Climate change and its dramatic impacts in the Sahtú (Great Bear Lake) watershed are well documented. Rising temperatures, variable wind, rain and snow patterns and longer thaw seasons are among the changes being witnessed by Délı̨nęgot’ı̨nę (the people of Délı̨nę, the sole community of about 550 on Sahtú ). Degraded permafrost is resulting in permafrost thaw slumps. In turn, these events are impacting the landscape, water and wildlife in the region. Notably, the barren-ground caribou that Délı̨nęgot’ı̨nę have depended upon for subsistence have declined significantly – to the point where harvesting restrictions are being contemplated. Harvesting is becoming less predictable, and more dangerous or even impossible for periods of time.
As the ability of Délı̨nęgot’ı̨nę to access traditional food sources decreases, they become more reliant on food purchased from stores, which is expensive and provides less nutritional value. Increasing levels of food insecurity and diet-related health issues such as obesity and diabetes have already been observed. The links between climate change, food security and community health and well-being have become a priority concern.
“Dene k’ę́ naızé gha” (we have to hunt like our grandfathers did). The community aims to lay the groundwork for developing a food security plan that allows for conservation of declining caribou populations while supporting continued reliance on country foods as a central component of their diet and their collective well-being for generations to come.
This project builds upon upon earlier community initiatives to understand climate change environmental and health impacts, and approaches to building community adaptation capacity. In particular, the Gúlú Agot’i T’á Kǝ Gotsúhɂa Gha / Learning About Changes program was undertaken in 2009-2011, including elder-youth exchanges as well as dialogue with climate scientists sponsored by Health Canada’s Climate Change and Health Adaptation Program, as well as International Polar Year. The current proposal moves to adaptation planning with a focus on food security and health, which was at the heart of a number of themes that emerged from the earlier program.
Workshops and community events will be held to establish the research questions at the intersection of climate change and access to country food that are important to the community. The community priorities from these workshops will be the basis for semi-structured interviews and/or focus groups to be conducted with Elders, harvesters, women and youth, as well as food security camps and a regional workshop. This research will help to: 1) understand the role of country foods and the traditional practices in the daily lives of community members; 2) document changes in availability of country foods and threats to food security and 3) identify food security adaptation strategies that have been adopted in the past and possible strategies for the future.
This project will support community wellness initiatives, and will lead to development of a proposed food security plan for consideration by community leaders. The project will include development of educational materials to build awareness of the project, promote key messages from community discussions, and encourage people to participate.