Module 2: Climate Adaptation from an Indigenous Lens

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  • Relate what Indigenous communities are doing in terms of traditional and non-traditional methods of climate adaptation to your own work
  • Explore the multi-generational impact of climate-related decision-making
  • Consider the impacts of Indigenous-led research and climate adaptation leadership in response to emergent climate crises.
  • Examine the impacts of climate change on the social and cultural well-being of Indigenous communities


As we learned in Module 1, Indigenous communities protect and preserve knowledge systems that inform Land-based management decisions in the interest of cultural sovereignty and community and environmental wellness for present and future generations. While Western approaches to climate change include terminology such as “environmental management”, “climate mitigation” or “climate adaptation”; Indigenous approaches account for terminology that reflects values of interconnectivity, interdependency, accountability and responsibility. This Module explores and presents diverse Indigenous-led responses and actions as it pertains to climate mitigation in their own languages, territories and practices.

All Our Relations

Referring back to the AFN National Climate Gathering Report in Module 1, it is important to recognize how “the climate crisis constitutes a state of emergency for our lands, waters, animals and peoples.”[1] This declarative statement is an important indicator of how Indigenous peoples view themselves in relationship with all living things around them and the interconnectedness of all life under the Creator. If you notice, the placement of “peoples” is last in the sequence of subjects listed. Indigenous knowledge systems and approaches to climate mitigation account for all living things – through systems and practices that reflect balance, consent and regenerative life for all life and for generations to come. Listen here to Clyde and Elijah speak about the importance of working and learning with community approaches to climate mitigation:

Clyde Tallio & Elijah Mecham

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Clyde Tallio & Elijah Mecham- Advice-to-Professionals

Climate impacts to Indigenous culture and wellbeing

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The Canadian government has publicly stated their recognition that Indigenous communities are more impacted than their non-Indigenous counterparts when it comes to negative implications of a changing environment. Instances such as cost of health-care, energy, food and reliance upon traditional land and water sustenance (hunting and harvesting) are all negatively impacted. These changes implicate the socio-economic and cultural wellbeing of Indigenous communities.

There are many contributing factors to the ways in which Indigenous communities are especially impacted by extreme climate changes, for example, many communities are distanced from urban cities and do not receive adequate governmental assurance of clean and safe drinking water, proper housing or infrastructures and are also subject to high travel costs. Additionally, many Indigenous communities face greater exposure to climate risks because of their proximity to large-scale extraction projects such as the Alberta Oil Sands.

In 2020, Canada updated the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (PCF) in the 2016 Climate Action Plan as outlined in A Healthy Environment and A Healthy Economy (2020). These documents outline the direct correlation between unprecedented climate change and the socio-economic wellbeing of Indigenous Nations. Conclusively, the reports dictate that access to a healthy land-base is a determinant of Indigenous community wellness, cultural strength and economic vitality. Currently, a National Adaptation Strategy is underway and will focus on articulating the impacts of climate change specific to Indigenous communities.

“Climate change is taking a growing toll on First Nations in Canada,” notes a recent article from Human Rights Watch, “depleting food sources and affecting health.”

Listen to David Isaac Reflect upon the notion of “Energy Sovereignty” as it pertains to access to traditional foods, protected cultures and community wellness.

David Isaac

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David Isaac -Food Sovereignty as part of a needed shift – Transcript

In response, Indigenous communities and leaders incorporate traditional teachings, land-based knowledge, and ancestral memories to address and face ongoing climate change. These responses require innovation, resiliency, collective governance that also consider solutions that resonate for generations to come. Listen to Coralee Miller on Accessing Medicines and Foods:

Coralee Miller

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Coralee Miller on Accessing Food and Medicine – Transcript

Listen to Clyde Tallio and Elijah Mecham outline five major climate issues facing their community and home territories of the Naxalx Nation:

Clyde Tallio & Elijah Mecham

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Clyde Tallio & Elijah Mecham – Climate Change Concerns- Transcript

