Indigenous Communities: Promoting Social and Ecological Sustainability in the Face of Climate Change

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Award Year: 
Principal Investigator: 
Jeremy Pittman, University of Waterloo
Laura Coristine, University of Calgary
Associated Program: 


European colonization of the Americas brought profound and lasting social and ecological change for Indigenous peoples. These same communities are now experiencing, and must confront, additional impacts resulting from climate change and other human influences on Earth systems and processes. Current and expected climate-related challenges include (1) changing populations and distributions of plants and animals, which alters food, social, and ceremonial harvest; and (2) effects of extreme events including floods, droughts and storms. The cumulative effects of these stressors threaten the security of communities, potentially undermine a sense of place, and increase the fear of potentially being displaced. Issues around climate change impacts to Indigenous communities need urgent attention to secure community sustainability.

We propose a solutions-oriented workshop to bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers from Canada and the United States who work with Indigenous communities on climate change issues. We will address: (1) what are the social and ecological impacts observed and expected from climate change; (2) what capacities can help Indigenous communities address these impacts; and (3) what decision-making tools can augment capacity? Specifically, we are interested in ways that Indigenous communities might leverage the power of socio-environmental synthesis and big data to ensure their social and ecological sustainability in the face of climate change.

Drawing on diverse sets of qualitative and quantitative data and lessons from researchers who have worked in a diverse set of communities, we will evaluate synergies among socio-environmental synthesis and the efforts of Indigenous communities. We will identify opportunities to develop or refine decision-making tools that foster adaptive capacity (e.g., species abundance maps, citizen science databases). Our transdisciplinary socio-environmental synthesis will provide useable and actionable knowledge to assist Indigenous communities as they tackle the ongoing and impending challenges associated with climate change.

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