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Ottawa must work with Indigenous communities to mitigate climate disasters, experts say

Canada’s First Nations and Indigenous communities need more support from the federal government to deal with future climate change-related disasters, according to a new report on Canada’s Disaster Resilience.

While people living in these communities are more likely to experience climate-related disasters, experts say not enough is being done to help them plan and prepare as weather conditions in Canada become more severe. extremes.

“The nations I work with often feel like they are being ignored or left behind,” said Amy Cardinal Christianson, a researcher with the Canadian Forest Service who studies the effects of wildfires on Indigenous communities.

Christianson, who is Métis from Treaty 8 territory in Alberta, said Indigenous communities facing an increased risk of wildfires and other natural disasters say they are being overlooked by the government.

“Most felt that if they had the resources, they could provide better support and a better response in their communities,” she said.

Christianson’s findings are supported by a new report, prepared by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) at the request of Public Safety Canada and released this week.

The report, which examines Canada’s ability to manage natural disasters, says governments are not making good use of Indigenous knowledge and practices that could mitigate climate events such as fires and floods.

“Nowhere is this more urgent than supporting indigenous communities in disaster preparedness and resilience,” the report says, arguing that Canada needs to strengthen local infrastructure and practices.

The threat of climate-related disasters is expected to increase in the near future as Canada’s climate warms faster than the global average, causing more extreme and unpredictable weather conditions.

Research shows that Indigenous communities in Canada will be disproportionately affected, in part because they are often rural and remote.

Fire researcher Amy Cardinal Christianson said indigenous communities lack the resources they need to protect themselves from natural disasters. (SRC)

According to Natural Resources Canada, predominantly Indigenous communities accounted for 48% of communities evacuated due to forest fires between 1980 and 2021, even though Indigenous people make up only 5% of Canada’s population.

“Our research shows that there has to be adaptation for these communities to be able to safely prepare for and respond to these events,” Christianson said.

Indigenous Services Canada provides funding and support to help Indigenous communities cope with the effects of climate change, but experts say accessing these programs can be difficult.

“It is difficult for an outside user to be able to follow, know and understand all of these different programs,” said Scott Vaughan, senior researcher at the International Institute for Sustainable Development who chaired the CCA report.

The report found that indigenous communities often have the know-how to protect themselves from emergencies, but “lack the resources or the authority to take effective action”.

In a statement to CBC News, Indigenous Services Canada highlighted a federal investment of $ 259 million over five years “to strengthen the capacity of First Nations to prepare for, respond to and mitigate emergency threats.”

The agency also cited $ 100 million of investments from 2016 to the end of 2021 for 89 climate-related infrastructure projects, such as dikes, levees and erosion control. The government claims that 54 of these projects have been completed.

Communities describe a “paternalistic” government approach

Beyond calls for more funding and more accessible programs, experts say the federal government needs to make fundamental changes to the way it interacts with and supports Indigenous communities.

“Many of the complaints were more about a paternalistic government relationship with communities,” Christianson said of his research.

She said people described “government agencies wanting to help and basically not listening to local opinion or local needs.”

Vaughan said Ottawa needs to take a more collaborative and inclusive approach to helping communities prepare for climate change – ideally one that builds on Indigenous knowledge and practices while empowering communities to lead the work of mitigation.

“It’s not so much a warrant. It’s a practice,” he said. “How can you examine indigenous knowledge in a way that can better inform practices? “

Long-established Indigenous practices such as “cultural burning” – low-intensity controlled fires that can reduce the intensity of unplanned forest fires – are among the mitigation strategies that could be used more widely, the report says. .

Christianson said the cultural burn has been largely phased out due to government regulations.