Assembly of First Nations National Climate Gathering Report 2020

On March 3 and 4, 2020, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) held its first National Climate Gathering (the Gathering) in Whitehorse, Yukon, on the traditional territory of the Ta’an Kwächän and the Kwanlin Dün. Well over 300 First Nations experts, leaders, youth, women, knowledge keepers, and professionals, gathered to discuss the most urgent crisis of our time – climate change. The Gathering was designed to act on the Chiefs-in-Assembly Resolution, Declaration of a First Nations Climate Emergency (Resolution 05/2019) and offer a uniquely First Nations-perspective on climate impacts, risks, and opportunities at a local, regional, national, and international level.

This gathering resulted in the AFN National Climate Gathering Report which outlines an executive summary of how First Nations in Canada relate and respond to climate impacts, risks and solutions in “local, regional, national and international levels” (pp.4). A helpful model that emerged from this gathering depicts three circles of action-based responsibilities in First Nation-led responses.

We should make clear that this diagram is the First Nations Climate Lens, which doesn’t include the perspectives of Inuit and Métis peoples. As you will recall from our explorations in Module 1, while there may be strong similarities between First Nations and Indigenous peoples’ perspectives and understandings related to climate change, we must acknowledge and expect that each Nation or community may have different perspectives as well.

“When the world learns to practice gratitude and reciprocity every day,
the veil will be lifted.”

– Elder Larry McDermott

While each First Nation is unique, they have a common understanding of natural, spiritual and environmental law and this guides how they “interact with, protect, and respect Mother Earth.” Their aim is for First Nations traditional government and knowledge to stand equally with Western systems.[2] This image from the Assembly of First Nations is helpful to understand the First Nations lens related to climate.[3]

It includes three components: Context, Impacts, and Action (pp. 8).


First Nations climate change lens


Take some time to review each Circle as outlined on page 8 of the report. How do each of these circles of action and responsibility differ and or draw similarities to your own understanding of climate and ecological modelling and adaptation?

How would you draw your own model of Climate adaptation in relation to the model presented in this report? (Ex. How would each category differ based on your own expertise, teachings, culture and learnings?)

Listen to Chief Gordon Planes on the changes to be made:

Chief Gordon Planes

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Chief Gordon Planes – General statement of what changes are needed – Transcript

Indigenous approaches to climate adaptation

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Indigenous approaches to climate adaptation differ based on the uniqueness of each community, territory, history, circumstance, and leadership. This module briefly outlines four specific concepts that present across diverse Indigenous approaches to climate adaptation. These four approaches do not represent the only Indigenous-led approaches when addressing climate injustices, instead they provide a look into how Indigenous-led models account for Indigenous values and approaches as defined by this course. They include: Emphasis on values-based decision making, Multigenerational involvement and impact, Strategic partnerships and Holistic, integrated focus:

  1. Emphasis on values-based decision making is grounded in enduring cultural knowledge specific to each individual community. Cultural practices, protocols and language-based knowledge systems determine subjective values that ultimately define a community sense of governance, identity and good relationships. Each Indigenous community has their own unique teachings that hold individuals accountable to all other living life on the planet. In this case, the values that determine Indigenous identity and belonging must be at the centre of collective decision making processes when determining present and future responsibilities to the Land for it to be counted as authentic and regenerative. These approaches can include traditional and non-traditional climate adaptation practices. For example,  food security ties to socio-economic determinants of community strength and wellness, while also weaving into cultural practices, language and ceremonial protocols. Cultural values can not be divorced from community approaches to mitigate climate change and address decisions that determine good relations to Land and Waters.

