|Background: The impacts of climate change are more pronounced in high latitude regions of the world, which includes the Canadian arctic and subarctic. Warming events are triggering widespread ecological and social impacts – resulting in increased challenges to those who call these regions home. It is predicted that Canadian Aboriginal Peoples (First Nations, Inuit, and Metis) living in remote and isolated arctic and subarctic communities are likely to be those most impacted by climate change. With a history of social and environmental marginalization, this region has experienced a loss in adaptive capacity. The increased occurrence of extreme weather events and unpredictable travel conditions are creating hazardous travel conditions, severely impacting the ability for people to partake in traditional subsistence pursuits, as well as everyday activities. Despite these challenges, warming surface air temperatures in the subarctic have introduced the potential for local sustainable food production, under ambient conditions. High rates of food insecurity in subarctic First Nations communities have been well documented within the academic literature. The easing of harsh winter weather and the warming of summer temperatures presents the opportunity to address food security concerns through the production of local foods.
Objectives: The overall objective of this dissertation was to develop a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities associated with climate change in relation to First Nations in the Canadian subarctic, while fostering increased adaptive capacity in these northern communities. The objective of Study I was to work with the community of Fort Albany First Nations to develop a real-time, decision-support tool to help reduce the degree of exposure of James Bay Cree to hazardous bush travel conditions. The objective of Study II was to seize the opportunity to grow vegetables under ambient conditions in subarctic Ontario in a more sustainable manner. Study III builds upon Study II and examined soil chemistry, biomass, and yield in the context of intercrops grown in treed and non-treed sites; import substitution and evaluating more sustainable agricultural practices were the end goals.
Methods: Study I: The University of Waterloo’s Computer Systems Group has developed a novel decision-support tool termed the collaborative-geomatics informatics tool. This web-based tool allows for the community to monitor, in real-time, the safety of travel routes. Using handheld GPS tracking systems, the utility of the informatics tool to present real-time travel conditions, was carried out in a subarctic Ontario, Canada. Study II: The feasibility of more sustainably growing potatoes (Solanum tuberosum L.) utilizing agroforestry practices to enhance food security in remote subarctic communities was explored through a field study in Fort Albany First Nation in northern Ontario, Canada. Potato and green bush beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) were grown over a two-year period under ambient conditions in treed and non-treed sites. Study III: Biomass and yield production of bush bean and potato intercrops grown over a two-year period in two sites (treed, windbreak-lined with native willow, Salix. spp.; and non-treed, or open) in the subarctic were collected and analyzed. Soil samples from each site were also collected and analyzed for a suite of elements.
Results and Discussion: The results from Study I showed that the collaborative-geomatics informatics tool offers the potential to monitor and store information on the safety of travel routes in subarctic Ontario. The results from Study II revealed that sole-cropped potatoes and bush beans could be grown successfully in the subarctic without the use of greenhouses, with yields comparable to more conventional high-input agricultural methods. Study III revealed that intercrops grown in the windbreak lined-site produced significantly greater (p<0.05) yields and biomass compared to the non-treed site. Soil chemistry (pH, P, K, Mg, NO3, NH4 and total N) showed that nutrient amendments would be required for continued agricultural use. Thus, food import-substitution strategies in subarctic Ontario have the potential to enhance community resilience in light of present and future environmental change.