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Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources - Interweaving Western Science With Indigenous Knowledge To Further Environmental Adaptation

Collaboration. Leadership. Environmental change. These characteristics are embodied by the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources, an organization supporting community-led and community-championed projects informed by Indigenous and Western knowledge lenses.

We can gather information about climate change from numerous streams. For example, the scientific community is well-versed with data-driven facts about shifting seasons, risk assessments and changing habitats. However, Indigenous peoples and communities have witnessed the changes and the impacts that need to be addressed through oral histories and lived experiences. At CIER, these two arenas aren’t separate at all; they are married together to create effective climate initiatives. We spoke to Richard Farthing-Nichol, a CIER project manager, and Laren Bill, a former CIER student-now-turned preferred consultant, about how Indigenous Knowledge plays a pivotal role in community climate change adaptation.

“[Indigenous Knowledge] contributes a broader perspective on the issue and climate change needs creative solutions—needs a diversity of approaches. The more we can rely on different types of knowledge, worldviews and knowledge systems, I think the better off we will be.” - Richard Farthing-Nichol

Community: The Foundation of CIER’s Climate Adaptation Model

This Indigenous-directed National- organization which is based in Winnipeg has completed countless projects ranging from energy planning to water governance to protecting biodiversity. But the common thread running through each project and partnership CIER undertakes is the importance of centering the community in the solutions and the action. As Richard tells us, “everything we do is underlined by the ethos that the projects are community-led”.

So why is centring communities critical to adapting to a changing climate?

Simply put, communities hold a wealth of knowledge. In Indigenous communities, sheer proximity to the land and reliance on the climate is critical when noticing the minute changes that signify bigger and perhaps invisible changes are taking place. For example, Laren explains in many Northern Indigenous communities, generations of living off the land have equipped Elders with an awareness that changing weather patterns now make it a lot harder for people in their community to predict the thickness of the ice. Identifying these issues can then lead to a quicker, more effective, and more targeted solution.

When a project is community-led, the community can target specific issues of concern while building capacity among community members to address them. Richard highlights the importance of listening to and partnering with communities, “taking a back seat or a supporting role with the people from the community [they’re] working with.”

Bringing Two Worldviews Together: How The Collaborative Leadership Initiative Fosters Climate Adaptation

The Collaborative Leadership Initiative (CLI) is one of CIER’s most prized projects. Based on an understanding that we all rely on the land for our livelihoods, CLI is a model bringing together leaders from Indigenous and municipal communities to work together on common environmental issues. The first locale for CLI is a partnership of communities in Manitoba collaborating on water governance and conservation. As Laren points out, what makes it unique is it’s “the first time in 150 years since the treaties were signed that the municipalities and First Nations actually sat at the same table to talk about some of these common interests, common issues, and how they might be able to address them.”

“[The Collaborative Leadership Initiative is] a reconciliation-based initiative bringing leaders together in a way they've never worked together before in the whole history of Manitoba.” - Richard Farthing-Nichol

Beginning with the elected leaders of 11 First Nation and 16 municipal communities, CLI has played a critical role in building relationships, understanding histories, and moving the conversation forward to address regional waste management and the future of shared waters. CLI originated in a single breakfast meeting and has since blossomed into an enduring initiative, whose momentum has been driven by the community leaders at the table and supported by CIER, the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region, and the Southern Chiefs’ Organization.

“We are at the beginning of the five-year project to take the CLI model of shared governance and expand it across the country. We're looking to work with different leaders across the country to apply the model, adapt it to new contexts, and help build better collaboration in other places.” - Richard Farthing-Nichol

You can watch CIER’s documentary about CLI and its successes, as well as learn how your community can get involved, on CIER’s website.

Housing, Services, Poverty: Indigenous Communities Face More Than Climate Challenges

There have been many exciting advancements and adaptations when addressing climate change across Canadian communities. In Indigenous communities, in particular, addressing climate impacts requires taking a variety of persisting challenges unique to Indigenous communities into consideration.

The remoteness of some Indigenous homes is part of these unique challenges, including

  • Reliance on ice roads, which are less predictable as the weather warms

  • The higher costs of utilities and food, especially in communities that live further north

  • Persistent, long-term housing crises, which leave families vulnerable to shifting elements

  • Changing weather patterns, which alter the availability of water sources, country foods, and medicines

The legacy of colonization has stationed many Indigenous communities in marginalized areas, where they have less access to their traditional lands and livelihoods. Often, these areas are more susceptible to natural disasters such as flooding. For example, Peguis First Nation traditionally lived on the lands near Selkirk, but have since been moved nearly two hours north of Winnipeg. It was in this new location where the Nation was displaced due to dangerous water levels and damaged infrastructure during Manitoba’s widespread flooding in May 2022.

