From 2010 to 2014, the community experienced a severe flood events and extreme weather events, and the community was forced to react instead of respond to the event due to lack of preparedness. Homes and roads were damaged, people were forced to relocate, funding was diverted to prioritize response, trees died, and habitat for fish and wildlife were lost. These impacts are long-standing and understood by the community, especially in terms of the damages caused to fauna and flora.
Through the Climate Change and Health Adaptation Program, Mistawasis Nêhiyawak, in partnership with North Saskatchewan River Basin Council, started their adaptation planning process by engaging and involving community members, leadership, and elders to identify climate change risks on their territory. The specific questions that were posed at the time were (1) what is climate change? and (2) are you being impacted? (3) what can we do? The first revealed a number of perceived risks of climate change on health of the people and the lands. For example, the community identified extreme moisture cycles causing flooding, degradation of water quality, extended power outages causing boil water advisories, food/water borne illness risks, winter warmth challenges, among others.
Past environmental projects such as the Honour our Water project was key in providing a foundation for identifying climate risks, as climate considerations are foundational to many other areas of work in the community.
It is important to note that Indigenous populations are expected to face disproportionate impacts as a result of climate change in comparison to non-indigenous populations. Because of this, Indigenous people are calling for strong and immediate action to protect the resources in which everyone relies on. For generations, Mistawasis Nêhiyawakhas relied on empirical knowledge of their ancestors to determine where to hunt, trap fish, where to pick berries and medicine.
To prepare for the health risks of climate change, such as water quality degradation, reduced air quality, and safety risks, Mistawasis Nêhiyawak, partnered with the North Saskatchewan River Basin Council from 2017 and 2018 to undertake an adaptation planning exercise that identified risks and ways to prepare for the impacts of climate change. Mistawasis is located about 70 kilometers west of Prince Albert, and 120 kilometers north of Saskatoon. It covers an area of 125 square kilometers. In the past Mistawasis Nêhiyawak has utilized its land base for agriculture, fishing, hunting, fur trapping, silviculture, logging, herbs and craft materials. Prior to this, these land were the tranditional Mistawasis wintering lands from the time their ancestors followed the buffalo across the great plains. Through funding from Health Canada and building-off of the work conducted under many past environmental sustainability projects (such as the Honour the Water Project), the community was able to reflect on the impacts of climate change and explore ways in which climate change could and will affect their health and lands. In the community, changes to the environment and land are minimal, yet that can change quickly. From 2010 to 2014, the community experienced a severe flood events and extreme weather events, and the community was forced to react instead of respond to the event due to lack of preparedness. Homes and roads were damaged, people were forced to relocate, funding was diverted to prioritize response, trees died, and habitat for fish and wildlife were lost. In response, consultations were held with community members, leadership, and elders which revealed a number of perceived risks of climate change, such as extreme moisture cycles causing flooding, degradation of water quality, extended power outages causing boil water advisories, food/water borne illness risks, among others. Through these conversations and important relationships, the community decided to prepare for climate change by returning to their traditional teachings of fire and water. The community also explored other adaptation strategies such as disaster preparation, land use planning, environmental conservation, increasing public awareness of climate change, investing in renewable energy, improved clinical care, ecofriendly practices, early temperature warning systems (and cooling/warming stations).