Kwoiek Creek watershed in Kanaka Bar including Kwoiek Creek Hydroelectric Project (bottom left)

Kanaka Bar is located in the Fraser Canyon at the midway point between Hope and Lillooet, BC, which has been the traditional territory for the community for over 7000 years. The Kanaka Bar Indian Band have managed and lived off the land sustainably throughout their long history. However, colonization, climate change and the rapid changes in technology and the global economy have created challenges to their traditional way of life. Today, Kanaka Bar is implementing self-sufficiency initiatives as a way of working to overcome these challenges.

“While indigenous recovery is occurring across Canada, colonization produced, amongst our community, four deficiencies – people, time, technology and money – and while we have ideas and plans, we need help to bring those plans through to a successful conclusion,” states Kanaka Bar Chief Patrick Michell.

Aaron Coelho, a water consultant from Urban Systems’ Kamloops office, has recently had the opportunity to work with Kanaka Bar on a climate change adaptation strategy to support their journey towards self-sufficiency. “For Kanaka Bar, they recognize that there are certain vulnerabilities associated with climate change, global food trade and the expense of food and energy,” he explains. “As a small rural community, they recognize the importance of being self-sufficient in food, energy, employment and finance.”  In fact, for all community initiatives, Kanaka Bar Indian Band always has an eye on the future in order to prepare the community for the environment and economy of tomorrow.

Respecting the Powerful Role of Water in Life

Siwash Creek

Kanaka Bar’s Traditional Territory is strategically located in an area with strong water resources, namely five watersheds – Kwoiek Creek, Morneylun Creek, Nekliptum Creek, Siwash Creek and 4 Barrel Creek – all tributaries of the Fraser River. Together, they provide drinking water, hydroelectric power and support traditional food sources.

Glacier-fed Kwoiek Creek is home to a 50 MW hydro project, which is owned and operated by a partnership between Kanaka Bar and Innergex Renewable Energy Inc, and the project provides income and employment to Kanaka Bar. In addition, there are plans to build an additional hydroelectric power project on Siwash Creek. Morneylun Creek and Nekliptum Creek are closest in proximity to the community and provide the residents of Kanaka Bar with drinking water, irrigation water and house and wildfire fire protection. What makes these watersheds special is that to date, despite their relatively small size and even in drought conditions, they have never run dry, maintaining their value as important community water resources year-round.

Despite the consistency of these water sources, Chief Patrick does not take the water, and the other natural resources on their lands, for granted. He and the other members of the local leadership group have recognized that climate change is something that is currently impacting life at Kanaka Bar and that these impacts will continue to intensify in the near future. Along with the changes Kanaka Bar has noticed in their own Traditional Territory, they are also aware of changes in the province and globally.

Assessing the Vulnerability of Kanaka Bar

Group hike up the Siwash Creek watershed. From left: Zain Nayani, Chad Petersen, Eric Sears, Kimberly Zackodnick, Chief Patrick Michell, John Kenney Credit: Aaron Coelho

John Kenney, an environmental and sustainable energy professional, has been fostering a relationship with Kanaka Bar over a number of years, and has been involved in helping the community with various aspects of achieving self-sufficiency. Most recently, this has included collaborating with Aaron on the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment project. “With climate change, we need to assess the risk to the base flows of the community watersheds and proactively plan to protect the community’s water resources for the long-term,” says Aaron.

But this doesn’t mean coming in as the experts with all the answers. The first step was understanding Kanaka Bar’s perspectives and awareness of climate change. Aaron and John met with the community through a series of engagement events to listen to their concerns, answer their questions, and identify the priorities for the members. They may not all have the same view of the causes of climate change, but they all recognize the environment is changing. Noticeable changes like the patterns of local wildlife, who are traveling further up-mountain in search of cooler temperatures, or the salmon numbers dwindling or swimming deeper in the Fraser River where cooler waters make for better survival conditions. Even the rainfall, or lack of, has been observed. Where once the community could count on wet days like clockwork, last summer the community experienced 9 weeks of dry weather and an unprecedented north wind event that knocked down trees and damaged houses.

What the community appreciated was how their observations were consistent with trends identified in scientific research. Aaron notes that, “Being able to link Traditional Knowledge with western science has been a big part of the project.” This has resonated with the community as well, with validation and awareness leading to a collaborative development of a “Made at Kanaka, by Kanaka for Kanaka” action and adaption plan.

Prioritizing Challenges to Mitigate Risk

Through the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment project, climate projections for Kanaka Bar have been analyzed and our consultants, along with Kanaka Bar, have a better sense of what is currently happening and what to expect in the future. An important next step has been to start planning how to address community vulnerabilities and concerns. This included performing a vulnerability and risk assessment with the community, running through how the projected changes could impact water, food, infrastructure, human health and economic development and then prioritizing the potential impacts.

Having the community identify their priorities has been integral to the success of this project. In their goal to become self-sufficient, Kanaka Bar has made a commitment for all solutions to be made in Kanaka, for Kanaka and by Kanaka. What may seem like a priority to outsiders may not reflect the community’s needs, and so collaboration throughout the project is key to identify what is most important to the community. What are Kanaka Bar’s top priorities and severities? Traditional foods, threat of forest fires and impacts to human health, water supply and access roads, including the main – and only – road into the community that could be at risk of washout during heavy storm events, cutting off the community to basic and emergency services.

The final deliverable for the project is an adaptation strategy to help Kanaka Bar improve their resilience to climate change. Working with the community, the project team identified short and long-term adaptation actions. These include implementing stream flow monitoring, expanding forest fire interface and fuel management practices, expanding agricultural initiatives, developing a secondary access road, completing an asset management plan and engaging youth in climate change awareness and adaptation initiatives.

One strategy implemented during the project was the installation of two streamflow monitoring stations on both Nekliptum Creek and Morneylun Creek, training local staff at Kanaka Bar to maintain the stations, download the data and process it. Not only is this providing tools for the community to understand and address changes in their water resources over time, but also building capacity within the community in the use of western science to support Traditional Knowledge. As Chief Patrick emphasizes, “Empirical or scientific data compliments traditional knowledge and for the most part, proves that oral history is just as important and relevant as is today’s science and technology”

Building Self-sufficiency Inside and Out

“One of the most important things for Kanaka Bar is youth engagement in the climate change adaptation strategy as some of these changes are projected for 50 years from now. The youth are the ones who are going to be dealing with these changes and likely the ones implementing the long-term adaptation strategy,” says Aaron. In addition, this leadership doesn’t end with community, as they hope to set an example of what other communities can do to address their own concerns around climate change, and why it’s important. An example of this is a video produced by the Kanaka Bar Summer Youth 2018 cohort.

Funding projects like this is made even more accessible through the First Nations Adapt Program – a new funding program through Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) – funding climate change vulnerability assessments and adaptation strategies for First Nation communities. Access to this funding and the support of our Urban Systems team have helped Kanaka Bar, an already progressive community, further their vision of being a self-sufficient, thriving community for another 7000 years and more.