Climate Change Is Threatening Canada's Indigenous Communities

Climate change is increasing the number and severity of natural disasters in Canada, says a secret briefing to the country's Indigenous Affairs Minister. Catastrophes like the May wildfires that affected Fort McMurray and Saskatchewan are particularly harmful to indigenous people living in remote reserve communities.

Contrary to declarations from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau —who said the Fort McMurray fires were not exacerbated by climate change— secret advice to the Indigenous Affairs Minister  cites indigenous communities being at a greater risk for experiencing natural disasters. This would be a consequence of extreme weather in the Canadian north, which has been fueled by climate change.

The catastrophic wildfires that took place this may burnt 581,695 hectares between Fort McMurray and Saskatchewan. The fires destroyed an approximate of 2,400 homes and buildings and affected the Athabasca oil sands opperations. The 2016 Fort McMurray's wildfires are the costliest wildfires in the area as of yet - Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Indigenous communities have been vocal about the insufficient measures taken by the government in prevention and mitigation of natural disasters in reserve territory, despite recent public investments in First Nations "resilience" and infrastructure. Read the entire post from Canada's National Post below:


OTTAWA — Secret briefings to Canada’s indigenous affairs minister warn that natural disasters are increasing in number and severity, disproportionately affecting remote reserve communities.

In the aftermath of the Fort McMurray wildfires, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wouldn’t say were exacerbated by climate change, First Nations assert they are first and worst affected by a rapidly-shifting environment.

The Liberal government has put new money towards supporting First Nations infrastructure and “resilience.” But chiefs and opposition parties say it’s not enough.

After she took up her mantle, bureaucrats warned Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett catastrophes are getting worse and more frequent over time. Recent decades have seen up to eight times as many disasters in Canada as 100 years ago.

Advice labelled as “secret” says First Nations communities are at greater risk of emergencies, suffering “more intense” impact, with climate change causing “extreme weather” in the north.

“The frequency of natural disasters is also increasing on-reserve,” says the document, comparing 118 incidents in 2011-12 to 76 in 2010-11 and 54 the year before that. Between 2009 and 2015, 480 “natural hazards” affected reserves, it says.

First Nations chiefs have declared 20 emergencies since April 2015, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada confirmed, not including health crises.

The department reimburses First Nations and provincial and territorial governments for emergency services out of an annual $67-million emergency management budget. It may also respond to situations that aren’t officially declared.

Four of the five most recent emergencies were related to spring wildfires — two in Alberta, one in B.C. and one in Ontario.

Trudeau waffled on connecting the Fort McMurray fire to climate change. “A greater prevalence of extreme weather events” is expected, he said, but people shouldn’t “make a political argument out of one particular disaster.”

Still, the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Alberta, Craig Makinaw, acknowledged climate change may have made wildfires more extreme. More droughts — less snow.

Chief Leo Friday of Ontario’s Kashechewan First Nation, where flooding forces people to evacuate yearly, agreed climate change has an impact. “I think it does change a lot of people’s lives … weather being changed all of a sudden,” he said.

Kashechewan is located in the riding of NDP indigenous affairs critic Charlie Angus. He said he sees evidence of “major risks” in northern Ontario communities, including with the degradation of traditional ice roads.

“There’s no real plan for addressing this,” said Angus, warning climate change mitigation is still under-funded. “These communities are more isolated. They’re much more susceptible to risk.”

Conservative critic Cathy McLeod said the Liberals should take a proactive approach, though she didn’t speak to the link between disasters and climate change.

“Obviously, it’s much easier to mitigate and protect an area from forest fires than it is to deal with the aftermath,” she said.

Programs that fund climate change adaptation and renewable energy have been renewed under the Liberal government, saved from scheduled completion in March, Bennett’s office confirmed.

The department is identifying “opportunities for new projects that will address reliance on diesel and enhance resilience of indigenous and northern communities,” said press secretary Sabrina Williams.

A spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada, Pierre Manoni, said the First Ministers’ Vancouver Declaration in March committed provincial, territorial and federal governments to “strengthen our collaboration with indigenous peoples to support mitigation and adaptation efforts.”

Climate change impacts are “already evident across Canada,” Manoni said. Changes in extreme weather events, sea level, storm surges and sea ice “have been observed and are projected to continue.”

This year’s budget committed $255 million over two years to a First Nations Infrastructure Fund, $129.5 million over five years for public infrastructure adaptation and $10.7 million for renewable energy projects in off-grid communities.

It’s a start, Makinaw said, but this funding is “not enough” and “they still need a lot more to get things up to par.”

Yet he is hopeful the government will listen to First Nations expertise in coming up with a national emergency management plan.

“With so many disasters, there needs to be better co-ordination from government agencies with our chiefs and councils to make sure that they’re working together,” he said.

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