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Nanaimo Indigenous climate policy adviser receives emerging leader award

Janna Wale points to interconnections between humans and environment
Nanaimo resident Janna Wale is a recipient of the B.C. Achievement Foundation’s emerging leader community award. (Veronika Larsen photo)

A Nanaimo resident has been recognized for a leadership award for her climate action efforts.

This spring, Janna Wale was presented with an emerging leader community award from the B.C. Achievement Foundation for her work as a policy adviser with the Indigenous research stream at the Canadian Climate Institute.

The 28-year-old Gitxsan woman first became interested in climate action as a teenager when she noticed the population of sockeye salmon disappearing on her annual two-week summer trip to Gitanmaax First Nation with her family.

“Salmon is a huge thing in our community we use it for a lot of different parts of our culture and every summer we came back and there would be less and less fish,” Wale said. “I was like, ‘How do I make a difference, what do I want to study where I can kind of help?’”

Now, she’s working to form climate solutions, currently developing a scoping paper in collaberation with Indigenous Clean Energy which examines the intersection of housing with energy-efficiency and health.

Wale follows a complex human-environmental systems approach, in which she examines her research with the lens that health, housing and environment are all interconnected.

“We kind of look at the world as a human and environmental system together, where a lot of Western policy sees them as separate. We’ve got ministries for health, and we’ve got ministries for the environment,” Wale said. “Social ecological systems are just this way of looking at the interactions between humans and the environment and understanding those pieces are important in building climate resilience for the future.”

When she first entered the field about a decade ago, Wale said the approach wasn’t regularly used.

“This was right when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission came out, so around 2015, the conversations we were having about different ways of knowing were very different. Not a lot of conversations about actioning these things or even including them in the same weighting as things like ‘Western science,’” Wale said. “It was way more extraction-based, it was talking about industry and we were talking about maximum sustainable yields – a way different conversation than we are having right now.”

Her first step into the field was studying natural resource sciences at the University of British Columbia, then working as an intern with B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy’s climate action secretariat. After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, she took her masters in sustainability. On the day she defended her thesis discussing building climate resilience in Indigenous communities, she joined the Canadian Climate Institute where she works today as a policy advisor for the Indigenous research stream.

Wale’s work includes co-authoring the institute’s heat wave report that came out last year. The paper titled ‘The Case for Adapting to Extreme Heat’ advised the provincial government on how to avoid and prepare for future heat-dome events. This was following the 2021 heat dome which, according to the B.C. Coroners Service, was responsible for 619 heat-related deaths. Wale also co-authored ‘Flood Transparency: How flood risk transparency can drive equitable outcomes in Canada’ which examined best policies to improve outcomes of flood risk transparency for communities.

While she is proud of her work, Wale expressed disappointment in the provincial and federal governments for being on track to failing to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement global warming threshold of 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

“Being an Indigenous person, it’s just one thing after the other, you just kind of get used to this cycle of being disapointed in the government, to be honest,” Wale said. “You see things that need to be done differently and things that aren’t being done differently for different reasons, but it’s frustrating to see that we’re not going to meet our climate targets. We’ve already blown past the 1.5 degrees and it just seems like the cycle of continuing to make the wrong decisions. I think that’s the most shocking or disappointing thing.”

If she could give one message, it’s to not to underestimate the value of individual actions.

“Using your voice to make change, I think that’s always important. Reminding people that they do have the ability and the agency to make changes they want to see and just encouraging people to take that step and push our government for real and better climate solutions.”

The community award program celebrates British Columbians who go above and beyond in their dedication and service to others and honours those who devote their time and energy to making their communities “more caring, dynamic, beautiful, resilient, and inclusive,” according to the B.C. Achievement Foundation.

The award was presented on May 8 at Government House in Victoria.

READ MORE: Nanaimo volunteer recognized with provincial community achievement award

Jessica Durling

About the Author: Jessica Durling

Nanaimo News Bulletin journalist covering health, wildlife and Lantzville council.
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