Understanding our Community's Climate Change Vulnerabilities

Climate change has the potential to profoundly impact the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN) and many key aspects of community life; extreme weather, increasing summer heat, and decreasing summer precipitation are all impacting the health and wellbeing of the TWN people. Climate change impacts such as extreme flooding, increasing occurrence and severity of wildfires, prolonged drought conditions, all pose community health risks and influence the ability of community members to practice traditional cultural ceremonies, harvesting, and share cultural teachings. Ocean changes are impacting the survival of clams and other marine food sources that are essential to the health of TWN people. The Community Climate Change Resilience Planning (CCCRP) project is leading TWN’s response to building adaptive capacity and community resilience and starts with developing an understanding of climate impacts, determining where areas of vulnerability, and using this information to chart an effective plan for action.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

The project focuses on climate change impacts to Tsleil-Waututh reserve lands, also known as Burrard Inlet IR#3, which is the current village site for the Nation. Climate change impacts were considered for specific elements of the community identified as priorities by TWN staff and community members. Thirty-four elements were identified across six broad sectors: Ecological Systems, Archaeological & Cultural Heritage Sites, Land Use & Real Estate, Community & Cultural Health, Infrastructure & Community Services, Economy. A multi-hazard approach helped to build a more complete understanding of the hazards and their inter-connectedness (some hazards cause multiple impacts). Informed by community engagement, a values-based approach (investigation informed by community values) was used to focus analyses on elements of greatest importance to the TWN community. Methodologies used for Phase 1 were based on established best practices and models, including ICLEI-Canada’s Building Adaptive & Resilient Communities framework, Swinomish Climate Change Initiative, and the Source-Pathway-Receptor-Consequence model. Information on the current status and condition of TWN lands and waters was gathered, providing a baseline of current conditions to project future impacts from climate change. This data collection involves a combination of onsite investigations, background report reviews and conversations with staff and knowledge holders. Thirteen climate change-related hazards were identified as having the potential to impact Burrard Inlet IR #3, including coastal flooding, coastal erosion, ocean acidification, intertidal area change, harmful algal blooms, other ocean-related conditions, marine invasive species, creek flooding, creek erosion, urban flooding, extreme heat, wildfire, vector-borne diseases, and invasive species (land).

Identifying Actions

TWN has embarked on a proactive, integrated, and community-based planning process to prepare the community for climate change. The multi-year Community Climate Change Resilience Planning (CCCRP) project will build an understanding of the level of impact climate change hazards may have on the community, as well as develop and guide implementation of adaptation measures. Community input, ancestral knowledge, and western science all have an important role to play in informing and guiding this work. The CCCRP project represents Phase 1 of a three-phase project: Vulnerability Assessment (Phase 1); Action Plan (Phase 2); and Implementation and Monitoring (Phase 3). Phase 1 includes hazard assessment and defining and assessing climate impacts. An integrated planning approach was used to consider impacts to a wide range of core community values and assets to understand how climate change might impact not only buildings, roads, and other infrastructure; but also species, habitats, and ecosystems, cultural and community health, sites of archaeological and cultural significance, community services, and current and future economic activities. The assessments drew on a combination of traditional and local knowledge and scientific approaches.


Results from the vulnerability assessment informed the identification of 49 preliminary adaptation measures/actions (the preliminary adaptation toolkit) that will serve as a starting point to develop TWN’s Community Climate Resilience Plan (CCRP) for climate change adaptation in Phase 2 of the project (in progress). The measures in the adaptation “toolkit” were identified through best practice research, professional expertise, and community input.

Identified preliminary adaptation measures represent:

  • specific actions that can be implemented in the short term;
  • longer-term actions that call for further scientific research and analysis;
  • measures that TWN is already developing and implementing (e.g., land use planning); and/or
  • ongoing actions that can be credited as contributing to adaptation.

The preliminary adaptation toolkit is organized into six themes, including Policy, Planning, and Partnerships; Structural Works; Resilient Infrastructure & Nature-based Concepts; Community Preparedness; Scientific and Traditional Knowledge; and Education and Communications. Implementation of actions is to begin in 2021 as part of Phase 3.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

Results from the vulnerability assessment found the following community elements to be particularly vulnerable to impacts from climate change hazards: Beaches and shorelines (beach erosion, causing loss of overhanging vegetation and more challenging access to the shoreline by community members); Social, cultural, and spiritual well-being (extreme heat or wildfire events limiting recreation and cultural practices); Salmon (declining growth and reproduction rates, along with mortality due to higher water temperatures, will affect salmon populations and food sources for other species; Shellfish (loss of habitat from coastal squeeze, paired with shell formation issues and declining growth and reproduction rates will affect shellfish health and food source for other species; Forage fish (declining growth and reproduction rates due to changing ocean conditions and coastal squeeze affecting spawning and rearing habitat. This will in turn affect food sources for other species; Forested areas and medicinal plants (cedar and plant die back from drought, along with an increasing risk of wildfire); TWN community housing (possible flood damage during storms, increased risk of wildfire impacts); Roads and emergency access (road damage at creek crossings could close roads and slow emergency response times); Employment and productivity (road closures and traffic delays could make it difficult for TWN members to get to work); Vulnerable people (elders and young children are especially vulnerable to heat stress, respiratory illness from wildfire smoke, and reduced access to healthy marine foods); Other cultural and traditional use sites (damage and challenging access to harvest and other traditional use sites from flooding and erosion); and Archaeological sites (possible damage to sites along the foreshore or creeks from erosion and flooding). Forested areas are vulnerable to drought and wildfire.

Next Steps

Results from the vulnerability assessment informed the identification of 49 preliminary adaptation measures that will serve as a starting point to develop TWN’s Action Plan for climate change adaptation in Phase 2 of the CCCRP. The CCCRP Phase 1 toolkit of preliminary adaptation measures provides a starting point for consideration and prioritization of climate change adaptation actions. The findings from this vulnerability assessment will inform the next phase of the CCCRP project which includes development of a detailed adaptation action plan and identification of metrics for ongoing monitoring of adaptation implementation. Additionally, in the future, TWN hopes to expand the assessment to consider the vulnerability of other areas within its traditional territory.


Link to Full Case Study

Additional Resources:

If you would like to learn more about Indigenous peoples experiences and stories in a changing climate, visit the Indigenous Climate Hub. You can also find on the platform a number of climate change resources tools for Indigenous peoples to monitor and adapt to the ever-changing climate.

Be part of the Hub to exchange knowledge and experiences with other Indigenous climate change leaders working on similar issues, by signing-up here: https://indigenousclimatehub.ca/members-network/