” and that everyone should mirror their tremendous energy and address climate distress by renewing one’s “commitment to climate advocacy.”


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash)


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