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Innovative atlas puts Indigenous knowledge on the map — literally — to help tackle climate crisis

Innovative atlas puts Indigenous knowledge on the map — literally — to help tackle climate crisis

Innovative atlas puts Indigenous knowledge on the map — literally — to help tackle climate crisis

Hetxw’ms Gyetxw spent his childhood on Gitxsan territory in the Northwest Interior of British Columbia, and he’s seen the dramatic ways climate change has altered the land where he grew up. The river he used to skate on no longer freezes over. The glaciers that he remembers from his childhood have disappeared. 

“We’ve watched the world change,” Hetxw’ms Gyetxw said in an interview. “I’m 40 this year, but I have seen our land change completely in my lifetime.”

Hetxw’ms Gyetxw is Gitxsan, a matrilineal society which doesn’t use last names. He uses his traditional name.

Now living in Winnipeg with his family, Hetxw’ms Gyetxw has used his first-hand experience to bridge the gap between Indigenous knowledge and Western science, and to help create a new interactive tool aimed at understanding and addressing climate change in Canada.

The Climate Atlas of Canada – Indigenous KnowledgesToday’s launch of, is the culmination of years of hard work by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw, the University of Winnipeg’s team, and others. Prairie Climate CentreIn collaboration with Indigenous communities across the nation. 

Hetxw’ms Gyetxw is seen here in a photo taken in childhood with his grandparents. He used to skate on this river during winter. He says that the Xsyeen River is now in B.C.The Northwest Interior of Canada is not known for its extreme cold. (Submitted by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw

Canada’s new map 

“We’ve launched a brand new map of Canada,” Ian Mauro (executive director of the Prairie Climate Centre) stated in an interview. 

Until now, Interactive AtlasDid not include climate change projections for Indigenous communities. Only Canadian urban centres were included.

The newly-launched feature provides information about the impacts of climate change on 634 First Nations communities and 53 Inuit communities, while also profiling projects surrounding climate change adaptation and mitigation across the Métis homeland. 

The map also features videos from Indigenous elders, knowledge keepers, and other resources that use their knowledge as a resource. It highlights projects aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, such as the Cowesses First Nation’s wind-solar battery storage program in Saskatchewan, and community efforts to adapt to climate change, like the Métis wildland firefighters.

Mauro, who is not Indigenous, said it was important for him as a geographer to help put Indigenous communities on the map — literally in some cases — and work toward reconciliation. 

“It’s a massive contribution from Indigenous communities to all of Canada … to think about a different way of approaching this hugely complex issue that is grounded in that millennia-old yet current and modern Indigenous wisdom,” he said.

WATCH | How the Indigenous knowledges section of the Climate Atlas works: 

Not just about the past, but also about indigenous knowledge

This unique approach shows how Indigenous and Western climate change science can complement each other. It is the embodiment of what Hetxw’ms Gyetxw calls two-eyed sighting. 

“Through one eye you’re looking at the world through the Western sciences and the other eye you’re looking through traditional knowledges … you’re taking all perspectives and you’re seeing the world as it truly is, not just in one segmented way.”

Hetxw’ms Gyetxw stated that Indigenous knowledge is often viewed as a relic of the past or confined to topics such as hunting and fishing. He hopes that this tool will help Canadians see a bigger picture.

He said, “Indigenous knowledge covers everything.” It includes the weather and what the future holds. We consider the ecology, biology, and everything else about our lands.

Cowessess First Nation members on wind-solar battery storage project:| Cowessess First Nation members on wind-solar battery storage project: 

 

The project was funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Assembly of First Nations, and the Métis National Council. 

Cassidy Caron, President of the Métis National Council, described climate change as “one of the greatest challenges of our time” and said Métis hunters are having to travel further to find caribou, forest fires are destroying traditional traplines and families are struggling to put food on the table due to the rise in food prices and limited access to traditional foods.

A statement from federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault said the Climate Atlas “demonstrates how climate research and Indigenous knowledge can be combined to advance reconciliation, climate preparedness and environmental protection.”

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Moving beyond the “paralysis of analysis”

Siila Watt–Cloutier, an Inuk climate advocate, said that climate change is dramatically altering many aspects life for Inuit. This includes how they navigate thinned ice when they hunt or fish. (Simon Fraser University).

Siila Watt-Cloutier was an Inuk climate advocate and was a key partner in developing the Indigenous content on Climate Atlas. 

She said that climate change has had a dramatic effect on the daily lives and livelihoods of Inuit. Even experienced hunters have had to fall through because of the thinning ice. The thawing permafrost has hurt infrastructure — leading to airport runways buckling and in some cases, homes built on stilts warping.

According to projections from the Climate Atlas, her home town of Kuujjuaq in Nunavik, an autonomous region of Northern Quebec, is expected to have an average of 40 fewer days a year where temperatures drop below 0 C by the end of the century, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at the same rate. These higher temperatures would greatly impact the Inuit community where life depends on the ice. 

But instead of only seeing Indigenous people as victims of climate change, Watt-Cloutier said it’s time for the world to look to them as problem solvers.

“We are the inventors of the kayak, the boat that is copied worldwide. We can build homes out of snow that are warm enough to give birth. This is ingenuity architecture at its very best,” said Watt-Cloutier, who is an officer of the Order of Canada and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. 

She said that much of the world seems stuck in a “paralysis analysis” when it is about addressing the climate crisis. But that Inuits and other Indigenous people can help to lead.

“We want be there at the table negotiating. We want to share with the world what is happening, and how we can move forward.

“We have much we can give and much to offer. I believe that the West needs Indigenous wisdom to heal, understand, and get back to creating a more sustainable world. The world needs Indigenous knowledge. 

Indigenous people are looking for solutions to a planet that is in peril| Looking to Indigenous people for solutions to a planet in peril: 

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