“Peguis First Nation had to evacuate over 2000 people and 45% of those were children or youth.They were being displaced from their communities and their homes, and this disrupted their lives entirely. How do these children continue their education, finish their school year in a good way?” - Laren Bill

A Continued Story of Resilience

Despite many of the enduring and unique challenges faced by Indigenous communities, the resilience and strength of these communities must be acknowledged.

For example, when Peguis First Nation was flooded, “they did an amazing job and they continued to find housing or accommodations for all of their members”, Laren explains. Moreover, land-based knowledge and oral history are continuously recognized as valuable resources and contributions to the climate adaptation discussion.

By honouring and including Indigenous Knowledge in their projects, CIER is helping build capacity and recognize the resilience of their partners.

“Having worked with communities for over 20 years, capacity building is always needed, always going to be needed.” - Laren Bill

Capacity building translates to connecting with the local youth and encouraging them to expand the knowledge and skills available to the community. “It's a super important piece for making sure there's intergenerational knowledge transfer. It is also critical to help ensure the sustainability of the work we're doing,” Richard explains.

How CIER Honours Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous Knowledge is increasingly respected for its role in contributing to the climate adaptation discussion. It is also critical that this wisdom is used in a way that fosters relationship-building and reconciliation. At CIER, they honour Indigenous Knowledge by:

  • Ensuring direct community involvement and leadership in projects

  • Engaging Elders in discussions, and securing their involvement in projects

  • Approaching Elders with appropriate offers and protocols

  • Having in-person, outdoor meetings to facilitate connection

For more information about the various workshops CIER offers to support your community or organization, visit their website.

More Notable Projects: Engaging, Collaborating, and Building Literacy

We have discussed how CLI is built upon collaboration, engagement, and building a shared literacy or understanding of the world around us. CIER’s work does not stop there. Keep reading to learn what other initiatives CIER has been instrumental in supporting.

Shining Lights Energy Literacy And Language - Northwest Territories

Energy literacy is a key component of achieving energy efficiency. As a preferred consultant, Laren was able to share the intention and activities of the Shining Lights Energy Literacy and Language program.

“The program included working with some of the youth and individuals from surrounding Yellowknife. We brought them together over a three-day workshop to educate champions from each of the communities about energy literacy.” - Laren Bill

Electricity rates are higher in the Northwest Territories than anywhere else in Canada. Therefore, it was critical to build a firm understanding of how to understand energy efficiency, and what energy-efficient practices people could implement.

Some energy-efficient practices include:

  • Insulating outlets

  • Covering windows with plastic

  • Using electricity alternatives to heat the home

  • Understanding the value of solar

  • Increasing knowledge about biofuels

Check out the project's info graphics:

Save Energy, Money and the Planet - Shining Lights Poster
Download PDF • 939KB

Sharing Savings - Shining Lights Poster
Download PDF • 1.01MB

Engaging Community In Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation

CIER is currently working with Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation (SBOFN) to develop a climate change adaptation plan and take action to enhance the climate resilience of the community.

By consulting Elders and members of the community, SBOFN and CIER staff have fostered and built relationships that were instrumental in moving forward with the planning process. Good community engagement helped identify tree planting as a key priority of community members, and community members and Elders alike were able to specify and brainstorm locations where more trees should be planted. Hundreds of trees were planted around the community in the spring of 2022, and thousands more are planned in the coming year.

This process was informed by CIER’s Indigenous Climate Change Adaptation Planning Toolkit, a free guide for anyone interested in undertaking the climate adaptation process themselves.

CIER: A Shared Path Forward

Climate adaptation is a rocky road. Likewise, there is no easy path to reconciliation. But CIER pursues both with their organization's vision and actions. The organization aligns climate adaptation and reconciliation on a shared path forward by centering Indigenous Knowledge and experiences in finding solutions, bringing Indigenous and non-indigenous communities together over common governance issues, and building resilience capacity among generations. On this path, both Indigenous Knowledge and Western science have critical roles to play. As climate adaptation rises to the forefront of the conversation, it is tools and initiatives supported by CIER that enable communities to take control of their own climate future.

Introducing Rural Showcase...

A dynamic network of resilience leaders are working in and among rural communities across Canada. Resilient Rurals' Rural Showcase highlights the prominent champions channelling their expertise and passion to empower rural communities, advance climate adaptation and enhance the local environment.

Connect with local leaders, hear their stories and learn from their expertise.

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