Updated: Sep 6, 2019
Climate change is an issue that not only affects the overall health of Indigenous communities but it also poses a threat to their cultures, food systems and economies (1). Indigenous communities residing in the Arctic regions of Canada face the brunt of the impact on their hunting ground and territories, which are essential for practicing traditional activities that maintain ties with their culture (1). The rapidly changing climate, which was reported to be increasing at a rate two times faster than the global average between 1948 and 2007, poses a threat to species such as walrus and seals (2). Shrinking ice caps that push seal and walrus herds further away from the coast, along with an evaporating sealskin market contribute to the growing rates of malnutrition and substance abuse amongst Indigenous communities in the north, who rely on these animals as their primary source of food (3). Accordingly, studies reports that seven out of ten Inuit preschoolers are living in food insecure homes, and Inuit households are experiencing food insecurity at almost twice the rate of the national average (4). Finally, the northern Indigenous communities also rely on the ability to hunt as a primary source of income (4). Given this, it is vital that these communities are given the opportunity to partake in the narrative of adapting and combating climate change.
In Canada, there is considerable heterogeneity towards accessibility to healthcare and corresponding health outcomes. Climate change drives extreme weather, leaving Indigenous communities in the North, and more remote areas, especially at risk (5). The vast majority of research on the effects of climate change on these communities focuses heavily on limited adaptive capacities (5). However, this does not evaluate the number of other determinants that leave Indigenous people notably exposed to climate change. These determinants include: socio-political values, poverty, information deficit, challenges with institutional capacities, and technological capacities (5). It is quintessential that these determinants are taken into consideration when discussing the topic of climate change and the Indigenous people of Canada. The nature and extent of these determinants varies from one community to the next (5). Therefore, collaboration between all levels of government with sincere and open dialogue between scientists, policy-makers and Indigenous communities is necessary to take the next steps in not only finding ways to help marginalized communities, but to also find meaningful solutions to combat the effects of climate change (5).
In June 2018, the inaugural climate adaption report was released by the federal government of Canada and included representatives from three Indigenous organizations: the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and the Metis National Council (6). The inclusion of Indigenous experts in discussions involving climate change is essential in understanding and educating others on the effects that climate change has on First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities (6).Understanding the varying ways in which climate change can negatively impact the health, food systems and economy of Indigenous communities in Canada is the first step in implementing lasting solutions to increase the adaptive capacities of these communities (7). There is a need for further research to be done to understand the correlation between the effects of climate change and the other social determinants that leave Indigenous people increasingly vulnerable.
If you would like to learn more about the impacts of climate change on Indigenous communities in Canada, a list of resources that can be accessed online is provided below.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami: The National Representation Organization Protecting and Advancing the Rights and Interests of Inuit in Canada: https://www.itk.ca/
Indigenous Climate Action: https://www.indigenousclimateaction.com/
Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada: https://indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca/article/climate-climate-change/