Climate Change Adaptation by the Georgina Island First Nation

The First Nations of Georgina Island, located on Lake Simcoe in southern Ontario, embarked on a 3-year a project from 2012-2015 in order to address current and future climate change impacts to their community including changes in ice quality, animal populations and threats to water quality. Changes in ice quality may hamper accessibility to the island during the winter season should the ice become too thin to safely travel across by certain modes. Changes in fish and bird populations may affect local fishing as well as ecosystem function. Lastly, reduced water quality due to extreme precipitation events may have an impact on the health of the residents. In light of these challenges the project guided the development of climate change adaptation and implementation plans. These plans were partially informed by vulnerability and risk assessments which the community had undergone at the onset of the project as well as by the continuous collection of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), community knowledge, and western scientific knowledge. Knowledge was collected in a variety of ways including through community engagement meetings and distributed surveys. Future efforts related to climate change on Georgina Island consist of the formation of a sub-watershed plan which would encompass the entirety of the First Nations of Georgina Island territory (including adjacent islands and mainland connections) as well as the implementation of identified actions.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The 3-year project deployed a project team consisting of members of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation and the Ontario Centre for Climate Impacts and Adaptation Resources (OCCIAR), which included members of various provincial ministries. The project team along with the community first compiled western information related to area specific climate change trends as well as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and community knowledge. With this information the project utilized risk and vulnerability assessments to systematically understand the challenges facing the Georgina Island community. This information helped to highlight current effects on the community such as unsafe ice conditions, unpredictable fish populations, and reductions in water quality. The assessments showed that factors such as increasing wind speeds and changing seasonal patterns exacerbate concerns over future water quality and winter access to the island.

Identifying Actions

The case study relied on the formal climate change adaptation and vulnerability framework provided by the OCCIAR. In year two of the project (2013-2014) the framework was followed closely to identify actions needed. In following the framework data was first gathered from a variety of sources including through a survey on TEK as well as through the utilization of western science along with general community outreach. Second, current vulnerabilities were determined by assessing the communities past and present climate change coping mechanisms as well as through the interpretation of TEK survey data. This data was then compared with western science to provide a multi-faceted understanding. Tools such as impact trees were employed to organize and visualize the information. Third, the greatest vulnerabilities were prioritized using a risk evaluation matrix. This prioritization of future impacts will ultimately enable the community to identify appropriate actions in order to respond. This process was partly enabled by support from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. While this ministry has been dissolved, it has been replaced by Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC).

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

To date the planning process has enabled the identification of the most pressing climate change impacts on the Chippewas of Georgina Island community. The systematic identification of vulnerabilities and impacts has relied heavily on community input through scheduled meetings and distributed surveys. Such reliance has helped to increase agency among community members and enriched understandings of the real threats posed by climate change. Ultimately the identification of vulnerabilities and future impacts will enable the community to develop actions to address them.

Next Steps

Moving forward the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation may continue to implement their adaptation plan as well as to create an accompanying implementation plan. Beyond this, the community will look to incorporate adaptation planning and climate change into existing policy and community plans such as the sub-watershed plan, where appropriate. Lastly, the community intends to continue community engagement and outreach following these steps. The community recognizes the importance of revisiting plans periodically for relevance, robustness and changing context and has flagged the need to incorporate provisions related to updating and revision into the aforementioned plans. While the project had formally ended in 2015, available information does not speak to the progress made on these next steps.