Climate change is a new reality faced by Indigenous people, jeopardizing the process of cultural continuance and further impacting the health outcomes of vulnerable populations. Locally, it is expected that existing social, cultural, economic, political, and health vulnerabilities will be exacerbated with the changing climate, where Indigenous people are among the first to face the direct consequences due to their dependence upon, and close relationship with the environment and its resources. Pemsa’se’wigisg’g, the weather is changing, is one way to describe climate change in the Mi’gmaw language. Indigenous populations are highly vulnerable to climate change and will be forced to adapt at an unknown magnitude.
Reserve lands were often designated on unproductive agricultural lands with poor drainage. In Listuguj, much of the community was forcibly established on marsh land, along the Restigouche river estuary. In 2018, more than fifty homes were flooded from the rising water table, ground water saturation and high tides. For remediation and loss of personal items, costs were evaluated between 4 to 6 million dollars. Some wetlands have been land filled to create more residential areas as on-reserve population grows and increases housing demands. Furthermore, Listuguj currently receives its drinking water from a large aquifer, which majority of the community is built upon. Currently there are no areas within the community where an activity can safely take place without putting the community’s drinking water at risk. Two main factors put the community’s aquifer at risk by sea-level rise; the low elevation of the well-capture zone and water recharge received from Monier creek that is also influenced by tidal water. Both of these factors put the community aquifer at risk of contamination. Therefore, drinking water is already vulnerable due to community development above the aquifer; more so, with the expected sea level rise (0.53–0.98 m by 2100 [IPCC, 2013]), future generations will have to cope with the impacts to drinking water contamination and salt water intrusion.
The community is faced with many challenges. Members identified these floods as being very problematic, causing stress, unsanitary living conditions and displacement, thus impacting the community as a whole. These health issues will be exacerbated with climate change. Increasing sea-level rise and increasing storm severity will undoubtably pose more flooding in the future.
An excerpt from Ohl & Tapsell (2000) relate well the health risks associated with flooding: “Individuals who have been affected by flooding are more likely to present to acute medical care facilities for skin rashes and exacerbation of asthma and for outpatient medical needs, such as dialysis or refills of prescriptions or oxygen. Heightened psychological stress leads to increase in visits to healthcare facilities. People affected by floods are often apprehensive about the potential, long term adverse effects of exposure to contaminants, mold, and toxic substances that may be present in their homes after clean up. The long-term effects of flooding on psychological health may perhaps be even more important than illness or injury. For most people the emotional trauma continues long after the water has receded. Making repairs, cleaning up, and dealing with insurance claims can be stressful. If there is a lack of support during the recovery process, stress levels may increase further. Research from the United States indicates that providing increased social support can significantly lower illness burdens after natural disasters. Flood victims frequently report feeling depressed and isolated. Furthermore, being evacuated from home and losing personal possessions may undermine people’s sense of place as well as their sense of attachment and self identity.”
The community needs to develop a plan to build more resilient infrastructures and develop a comprehensive land use plan that includes flood risks. There is an imminent need to acknowledge climate change within the Listuguj Land Use Plan with regards to flooding and how it is a threat to public security that can cause severe health issues. Since 2017, community meetings have been held with regards to the land use plan. Four Action Areas have been identified by the Listuguj Community members. Each has been chosen, because it holds great opportunity and it represents an area that requires attention. They draw from what the community knows about its strengths and the root causes of the issues that hold it back, and they represent the community’s values. The four Action Areas are Healthy Community, Environmental Stewardship and Natural Resources, Entrepreneurship and Employment, and Mi’gmaw Laws and Governance. Together they address the core priorities Listugugewaq voiced throughout the planning process: the desire for greater desire independence (economic and political), protection of the land and water, community wellness for all ages, and the rejuvenation of culture and traditions.
This project aims to develop a community-based action plan to help damper the effect of extreme events and reduce flooding of homes to lessen community distress and minimize associated health risks. Adaptation options will be developed based on community input and will help inform community directorates and local government.
