Sūṗii⸱ṗo’omaaksin; Growing Climate Change Resilience for Piikani Nation

Since 2018, The Resilience Institute (TRI) has been partnering with Piikani Nation to build community resilience and adaptive capacity to climate change impacts such as increasing temperature, changing precipitation patterns, and variable extreme weather events. Piikani Nation has been resilient to environmental change since time immemorial, however, enduring colonial injustice and a rapidly changing climate are threatening many aspects of Piikani Nation’s land, culture, community, and overall well-being. TRI and Piikani Nation co-led several adaptation initiatives, including Local Early Action Planning (LEAP), wildfire management education and knowledge mobilization, sharing stories of resilience, and other educational and capacity-building projects. The holistic and collaborative partnership was gifted the name Sūṗii⸱ṗo’omaaksin, meaning “in the spirit of planting seeds” in the Blackfoot language. The adaptation initiatives have successfully built adaptive capacity for different groups within the community, including Piikani youth. TRI and Piikani Nation continue to collaborate and are working towards implementing adaptation strategies identified through LEAP and community engagement. The following steps include implementing programs to support food security, providing hands-on opportunities related to land rejuvenation, and co-create community-relevant educational materials and workshops.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Piikani Nation, located on Treaty 7 lands of Southern Alberta, is part of the Blackfoot Confederacy and has approximately 4,200 members across two reserves and off-reserve urban areas. Piikani Nation is already experiencing observable impacts of climate change including changes in temperature, precipitation, and extreme weather events. In southeastern Alberta, the average annual temperature has increased by ~0.9°C since the early 1900s with winter months experiencing greater warming than summer months. Since the early 1900s, the amount and timing of precipitation in Alberta have also changed. Regional climate projections for this initiative were provided by the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative (PARC) in consultation with Dr. Dave Sauchyn. Climate change projections were derived from high-resolution Regional Climate Models from NA-CORDEX for RCP 8.5. Notably, these models reveal the most critical climate change impacts in the prairies are related to precipitation and water.

The secondary impacts of climate change, such as increased drought, flooding, high wind events and wildfires are projected to occur and increase in frequency in the region. Water scarcity from glacier retreats, food insecurity, biodiversity loss, poor air quality and loss of land and property due to wildfires, and drought are some of the highest priority concerns. In addition, during the Local Early Action Planning (LEAP), the community identified food and water insecurity, invasive species, changes in precipitation, and loss of culture as risks related to climate change (see image).

For additional climate information, look at the Resources section of this example (below).

Infographic on how climate change is impacting Piikani Nation

Image of a sustainable urban rainwater management project in the City of Vancouver. The schematic includes incorporation of greenscaping as a way of not only beautifying the streetscape, but also to provide functional purposes such as rainwater management and small areas of habitat refugia. The image shows the integration of sustainable design with climate adaptation actions. Specific foci are on the inclusion of more city street trees, native plants, areas for pollinators, rain gardens, and the creation of common spaces for gathering.

Identifying Actions

In 2019, the Piikani Nation Chief and Council extended an invitation and Band Council Resolution to collaborate with TRI. The partnership is intended to build climate resilience and adaptive capacity for Piikani Nation. The approach was mainly community-driven to build initial capacity that could foster deeper and longer-term adaptation planning. A transdisciplinary team of Piikani Nation knowledge holders and TRI was created to meet frequently and strategize on adaptation planning. TRI also worked closely with the Piikani Nation Lands department to promote the preservation of the Piikani’s lands. To engage Piikani youth on climate resilience, TRI worked with Piikani Nation Secondary School students. Due to the transdisciplinary and holistic approach to building climate resilience, the adaptation team was gifted the name “Sūṗii⸱ṗo’omaaksin” by Piikani Elder William Big Bull which means “in the spirit of planting seeds” in the Blackfoot language.

Implementation

The following projects were co-created, holistic, and fostered reciprocal and transdisciplinary learning from Indigenous knowledge holders and scientific professionals:

Youth-led Local Early Action Planning (LEAP) –This initiative aimed to empower Piikani youth and generate strategies and actions for the community and decision-makers to deal with the threats of climate change. The project began with a series of workshops with students so they could learn about climate change, regional projections, how to conduct interviews, and the principles of UNDRIP and Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. The students then engaged Elders and community members to document perceived climate threats and strategies to address them. Findings from LEAP helped support a community plan to prepare for climate change and build momentum for adaptation.

Fire with Fire – Funded by Natural Resources Canada through the Building Regional Adaptation Capacity and Expertise (BRACE) program, Fire with Fire aimed to build capacity and mobilize Indigenous knowledge related to wildfire management. The initiative involved a webinar series and participatory video workshops to teach community members how to document and share information related to climate change issues.

Stories of Resilience – This initiative shared stories of Piikani Nation members as they reflected on their personal history, observations of environmental change, and thoughts on strength and resilience. The underlying goal was to learn about what makes the community resilient and how these aspects can be supported and reinforced in the context of climate change.

Other adaptation-related initiatives undertaken include mapping cultural assets in flood zones, monitoring air quality, a greenhouse program focused on renewable energy and growing traditional food, creation of a knowledge hub for the Blackfoot Confederacy to develop policy and capacity related to local watershed restoration, and development of general climate change education programs such as the Climate Change Survivor Game.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

As the name Sūṗii⸱ṗo’omaaksin indicates, the TRI/Piikani partnership has planted many seeds to grow adaptive capacity in Piikani Nation. The LEAP program has effectively evolved and built momentum for adaptation planning. One of the immediate actions of LEAP was to create a program for cleaner air opportunities for the most vulnerable in the community. TRI secured funds for a number of HEPA air purifiers and the Piikani Lands department now has a program to distribute the units during poor air quality periods. This action had multiple benefits as it also helped the community have safer places to gather indoors during a pandemic. Through the Fire with Fire initiative and participatory video method, community-led videos about climate change in the region were produced, and an online story map was launched. The Piikani Stories of Resilience has been showcased in several places, including the Chief and Council Chambers, a compilation booklet, and an online story map. TRI continues to work with the Piikani Nation to secure funding for projects and recently received funding from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation to explore the intersection of climate resilience, adaptation, and action in Piikani Nation.

Next Steps

Piikani Nation and TRI are implementing the adaptation strategies to priority risks that were identified through the LEAP program and community engagement. As well as a continuing focus on holistic adaptation that weaves western and Blackfoot ways of knowing and being, the next steps will focus on the following priority actions:

  1. Implementing plans for a passive solar community greenhouse, hydroponic farm for year-round growing, and an eco-growth waste system to support food security and sovereignty, provide diverse food production methods, and create educational opportunities.
  2. Undertaking landscape rejuvenation with hands-on learning and opportunities to promote land restoration, revitalization of native grasslands, and increased biodiversity. This will also involve researching the carbon sequestration properties of Sweet Grass and its potential to contribute to local biodiversity with scientists from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the University of Lethbridge, and Environment Canada and Climate Change.
  3. Co-creating a series of communication materials to increase community climate change awareness and action. This will include workshops on a “Bison Management Plan,” as Bison are essential for ecological resilience and adaptation/mitigation strategies.

Finally, Piikani Nationhopesg to participate in the Indigenous Guardians program to build upon their climate monitoring skills.

Resources

Link to Full Case Study:

Additional Resources:

Additional Climate Information:

Using climate change projections enables better adaptation decisions, as it allows you to better understand how the climate may change. To learn how to choose, access, and understand climate data, visit ClimateData.ca’s Learning Zone.

Visit ClimateData.ca and click “Explore by Variable” for future climate projections related to temperature and precipitation, which can be used to inform adaptation planning.