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Posts Tagged ‘First Nation’

Photo: Weronika Murray.
Dana Tizya-Tramm
, the youngest chief in his First Nation’s history, is leading the fight against climate change.

Today’s story is about a young man who overcame personal challenges to become a leader of his tribe in the fight against climate change.

Tik Root writes at the Washington Post, “Perched on the edge of the Porcupine river, Dana Tizya-Tramm pointed upstream to a stand of black spruce trees that jutted into the partially-frozen water. They were like lemmings marching off a cliff. Those at the tip were falling into the river, while those in back awaited the inevitable.

“ ‘Drunken forests,’ said Tizya-Tramm, a cigarette between his fingers. He says neither he nor the elders remember there being such a pronounced lean in the past. It comes at least in part, he explained, because the earth no longer stays frozen year-round, even [in Old Crow, Yukon].

“This stretch of the Porcupine runs past the approximately 250-person community of Old Crow. The most northwest habitation in Canada — roughly 80 miles above the Arctic Circle — the town sits at the heart of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. September temperatures had already dropped below freezing, and Tizya-Tramm buttressed himself with tan moose hide mittens and a black puffy jacket. Embroidered on the right sleeve was ‘Chief.’

“At just 34 years old, Tizya-Tramm has risen not only through elected ranks, but from the depths of addiction and trauma to become the youngest known leader in the First Nation’s history. And he’s used that mandate to aggressively combat what he says is among the most pressing threats to his people: climate change.

“The shifting Arctic is squeezing the Vuntut Gwitchin on multiple fronts. Tizya-Tramm says less predictable caribou migration patterns have meant some villages can go years without a successful hunt, and the spawn of certain salmon species has dropped so low that fishing has been severely restricted in recent years. …

“Climate change is even threatening the First Nation’s identity as ‘people of the lakes.’ Scientists say that increased temperatures and higher precipitation have led to wetter conditions and thawing permafrost, which have contributed to the disappearance of dozens of large lakes in the region over recent decades. One study found that between 1950 and 2007, such ‘catastrophic drainages’ became five times more frequent.

“ ‘The hunters and trappers in our community, our harvesters, they’re the experts out on the land,’ said Lorraine Netro, a Vuntut Gwitchin elder. ‘They’ve been seeing and noticing the changes for the past 40 years.’

“These slow shifts can mean immediate hardship. When there’s less meat or fish, there’s more shopping at the Arctic Co-Op, the sole grocery store in town, where all the goods must first be trucked from Winnipeg to Whitehorse and then put on a plane north. A gallon of milk costs (CAD) $13.99. A bag of chips is $8. Tizya-Tramm remembers seeing a watermelon for $80 once. …

“One of the most expensive products in Old Crow, though, is diesel. Since 1961, the town has gotten its electricity through the use of gigantic generators, with fuel that’s flown in at a cost of nearly $11 per gallon. … So it’s hardly a surprise that one of the first questions Tizya-Tramm was faced with as Chief was: What are you going to do about climate change?

“It’s an issue that had been on his radar for years. As a Vuntut Gwitchin government councilor, part of his purview was the First Nation’s renewable energy efforts. While earlier feasibility studies indicated that solar was the best option, Tizya-Tramm inherited a proposed agreement that would have left the Vuntut Gwitchin owning less than half of the system. He helped renegotiate a deal in which the First Nation would own the entire solar array and sell the power back to the grid. The utility company would own the batteries and distribution network.

“By the Vuntut Gwitchin government’s estimate, the system would provide the community with about a quarter of its electricity needs — especially during the long, Arctic summer days. That would save tens of thousands of gallons of fuel per year, which at the astronomical prices in Old Crow is worth over (CAD) $400,000 annually. But the upfront cost for the solar power system was staggering: $7-9 million. Finding funding would take time.

“[Tizya-Tramm] recalled a community meeting after he became Chief during which the group discussed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s bleak assessment of where the planet was headed. On the way home, he said he had an ‘epiphany.’

What if he declared climate change an emergency for his people? …

“Within a week the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation had approved the declaration, which stated that ‘climate change constitutes a state of emergency for our lands, water, animals and people.’ …

“As news of Old Crow’s announcement spread, the town became a rising star in the climate world. Later that year, the Gwitchin built on the momentum when they voted to target net zero emissions by 2030. And, Tizya-Tramm was invited to speak around the globe. …

“Back home, Tizya-Tramm found that money for the solar project was now much easier to come by. ‘It went from knocking on doors, to them already being open when we approached,’ he said.