More specifically, we aim to:
- Build local capacity to carry out wetland delimitation and groundwater research
- Host information sessions about wetlands and the ecosystem services they provide to healthy communities they and enhance awareness
- Gather Mi’gmaw Ecological Knowledge (MEK) on climate change observations and historical scientific data to provide relevant information for better community level decision-making
- Incorporate best practices and community-driven land use changes to ensure Listuguj is more resilient in the wake of climate change
All community members will be invited to take part in this project, although specific activities will be geared towards youth, elders and harvesters (fishers, hunters), directorates, and governance. The work will be conducted for 12 months in Listuguj, QC starting in Spring 2019.
The GMRC is equipped with the resources and capacity to utilize ArcGIS technology to produce sea level rise models, document social values, and to map our traditional Mi’gmaw Knowledge. Additionally, this technology can be a useful tool in helping to identify vulnerabilities in the aquifer, shoreline households, and impacts to traditional and cultural sites. Although, we do need to build capacity in terms of wetland delimitation and groundwater research. Training for GMRC and Natural Resources staff, will help us identify vulnerable habitats and help develop local capacity within the community. Community members trained in MEK interview process will gain experience in community driven research, and learn the value of local ecological knowledge. Using MEK is critical in climate change research as it can collaborate with science in focusing on the local scale, documenting baseline data, provide and insight into impacts and adaptations, and promotes community-based monitoring (Vinyeta et al., 2013).
Listuguj has a very young population, where just over half of the population is under the age of thirty (http://www.listuguj.ca/about-listuguj/). Given that the climate will continue to change, the youth will be the most impacted by these effects. It is our responsibility to educate the youth and help guide them to understand the link of vulnerability to their generation so that they are better prepared to respond to these effects. More so, social values and focus groups will target youth from the community, where their input will be built into the final report, along with elders and harvesters. Youth focus groups will educate the youth on current traditional knowledge, gain their understanding of climate-related health outcomes, and foster a dialogue between youth and the GMRC on their communal responsibilities of the future. We will also include a climate change component in our Fish Friends program. We will deliver a presentation and workshop to three (3) schools of Alaqsite’w Gitpu School, LER School, and Terry Fox elementary to educate elementary aged students on climate change and how it impacts our communities, and how they can prepare for the change.
The Gespe’gewaq Mi’gmaq Resource Council (GMRC), a non-profit Mi’gmaw organization, is located within Listuguj, QC. The GMRC mandate focuses on habitat management and stewardship, aquatic research, ocean management, and the collection of Mi’gmaw Ecological Knowledge (MEK). With over a decade of community work conducted on behalf of the Mi’gmaw communities of Eel River Bar, Listuguj, and Pabineau (all located within Gespe’gewa’gi), the GMRC has built a strong working partnership with local harvesters, community members, youth, departments and outside organizations. The two-eyed seeing approach drives all research projects; indicating that both western and Indigenous sciences are incorporated within all our projects. This project is a new initiative in the community and aims to involve the community and to continue discussing our vulnerabilities to climate change, and the new realities they will bring. The conversation will happen at the community level, including youth, elders, harvesters, and at the government level, including directorates, and managers.
The project will strategically align and compliment other community initiatives, including the 2013 – 2018 Listuguj Community Health Plan and the 2013 Listuguj Comprehensive Community Land Use Plan and the subsequent Land Code. More so, the project findings can help inform the 2018 – 2028 Listuguj Health Plan. We will work closely with these departments. The Listuguj Community Healthy Services (LCHS) directorate is one of the major service providers in the community, providing programs that support the development of a strong and healthy community. Most importantly, those who provide medical care need to be aware of the increased medical and mental health needs of people who have experienced floods, which may continue for months and possibly years after the event. For some providers this may not be an easy task because a flood may also have a direct impact on staff and healthcare facilities. The
Matapedia-Restigouche Watershed Organization will also provide us with GIS data. They have been monitoring Monier creek over the last 3 years. They also have developed their capacity to carry out wetland delimitation and mapping. They will assist us with developing our own capacity.
- Year: 2020-2021
- Status: In progress
- Project Funding Source: Climate Change Health Adaption Program
- Files: In progress