Indigenous peoples have been stewards of the planet and ecosystems for millennia. They have deep knowledge about and expertise in how natural systems work and how best to manage them for sustained health and abundance.
At Royal Roads University and the Resilience by Design Lab, we’re committed to co-creating the future with Indigenous partners – not just because it’s the right thing to do but also because we know it’s the best way to tackle the enormous challenges of climate adaptation.
When the ALN project launched, we began to explore ways to bring this commitment to life, to embed Indigenous perspectives in all our core activities.
Ironically for a capacity-building project, we ran into a good news / bad news capacity challenge.
In recent years, more and more organizations like ours have made the same commitment to Indigenous collaboration and are actively seeking Indigenous partners to work with. However, the reality is that Indigenous experts are not just sitting around waiting for organizations to knock on their doors. They’re busy with projects of their own.
After six months of searching, we were unable to connect with the right partners.
So, we changed direction and spent the next year negotiating an opportunity to work with the Indigenous Climate Action Technical Advisory (ICAT), organized by the Climate Action Secretariat, a team within the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
Our plan was to co-facilitate initial meetings about our project at the CleanBC Indigenous Forum in January 2020. However, that failed to happen, because the Secretariat had to use that time to focus instead on the 2020 Climate Change Preparedness and Adaptation Framework.
Then, COVID happened and all hope of face-to-face collaborations vanished.
Still determined to meet our goal, we shifted focus again and contracted with an Indigenous firm, Indigenuity Consulting Group, to support and facilitate consultation with Indigenous peoples and communities. Our goal was to extend the ALN professional learning network to Indigenous communities and provide a shared approach for informing course design and content through integration of Indigenous science, culture and perspectives.
Working with the team at Indigenuity, we explored ways to meet this goal, given the current capacity and pandemic constraints. Together, we decided that their VP Janis Brooks would work with Erynne Gilpin and a team of instructional designers, including Beth Cougler Blom and Krista Lambert to produce a course on Indigenous perspectives that would include a series of video interviews with Indigenous leaders from British Columbia. We then secured funding to complete this additional piece of work from the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
In particular, we wanted the course to tackle some myths and misunderstandings about how to build relationships and work with Indigenous partners. These include: taking time to get to know about the specific Nation you’re engaging with, not assuming all Nations are the same, recognizing that Indigenous people are not averse to change – in fact, many are innovation leaders – and perhaps most importantly, not coming into a community like a “white saviour”.
However, producing this video at the height of the pandemic created a new series of challenges, as the leaders we wanted to feature were busy trying to keep their communities healthy and safe.
Thanks to the dedication and expertise of Janis and her team, Erynne, and our instructional designers, we were finally able to publish a powerful course in early 2022, Indigenous Knowledges and Perspectives on Climate Adaptation, which brought to life climate adaptation challenges and potential solutions, from the lived experience of Indigenous elders and knowledge keepers.
Though we were not as successful as we hoped at embedding Indigenous perspectives in the ALN project, the experience did remind us of the following key lessons: It’s important to budget the time and resources to invest in relationship-building, to enable us all to slow down and tap into the deep wisdom of Indigenous knowledge keepers.
We need to do a better job of supporting Indigenous peoples to increase their capacity to teach and lead sustainable approaches to climate adaptation.
Despite talk of Truth and Reconciliation and movements related to big ideas like UNDRIP (The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), we still have much work to do to dismantle our harmful colonial approach to planetary stewardship. Decolonization is both a responsibility and an opportunity, and we need to engage respectfully and in good ways with our Indigenous allies to make this happen.
With the ALN project now complete, we’re excited to be able to share this important piece of work, the Indigenous Knowledges and Perspectives on Climate Adaptation course, with the world. And we know that it’s not enough. We need the voices, leadership and expertise of Indigenous peoples to be front and centre if we hope to anticipate and adapt to climate change today and in the future.