SFU, UVic team receives $1 million to study climate solutions for rural, remote & Indigenous communities

An interdisciplinary team from Simon Fraser University the University of Victoria and partner organizations will use $1 million from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions to study climate solutions for rural, remote and Indigenous communities in B.C.

Serving Rural & Remote Communities: Co-developing Place-Based Climate Resilient Solutions will investigate how these communities will be impacted by climate change and what they need to flourish despite its challenges.

Researchers will work with the First Nations Housing and Infrastructure Council BC Housing and Technical Safety BC to develop and deliver the research. Together, the partners will determine what policies and innovations in housing practices and technical safety are needed to enable communities outside major urban centres to create low-carbon resilience, reducing both their carbon footprint and their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

SFU's Nancy Olewiler smiling at the camera wearing a white shirt and a light blue blazer.
SFU’s Nancy Olewiler

“The focus of the project is on preparing communities, people and economies for the coming climate impacts,” says principal investigator Nancy Olewiler, a professor in SFU’s School of Public Policy, whose team includes Maya Gislason of SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences, David Bristow and Andrew Pape Salmon of UVic’s Department of Civil Engineering and colleagues from the University of Waterloo and the University of Washington.

Critical to the project’s success is the pairing of technical knowledge from partner organizations with local knowledge among rural, remote and Indigenous communities, says Bristow.

Michael Sadler, executive director of the First Nations Housing and Infrastructure Council, agrees. “We know we need to assist our Nations to create housing that’s resilient and responsive to climate change,” says Sadler. “This resilience is not new for Indigenous Peoples. We have been expert builders from time immemorial, constructing advanced technological solutions for our respective locations and climates.”

Adds Rod Hill, acting director, Indigenous Relations, BC Housing: “Through this project, BC Housing aims to amplify the voices of Indigenous Peoples, to enable communities and community members to articulate the climate changes happening in their territory, and what measures they need to build resilience to address them.”

UVic's David Bristow smiling at the camera wearing a purple shirt and a black blazer.
UVic’s David Bristow

While people living in urban centres feel the effects of climate change in heatwaves and extreme rains, Olewiler says remote and rural counterparts face a larger variety of risks — including wildfires, floods and landslides. These threaten lives, homes, and other buildings, as well as jobs and local economies — and smaller population centres may have less capacity to address their risks.

“We’ll be making discovery of what types of challenges communities are facing and then building strategy to ensure we can be proactive, instead of reactive, toward the changing landscape of climate interaction,” says Marci McDougall, Technical Safety BC’s leader of Indigenous reconciliation and partnerships.

Over the next four years, the project will entail designing practical frameworks to build climate resilience and capacity in these communities. Community findings and case studies will help inform updates to building and safety codes and standards, as well as regulations and policies.

The project team will be hosting a workshop for rural and remote First Nations in May to introduce the research goals, explore shared interests, and help develop community partners for the pilot studies.

“Indigenous knowledge is a form of Indigenous science, and when we link that with academic scholarship and these organizations working in this space, we’re building knowledge that is holistic, integrative and respectful,” says PICS Executive Director Ian Mauro. “And that’s what PICS stands for and will make a priority moving forward.”