    Video Resource


  2. Multigenerational involvement and impact is at the core of Indigenous-led decision making. Extending from worldviews and cosmologies that understand humans as one single thread in a larger interconnected web of life, Indigenous communities recognize how present actions impact future consequence. From this standpoint, community engagement often will include both young and old people, considering them experts in their own way. Indigenous peoples feel strongly that it’s necessary to involve people from all ages in their communities in conversations and decision-making, and this remains true around topics related to climate adaptation and mitigation. Listen to Chief Gordon Planes talk about the importance of intergenerational participation and relationship-building in this work:
    Chief Gordon Planes

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    Chief Gordon Planes -Multigenerational knowledge transfer – Transcript
  3. Strategic partnerships consider working opportunities with non-Indigenous collaborators such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), institutions, community networks and individuals. It is essential for Indigenous communities to have partnerships that reflect the needs, values and Indigenous-led research of diverse areas of engagement. These relationships must centre the knowledge and expertise of Indigenous communities, while being fortified by networks of support, allyship and resources outside of the communities themselves. Examples of collaborative relationships include: The Suzuki Foundation, Indigenous Climate Action Network and Rising Tides Climate Justice and Food Sovereignty (below).

    Additional Film Resource

    Rising Tides Climate Justice and Food Sovereignty.
    The film features a two-day Indigenous Gathering was geared toward short-term, targeted knowledge mobilization initiatives. This project was Indigenous-led and sought to centre Indigenous perspectives and knowledge systems to understand some of the most pressing issues facing Indigenous peoples today with respect to climate change, food systems and human well-being.


  4. A holistic, integrated focus is another crucial component to the practice of Indigenous-led climate adaptation. Module 1 explores how Indigenous knowledge systems uphold values and beliefs based on interconnectivity and responsibility to all life. These values are in stark contrast to Western values which uphold competition, individualism and self-interest within socio-economic landscapes of life. By learning about Indigenous ways of knowing and being, we are better situated at contemplating and enacting solutions that best reflect holistic approaches which account for integrated and multi-faceted models of climate engagement.

    Additional Video Resource

    Learning With Syeyutsus – Tsawalk – A Nuu-chah-nulth Approach to Global Crisis with Richard Atleo

Further Examples of Indigenous-led Collaborations

First Nation Adapt Program

Based on their proximity to resources, First Nations communities are often at the heart of where climate change is the most devastating. The First Nation Adapt Program is a federal program that gives funding to First Nation communities to respond to climate change impacts on community infrastructure and disaster risk reduction. The program works with First Nation communities to identify region-specific priorities, impacts, and opportunities for climate change projects and prioritizes communities most impacted by climate change.

Visit the program website to view previously selected projects per region or at the national level. British Columbia-based projects are included for both the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 project years.

Listen to Clyde Tallio and Elijah Mecham discuss different Climate mitigation approaches in their community:

Clyde Tallio & Elijah Mecham

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Clyde Tallio & Elijah Mecham – Current Adaptation Projects – Transcript

National Inuit Climate Change Strategy

The National Inuit Climate Change Strategy, released in 2019 by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national representative organization for the Inuit population in Canada, was one of the first Indigenous national strategies to come forward in Canada. It outlines their vision for the role of Inuit in climate action, with purpose statements and guiding principles to underpin practical actions in five priority areas:

  1. Knowledge and capacity-building
  2. Health, well-being, and the environment
  3. Food systems
  4. Infrastructure
  5. Energy

The Strategy also “includes a detailed plan for working with outside partners to ensure our communities are climate resilient.” Read about case studies illustrating the kinds of Inuit-led climate initiatives and partnerships they are seeking throughout the Strategy.

The document highlights that the Indigenous lens is not a pan Indigenous lens, meaning that perspectives and needs are different for different Inuit groups and communities and nations, depending on where they are located, their values, governance systems, structures, connections to the land, and more. It also talks about why Inuit might experience climate change impacts more deeply than urban communities because of newly unpredictable changes in their environment which cause “ripple effects on our livelihoods, local economies, and the learning and development of our youth”.[4]

Cree Nation of Mistissini Community Proposal Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan

“We have to learn from the traditional ways of our people and one of them really is to love the land and to care for it. We have to learn from the past, because we have children and grand children that need to enjoy what we enjoy today.”

