The Islands Trust (IT), the Capital Regional District (CRD) and the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council have all declared a climate emergency for the Southern Gulf Islands. These islands and the surrounding waters are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change including drought, seasonal water shortage and wildfire risk along with shoreline erosion from sea level rise and coastal storm surges.

So, what do we do about it?

The ṮEṮÁĆES Climate Action Project is a new education initiative that will identify and promote climate action strategies to respond to the climate emergency now facing the Southern Gulf Islands. Three five-day (30 hour) intensive climate action courses will be offered in February-March 2020 to braid W̱SÁNEĆ Traditional Knowledge with current climate science to address the emerging climate emergency now facing the ṮEṮÁĆES (pronounced Tlu,tlay,chus), the Southern Gulf Islands.

This project was launched in May 2019 at gathering of W̱SÁNEĆ First Nation elders and leaders together with Southern Gulf Islands community leaders and climate activists. What is both unique and innovative about the ṮEṮÁĆES Project is that it weaves current climate science with W̱SÁNEĆ Traditional Knowledge to provide a holistic approach to climate action education.

The curriculum frameworks for these courses were reviewed at a 2-day symposium in October by 46 representatives from the W̱SÁNEĆ First Nation and Gulf Islands representatives. Details of the following courses are available on the CRC website:

  • Indigenous perspectives on eco-cultural revitalization
  • Youth Leadership for climate action in the Southern Gulf Islands
  • Climate change in the Salish Sea archipelago

Ancient and current Indigenous Traditional Knowledge tells us that the nature of our relationship with the land, water and all that are part of nature will determine our ability to effectively meet the challenges of climate change on these islands. As Tsawout Chief Dr. Nick Claxton points out:

The SENĆOŦEN word for these Islands, ṮEṮÁĆES translates as “Relatives of the Deep” reflecting our creation story for the Islands. The Islands, our relatives, have provided a way of life for our people for thousands of years and W̱SÁNEĆ law creates a reciprocal relationship of care between W̱SÁNEĆ and ṮEṮÁĆES. — “This responsibility is absolute; we are obligated to care for these islands, not only through our own actions but by protecting the islands against harmful actions by others”.

The ṮEṮÁĆES Climate Action Project will adopt the W̱SÁNEĆ reciprocal stewardship world view to guide the climate action strategies to meet the challenges of climate change. Climate science informs the need to cut the rate of greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and build community resiliency to respond to climate change impacts. Achieving these goals is necessary if we are going to prevent further ecological destruction, safeguard human well being and save from extinction the many species whose ecosystem we share. The ṮEṮÁĆES Climate Action Project will identify and promote innovative and holistic climate action strategies to respond to the climate emergency now facing the Southern Gulf Islands.

This project is being administered through the Southern Gulf Islands Community Resource Centre (SGI CRC) in cooperation with the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council and the W̱SÁNEĆ School Board. W̱SÁNEĆ Elders and leaders along with Capital Regional District representatives, Gulf Islands Trustees and Gulf Island community conservation leaders are contributing to the project development. The three climate action courses will be delivered in February and March 2020 at Poets Cove Resort with in-kind support from the resort’s management.

Initial funding for this project has been provided by the CRD, the SGI CRC’s Edu-tourism project and the W̱SÁNEĆ School Board. Additional grant funding is being sought for course delivery and to support capacity for W̱SÁNEĆ participation. Dave Howe, CRD Director for the Southern Gulf Islands emphasized:

This community based project will make a solid and inspired contribution to address the challenges of climate change in the Southern Gulf Islands and has my full support.

Tye Swallow, project co-coordinator with the W̱SÁNEĆ School Board noted:

The W̱SÁNEĆ School Board fully supports this initiative because it is based on an equitable partnership with full recognition of W̱SÁNEĆ Traditional Knowledge and respect for the implicit cultural values and practices. This project offers an exemplary path to reconciliation on a community-to-community basis searching for meaning and solutions through true collaboration to meet the challenges of the climate crisis together.

For more information on the ṮEṮÁĆES Climate Action Project visit the SGI CRC Website or contact:

Paul Petrie, SGI CRC project co-coordinator
Tye Swallow, W̱SÁNEĆ project co-coordinator