Traditional Indigenous knowledge supports flood mitigation research in James Bay region

Researchers collaborate with Kashechewan First Nation to understand changing spring flooding in northern Ontario.

Katie Willis - 30 April 2019

New research from University of Alberta human geographers taps into rich, traditional Indigenous knowledge to better understand spring flooding in the Kashechewan First Nation, located in the southwestern James Bay region of northern Ontario.

Results from the study show that the timing and extent of spring flooding in the region is exacerbated by climate change and human-induced changes that have affected spring ice breakup and ice jams.

"These human-induced ecological changes have contributed to and created the increased risk of flooding for the community of Kashechewan," explained Arshad Khalafzai, PhD student in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences studying under the supervision of Professor Tara McGee. "The First Nation also identified a number of factors it feels have been exacerbated by climate change, including spring flows of the river, increased temperature, unpredictable weather, breakup ice jams events, and issues with safe access to the winter ice road."

The research methods used for this study, which included in-depth interviews and participatory mapping, may also prove useful for ongoing flood monitoring and disaster risk reduction activities in this region of southwestern James Bay-as well as elsewhere among Canadian Indigenous communities. A local research assistant was a member of the research team and assisted throughout the data collection process. Their involvement may help to build capacity for the Kashechewan community to conduct similar research in the future.

"Traditional knowledge is contextualized as a body of cumulative knowledge, evolving over time, passed on through generations, and associated with a specific place for a long period of time" said Khalafzai. "Collaboration between Indigenous traditional knowledge holders and the scientific research community can help to promote innovative and effective adaptation action, and relevant traditional knowledge can inform cost-effective and sustainable disaster risk reduction."

The paper, "Flooding in the James Bay region of Northern Ontario, Canada: Learning from traditional knowledge of Kashechewan First Nation," was published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction(doi: 10.1016/j.ijdrr.2019.101100).