Ka’a’gee Tu First Nation has won a territorial award for work that makes the community safer, addresses waste management concerns and improves food security as the climate changes.
The First Nation received the Climate Change Resilience Award at last week’s NWT Association of Communities annual meeting, held in Yellowknife.
The award honours a community taking a proactive approach to overcoming challenges caused by climate change. It comes with $5,000 to put toward ongoing climate adaptation work.
“Ka’a’gee Tu First Nation stands out for several reasons: one is their strong focus on developing relationships and partnerships, both with researchers and with other communities in their region,” Miki Ehrlich, climate change community liaison at the NWT Association of Communities, wrote in an email. This has not only helped the community secure funding and run successful projects but also spread momentum, she wrote.
Like many northern communities, Ka’a’gee Tu First Nation – in Kakisa – has been experiencing the consequences of drastic environmental changes.
“We’ve been dealing with a number of issues,” said Chief Lloyd Chicot.
As permafrost thaws, some cottages and tent frames in the community and on the land have sunk into the ground and flooded. Because these structures can be used in emergencies if someone gets stranded while travelling on the land, the loss presents a safety risk. Two years ago, an Elder passed away after falling through the ice when he couldn’t use a nearby, flooded tent frame for shelter, Chicot said. The community is also still recovering from a 2014 wildfire that forced residents to evacuate.
Despite being the smallest community in the NWT, with a population of roughly 50 people, Ka’a’gee Tu First Nation has taken several steps to address climate-related challenges. To support access to the land and traditional foods as well as increase safety, community members have been building new cabins and rerouting trails to avoid flooded areas and trees downed by wildfire.
In the community itself, residents have initiated a recycling program and started composting waste from the local commercial fishery.
Although a changing climate brings hardship, it may also usher in conditions more suitable to agriculture. The community has built a greenhouse and is involved in a project that aims to identify suitable areas and best practices for community-led agriculture in the North.
In addition, the First Nation is in the early stages of attempting to grow food in fire breaks. Cultivating food plants, such as potatoes and berries, in the cleared areas could help ensure fire-prone vegetation doesn’t grow out of control, according to Chicot. At the same time, the initiative would bring fresh produce closer to the community — the nearest grocery store is at least an hour’s drive away.
The community has several other climate change adaptation projects under way and would like to be doing even more, Chicot said. The award winnings will likely be put toward agricultural equipment, he said, which would help locals prepare the soil for planting in fire breaks.
Winning the award means a lot, Chicot said. “We’ve been doing a lot of work in the community and to get the recognition from other communities is really awesome. We’re doing something right.”