Indigenous Knowledge and practices contain the true principles of sustainability, Resilience &Peace

Today across Canada, we are pausing to acknowledge the wrongs of the past in relation to the Indigenous Peoples and pondering reconciliation and effective actions for a better future. The history of how Indigenous Peoples have been treated and path of colonialism can be studied through many different lenses. My avenue has been through disaster and climate risk and resilience. A year and half ago as we were embarking on designing the Resilience Pathways Report, I learned about the profound worldview that is common among almost all Indigenous Peoples around the world: Seeing the world as a continuum and connection of all things through the physical space and time horizons. Just imagine if we as the society and our governments would hold that value as the basis for every decision!


Below are some extracts from the Summary for Policymakers of the Resilience Pathways Report on the importance of understanding and applying Indigenous Knowledge as well as gaps and actions that are needed to enhance resilience of the Indigenous communities.


Theme 3: Embrace Indigenous Knowledge and practices because they contain the true principles of sustainability and resilience for everyone.


The decisions of the past have shaped today’s realities and the decisions of today are shaping the future. To effectively manage disaster risk exacerbated by climate change, we need to shift from the current approach of seeing the land and natural assets as a resource for extraction and instead choose a path that builds a sustainable relationship with the natural world and resilience of future generations. Indigenous Peoples have been adapting to changing climates and conditions for countless generations, and Indigenous Knowledge is typically founded on direct observation and interaction with the natural world over a long period of time. It is connected to land, water, air, and all life, language, spirituality, values, and sovereignty.


Understanding and embracing Indigenous Knowledge for living in harmony with nature is critical not only for the work that is needed in building the resilience of Indigenous communities but also for the shift that we need to protect BC’s people and prosperity for future generations.


(from) 1.1. Inclusive consultations with stakeholders and First Nations should start in the early stages of risk assessments

Engagement with various stakeholders and First Nations is critical in a risk assessment not only for gathering relevant information on vulnerabilities, capabilities, needs, existing knowledge, and practices for risk management but also for gaining the trust of users on the quality of the results. It is important to ensure that consultations are inclusive of all stakeholders and First Nations and are designed and facilitated with awareness of the background and culture of each specific group. For example, technical terminology can be very different between emergency managers and planners. Also, scientific risk terminology is foreign to many groups, such as Indigenous communities, community-based institutions, and the general public.

  • The processes do not always include proper consultations and engagements with the communities, nor do they include Indigenous Knowledge and practices. Many quantitative assessments are only focusing on hazard modelling without insights on exposed assets and potential damage and losses, such as the case of wildfire quantitative assessments.

  • It is important to acknowledge that there are existing professional practice guidelines and standards for some of the hazards, including riverine and coastal flooding and landslides. But not all guidelines cover the end-to-end process that includes required consultations with communities and users, integration of Indigenous Knowledge, insights on the drivers of risk, format of results, data sharing protocols, and final communications.


1.4 Collect data on what we value and develop methods to analyze.

While there is an obvious need to measure the potential physical impacts of natural hazards, it is also important to understand who is in harm’s way, cultural perceptions of risk, socioeconomic vulnerabilities, and potential issues of social inequity that may be associated with the spatial distribution of hazard threats within a given community or region. Addressing systemic risk requires applying metrics that reflect economic as well as environmental and societal wellbeing. When the mechanisms are not collecting the right data, key assets are undervalued in decision making and opportunities are missed for a systemic approach to risk management.


We need to invest in data collection and research and development of analysis methodologies that support the design of DRR programs with an equity focus to address the root causes of vulnerability—not just response solutions for individual characteristics. We also need to invest in collecting comprehensive and harmonized data on environmental assets, cultural assets, and sites of interest to Indigenous communities.


2.3 Share insights and lessons learned through increased guidance, enhanced capacities, and a dedicated mechanism.

Contributors to this report have identified the need for developing further guidance and increasing capacities in a wide range of issues across different levels of government, Indigenous government, stakeholders, and the general public to empower them in playing their role in building resilience.

Common themes of what is needed have emerged from the articles in this report:

  • Conduct trainings to build capacities for design and manage engagements and consultations with Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments and communities; capacities are needed in government and the private sector.

  • Develop a collaborative community of practice among professional associations, and between professional associations and Indigenous Peoples.

  • Design funding programs based on organized consultations on vulnerabilities, risks, capabilities, and needs at the local level. While there are some committees and working groups created through various programs that allow communication with local-level representatives, at the moment there is no organized and systematic mechanism for inputs from local and Indigenous governments on priority needs for funding.

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