Climate Change a Reality! Are First Nations Ready?

By 2030, climate change will indirectly cause nearly one million deaths a year and inflict $157 billion a year in damages, according to estimates presented at UN talks on Friday in Cancun. The biggest misery will be heaped on more than 50 of the world's poorest countries, but the United States will pay the highest economic bill, it said. 
World leaders are gathering in Cancun to try and deal with Climate Change and politics is the name of the game, not real action that will make a difference to people’s lives and futures. The paper LeDevoir reported “ that Canada stirred a veritable commotion [in Cancun] by aligning itself with Japan to block the extension of the Kyoto protocol beyond 2012 – an extension that would see a new period of obligatory reductions in greenhouse gases agreed to by the 36 parties to the treaty. Canada obviously is one of the countries who will not take adaptive action to mitigate the effects of climate change even though it will mean people’s lives and a great economic cost to the Nation.
The debate about whether climate change is a myth or reality is over. We are all now living with the effects of climate change and anyone who says otherwise is wearing blinders. I cannot profess to know everything but I am not aware of any First Nations communities who have a comprehensive plan to deal with climate change in their territories. I would love to hear from those of you who do so it can be shared as a best practice.
Last week I attended a two day think tank on climate adaptation in Toronto that is part of a project that is being undertaken by the University of Waterloo, and INTACT. The think tank assembled experts from many fields and we discussed 25 topic areas and looked at what could be done in each area to adapt to climate change. I found the whole exercise stimulating, sobering and encouraging that people are taking action or are looking at ways to take action to deal with climate change.
Every summer, with the threats of forest fires, First Nations in BC are trying to work with the various levels of government to prepare their communities physically for the fires that occur within the areas of pine beetle infestation. Financial assistance is always an issue and you can only wonder why when whole communities are at risk. I know the First Nations Forestry Council has been working on this problem for years, but more work is needed. Is every community prepared for forest fires enveloping their villages? What is the evacuation plan? Until every community is prepared and ready, action must be pursued.
What about flooding? Severe storms events are now predicted every 15 years now instead of every 500? How can every community mitigate the impacts of flooding? What is the emergency response plan? What I was interested to find out is that insurance companies do not insure for floods. Legally, they are not allowed to. Therefore, people cannot get insurance against the major floods that will occur. This means we are dependent on the government to help with disaster relief in the case of flooding. Poor planning on the part of governments when Insurance companies could cover flooding and that would be a rational way of dealing with major floods. Annual global insurance disasters claims has increased 20 fold since the 1970’s and will continue to increase as greater effects of climate change are felt.
One of the things that caused me to have a ray of hope is that indigenous wisdom or traditional knowledge of traditional ecological knowledge is now being recognized in many areas as a vital part in findings solutions to climate adaptation whether it was fisheries or biodiversity. 
How prepared are we for climate change in our homes, community buildings and infrastructure. Are we building them to deal with increasing winds, fires, flooding, earthquakes and other disasters? Right now building codes do not require this. First Nations should be reviewing and revising building codes so that future assets are being built in a way that they can survive these threats of climate change. What about our existing homes and buildings? Can they be retrofit so they too can stand a chance against some of the extreme weather patterns that are and will happen. I know money Is often the issue but if communities come up with a plan and bring it to Indian affairs with a phase in plan, maybe they would get support. I am not sure but surely the government has to realize that it is a good investment now, spend 20 million now instead of a billion later. Certainly if we do not push the issue politically, it will never happen. In a report that was put together for the Copenhagen climate change talks, Canada reported they had put $14 million into the north. The north of course has 60% First Nations people. $14 million is only a small part of what needs to be invested not only in the north, but throughout Canada to help First Nations adapt to climate Change. Another issue our political leaders must raise and lobby for.
 Almost all our reserves are located at or near water sources, in low lying areas. Basically areas that are most vulnerable to floods, tsunamis and rising water levels due to the ice caps melting. How can we ready for this? Are we trying to build new homes out of the low lying areas? Are we using innovation and technology to plan how to mitigate the effects of flooding? I marvel at the example of Ahousaht. They are building a new school for all their children right in the tsunami zone. They wanted to locate their school out of the tsunami zone where their children would be safe and indeed the whole community could gather in times of tsunami warnings or other severe weather events and INAC refused to pay the extra money for the safe location and the community could not afford it themselves. This is very poor judgment and insight on the part of INAC that they will pay for eventually.  
One of the most shocking presentations we heard was on biodiversity. Harvey Locke in the 9th World Wilderness Congress stated “the Enormous challenges humanity faces this century-like a warming planet, freshwater shortages, pollution, declining fisheries, desertification and unsustainable food production-cannot be solved without protecting more than 50% of the Earth’s land and oceans…we must protect and restore the systems that drives the living planet and provide us with air, water and food.” All over the globe, natural ecosystems are being destroyed or have been destroyed. We just need to look around our forests and see the incredible changes and in particular, the rapid spread of exotic invasive species that are choking our waterways, medicinal plants and forests. We need to work on protecting precious ecosystems we have left and hopefully as much as 50% to conserve biodiversity and to enhance resilience to extreme weather events. We also need to find new management prescriptions to cope with changing regimes including management of invasive species management.  People are looking at helping migration of some species of trees and plants so the species will survive. Risky? Yes. Possible? Yes, Necessary? Not sure. We need to discuss that and what it would mean to us.
There is so much to talk about in Climate change and adaptation but the most important is human health and how our people will be affected. Heat will be a real issue. Our elders and others who are not as healthy will be affected the most. Many cannot afford air conditioners. In other areas, it will be severe cold. Air quality will affect those who have breathing issues. Cancer, cataracts, disturbed immune functions, injuries and death from natural disasters, diseases transmitted by water, food and insect and animals will also be impacts. We need to have preventative measures in place, be prepared with adaptation methods and research uncertainty. 
Like it or not, climate change is upon us. We need to adapt and we must be prepared. This is an issue not just for our leadership, but for each one of us to make sure we are knowledgeable and take action to do what we can. As First Nations, we are most vulnerable. We need to be ready with emergency response and disaster planning. We need to use our indigenous wisdom to help Canada find adaptation measures to deal with climate change. We need to figure out longer term community housing and infrastructure financing. We need to lead the fight for preserving ecosystems and build relations to find support for our efforts. The future of Mother Earth and our children, grandchildren and great children are at stake and they are worth fighting for.

Latest Opportunities

Associate Vice President, Indigenous Education and Engagement

Vancouver Island University
November 23, 2021

Executive Director

Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation
October 13, 2021

Entrepreneurship Program Coordinator

Kanaka Bar Indian Band
Kanaka Bar Indian Band
October 7, 2021