Kahnawake gears up for climate adaptation, emergency preparedness
November 13, 2023
By Miriam Lafontaine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Unlike some other Indigenous communities, Kahnawake has been spared from wildfires and flooding that have become increasingly frequent under climate change. But emergency preparedness and climate adaptation are still top of mind for Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chief Cody Diabo, who visited Ottawa last week to speak with federal officials about the needs of the community moving forward.
Diabo, who is on the environment portfolio, was among several chiefs of Indigenous governments invited from across the country to take part in the national climate adaptation conference.
“There are a lot of good things that came out of it,” Diabo said, who said the forum provided an occasion to discuss habitat restoration projects in Kahnawake that require support from the federal government. Emergency planning for climate-related catastrophes was also on the agenda.
While in Ottawa last Thursday, Diabo had the chance to meet with Patty Hajdu, minister of Indigenous services, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, as well as the minister for emergency preparedness, Harjit Sajjan.
He said that the MCK has already secured some federal funding for a conservation project in the community but held back on sharing more, saying a “big” announcement will be coming in the near future.
“I don’t want to spoil it,” said Diabo, who said it comes out of connections built during the bay restoration project on Tekakwitha Island, which was supported through federal funding.
He said he’s also invited each federal official he spoke with to come to the community so they can keep the discussion going. Those with Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) have also yet to see the success of the bay restoration project with their own eyes.
“Indigenous Services Canada played a big part when we were in the discussions to do the recreation bay,” Diabo said. “It would be to show (minister Patty Hajdu) personally what it’s like, and the changes that happened.”
From there the hope is secure funding for other restoration projects, he said, mentioning old dump sites in the community in particular.
The conference last Thursday was organized by Climate Proof Canada – which is currently asking for $5.3 billion over the next six years to make Canada’s infrastructure more resilient to catastrophes related to climate change. The coalition is made up of disaster relief organizations, business groups, environmental not-for-profits, insurance companies as well as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).
Of that $5.3 billion, the coalition is also demanding $500 million over the next five years for First Nations communities in particular, with “direct funding to enhance capacity for climate adaptation and emergency management.”
As part of Canada’s climate adaptation strategy, the federal government has already set a goal by 2030 to close the infrastructure gap in Indigenous communities, and to ensure these communities have access to the resources needed to address their own climate risks.
Diabo said it’s important to engage with Indigenous communities since they have their own unique needs and challenges that local governments need to consider. They can’t just move their homes out of floodplains, for instance.
“Your average Canadian isn’t bound to their current landbase the way Indigenous people are, because of the Indian Act and reserve lands,” Diabo said he told officials. “If reserve lands get flooded out, where are Indigenous people going to be moved to?”
He said communities like Kahnawake also need to be able to maintain jurisdiction over the protection of their lands, another element he emphasized in his discussions with officials.
“In the past we’ve applied for certain funding, and what ended up happening was on their end they didn’t understand our positions, so they couldn’t understand why we didn’t want to federally protect lands,” Diabo said. “We have our own environment protection office – we just need the funding to do that. We don’t conform to any outside jurisdiction.”
Miriam Lafontaine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for The Eastern Door.
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