“The funding came primarily from the provincial and federal governments — support that Tizya-Tramm emphasizes was certainly deserved. Aside from suffering under years of colonial oppression, he said the First Nation is helping Canada achieve its goals under the Paris climate accord.

“Watching the Vuntut Gwitchin’s climate renaissance, Tizya-Tramm couldn’t help but see a personal parable. ‘It’s a terminal diagnosis,’ he said of climate change. ‘The entire world as a species needs to make the journey I did as an individual.’ …

“Tizya-Tramm was born into a history of Indigenous trauma. … By 13 his parents had divorced, and Tizya-Tramm was attending school either high or on hallucinogens. He then progressed to dealing drugs himself, building a client base within his friends. Then there was the fighting — both in school and outside of it, where he would face people far older. … He robbed and was robbed. On a few occasions he was stabbed. Then a suicide attempt became multiple attempts.”

At the Post, here, you can read about the slow, painstaking steps that allowed Tizya-Tramm to put all that behind him and gradually become the leader he is today.

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Image: Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation.
2021 artistic rendering of Senakw. The Squamish First Nation has set a goal of housing every member within a generation.

Just before the pandemic, I read at the Guardian about an indigenous-led development for Vancouver, Canada. And yes, it’s still going forward. The market-rate aspect of the development is supposed to fund the parts that benefit the First Nation providing the land. I found a more recent story from the Daily Hive.

Kenneth Chan reports, “By the end of this year, site preparation for construction could begin on the Senakw development. … Squamish First Nation members overwhelmingly voted to approve the massive development on their 12-acre Kitsilano reserve in late 2019. Thus allowing band leaders to seal the partnership with local developer Westbank and continue their work with refining the design concept.

“In an interview with Daily Hive Urbanized, Khelsilem, a spokesperson and councillor of the First Nation, said the heights of several buildings have been increased, including the tallest tower, now up from 56 storeys to 59 storeys at 172 metres (564 ft). … The first of four construction phases will target the westernmost parcel of the reserve — a narrow strip of land between the bridge and Vanier Park. …

“He said, ‘Some of the motifs of the building have been refined to incorporate Squamish culture and identity, and there is starting to be a bit more imagining of where the public gathering spaces will be.’

“The ground plain commercial space component of the project has changed too, with open public courtyards sunken into the landscape, activated by retail, restaurants, cafes, and potentially grocery stores and fitness centres.

“It also takes advantage of the space under the Burrard Street Bridge, using the structure as a cover for an ‘outdoor restaurant,’ gathering areas, a playground, and basketball courts.

“The residential component of the project still carries a total of 6,000 units, possibly enough to house as many as 9,000 people. …

“The housing tenure composition has not been finalized, but Khelsilem maintains purpose-built market rental housing will likely account for at least 70% of the homes. The below-market rental housing component dedicated to Squamish members has grown slightly to roughly 300 units. …

“The First Nation has set a goal of housing every member within a generation, defined as in 25 years. More than half of its 4,000 members live on reserve, and over 1,000 are on the housing waitlist, with the most recent housing allocations offered to members who have been waiting for over three decades.

“Senakw’s non-market housing component for members will help achieve some of this broader goal directly. The real win is that the revenue generated by the market housing will provide the First Nation with the capacity to pursue greater self-determination. It will greatly enhance their ability to provide current members and future generations with more services, such as eldercare, education, and language and culture support. It would also help fund more member housing initiatives beyond this reserve. …

“Khelsilem adds many members have also expressed excitement about the trades training and employment opportunities that will be offered by the construction project.

“ ‘It is important for the public to understand that this is an economic development venture, it is not an affordable housing project. It is an economic development venture so that we can generate significant amounts of revenue to be invested into our community because we’ve been without the means to do it otherwise,’ said Khelsilem. …

“The infusion of thousands of market rental homes at Senakw will serve to improve overall housing affordability in Metro Vancouver by filling some of the demand from moderate-income households.

“ ‘The reality is new market rental housing is affordable for middle class workers and families in Vancouver, and that’s who this housing will be for,’ he said, adding that strong demand for rental housing has persisted even under COVID-19 conditions.”

More at the Daily Hive, here.

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