Kenny Blacksmith, community member

Many Nations develop their own environmental management targets such as the following Community Proposal Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan of the Cree Nation of Mistissini. These are helpful reports to examine when exploring Indigenous-led responses to climate mitigation as it pertains to their unique territory, context and circumstance. When working and collaborating with Indigenous Nations, it is helpful to research existing protocols, reports and resources that the Nations have developed themselves.

Kanaka Bar Indian Band

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Kanaka Bar Indian Band, located in Kanaka Bar, BC, south of the town of Lytton, has become well-known in their approaches towards climate mitigation in their own territory. They have observed radical changes in their surface water resources, warming year-round temperatures and more recently, the threatening dangers of increased forest fires.

Noting that “we are now living in ‘the age of consequence’”, the band acknowledges the scientific community’s assessment that global climate change represents significant environmental, social and economic risks.

The band has summarized their Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in the form of a PDF placemat, which details their greatest vulnerabilities with respect to climate change (i.e., water resources, forest fires, traditional foods, and access roads) along with priority initiatives they are working on under six main themes. Kanaka Bar Band recognizes the multigenerational impact of climate-related decision making by including “Youth and Community Engagement and Education” as one of its priority themes, noting the need to “engage youth to assist with implementation of adaptation strategies and monitoring programs.”[5]

Learn more about Kanaka Bar Band’s climate change initiatives, and review their full Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, via the Climate Change page of their website and in this recent profile featuring their Climate Action Leadership.

man overlooking an area of land

Indigenous Climate Action

This work envisions a world where Indigenous-led climate solutions are the standard and where colonial structures are doing the work to figure out where their resources and knowledge can offer support to existing Indigenous systems, not the other way around. This will require a deconstruction and undoing of current systems to create space for our own independent processes and plans built around a more holistic, interconnected, balanced approach based on reciprocity and respect with the natural world.”

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, Executive Director ICA

Indigenous Climate Action (ICA) is an Indigenous-led climate organization working to inspire and resource Indigenous communities as leaders of climate action and climate-change solutions. ICA is amplifying Indigenous voices and developing tools and resources that support Indigenous-led climate actions, Indigenous sovereignty, and self-determination. These resources include a report on Decolonizing Climate Policy, and other tools and trainings that foreground Indigenous wisdom, expertise, and knowledge as “drivers of solutions to climate change.”

Canadian Institute for Climate Choices

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, while not an Indigenous organization, has committed to amplifying the voices of Indigenous voices, research and worldviews in climate change work. The Institute has commissioned case stories that highlight a range of Indigenous climate action projects and initiatives. Each case study reflects the diverse perspectives and voices of study authors that include Indigenous independent researchers, Knowledge Holders, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and consultants.

Decolonizing our approach

What does the term Decolonization mean to you? How do we unpack the meaning of Decolonization when addressing climate changes and ecological modelling? While definitions of the term decolonization may differ from theory, to individual, to community approaches, a helpful introductions to the term and how it relates to Indigenous solidarity can be found in this Pulling Together guide and Briarpatch Magazine.

Once we have reflected upon the different definitions of Decolonization, we can then move towards authentically implementing Indigenous-led approaches through safer working relations: with each other, and the Land.

Listen to Clyde Tallio and Elijha Macham talk about Indigenous Land Management as it reflects the culture, governance and protocols of the Nuxalx Nation.

Clyde Tallio & Elijah Mecham

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Clyde Tallio Elijah Mecham -Indigenous Land Management- Transcript


  1. Assembly of First Nations. Declaring a First Nations Climate Emergency. P. 3.
  2. From Framing a First Nations Climate Lens. Plenary presentation of the Assembly of First Nations National Climate Gathering. p. 9
  3. This image appears in the Assembly of First Nations National Climate Gathering Report, p. 5.
  4. National Inuit Climate Change Strategy, p. 10
  5. Kanaka Bar Indian Band. Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Placemat, p.2.


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Indigenous Knowledges and Perspectives on Climate Adaptation Copyright © by Royal Roads University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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