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Indigenous Disaster Response

Topics: Indigenous Environmental Health, Emergency Preparedness, Emergency Response


First Nations communities may be disproportionately impacted by a variety of emergencies and disasters, including floods, wildfires, and crude oil spills in their traditional territories. This may be the result of several key factors, including:

  • Logistical difficulties in providing emergency services to remote or isolated communities.
  • Variability in local administrative and technical capacity that may hinder active participation in response and recovery operations.
  • Lack of trust and a legacy of colonialism that may affect coordination or collaboration during the response, and which may impact the utilization of health services.
  • Deep reliance on local ecosystems for food and other resources necessary for economic, socio-cultural, spiritual, and physical well-being. Research with First Nations and Inuit communities indicates that the ability to maintain cultural practices through interaction with the natural environment is a critical determinant of health in these populations (Richmond and Ross, 2009). Under the Fisheries Act, Indigenous peoples are entitled to access marine resources for food, social, and ceremonial (FSC) purposes.
  • The existence of profound social and health inequities that may leave Indigenous communities more vulnerable to mental or physical health impacts, and/or less able to respond (Reading and Wein, 2013).

The aim of this topic page is to provide environmental health professionals, and the Indigenous communities they support, with resources designed to enhance emergency response capacity and promote resilience.

NCCEH Resources

  • Guidance for the environmental public health management of crude oil incidents  (Health Canada, 2018)
    This guidance document provides detailed guidance for public health personnel involved in responses to crude oil spills. This document resulted from collaboration between the NCCEH and Health Canada and provides information on crude oil, its hazards, and its potential effects on health. The focus is primarily on acute exposure resulting from major incidents of public health concern. Of note, it contains an annex detailing the challenges faced by Indigenous communities coping with a spill, and provides some best practices to help public health practitioners support these communities and avoid secondary trauma.
  • Health effects of oil spills: implications for impacted First nations communities (NCCEH, 2017)
    This presentation, delivered at the at the Centre du savoir sur mesure (CESAM) 1st  national symposium, contains a combination of academic research carried out during the Exxon Valdez oil spill as well as a recent diesel spill event that occurred in Heiltsuk territory on BC’s central coast.
  • Community impacts of fuel spills: a case study from BC’s northern coast (NCCEH, 2016)
    This webinar presented by Chief Councillor Marilynn Slett (Heiltsuk Nation), Linda Pillsworth (First Nations Health Authority), and Dr. Angela Eykelbosh (NCCEH) on the environmental public health response to the impacts of the marine diesel spill that occurred near Bella Bella on October 13, 2016.

Selected External Resources

  • First Nations emergency management resource and information package (Emergency Management British Columbia, 2018)
    This information package is designed to provide First Nations communities with resources to support emergency management activities at the community level. The toolkit includes a question and answer resource, considerations for developing emergency and evacuation plans, tools for re-entry and recovery planning, as well as information on PreparedBC resources and contact information for EMBC regional offices. A complementary toolkit is EMBC’s Local Authorities and First Nations recovery toolkit (Emergency Management British Columbia, 2018). It is intended to guide local authorities and First Nations as they plan for disaster recovery. It includes guidance on community recovery, infrastructure recovery, demobilization, and debris management and was intended to for use after the 2017 Freshet and Wildfire season.
  • Addressing the new normal: 21st century disaster management in British Columbia (BC Flood and Wildfire Review, 2018)
    This strategic review examines and assesses government response to the flood and wildfire events of the 2017 season. The review incorporates consultations with individuals, Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, as well as organizations and other stakeholders to gain a wide cross-section of perspectives from those affected.
  • From the ashes: reimagining fire safety and emergency management in Indigenous communities (Report of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, 2018)
    This report summarizes findings from a study on the response and long-term impacts of the 2017 summer wildfires in First Nation communities. The report also addresses fire safety on reserves, resources, tools, and training needs, and the significant gaps in the current approach to emergency management in First Nation communities. Recommendations coming out of the study are also included and focus on fire safety, prevention, funding, fire protection standards, and data collection.
  • From displacement to hope: a guide for displaced Indigenous communities and host communities (Pearce et al., 2017)
    This in-depth guidance document, which was developed in consultation with a number of First Nations communities, aims to help Indigenous communities prepare for and respond to emergency evacuations, and includes a helpful community checklist. The guide is accompanied by another storytelling document detailing the experiences of 14 Indigenous community members who have been evacuated due to disaster.
  • Emergency management (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, 2017)
    This webpage provides background on the roles and responsibilities of communities and FPT agencies during emergencies as well as resources specific to wildfires and flooding. The site also provides links to Canada’s Emergency Management Framework and the National On-reserve Emergency Management Plan.
  • Indigenous community response Training Project (Canadian Coast Guard, 2017)
    This government news release highlights a project that gives members of coastal Indigenous communities in British Columbia additional knowledge, skills, and training to help build on the role they play in marine safety in their communities.
  • Indigenous emergency management: building resiliency together (Public Safety Canada, 2017).
    This presentation provides an overview of a May 2017 meeting that brought together Indigenous leadership with federal, provincial, and territorial ministers. The aim of this meeting was to agree to explore ways to improve engagement and capacity-building within Indigenous communities.
  • Creating a world-leading response system (Indigenous Marine Response Centre (IMRC), Heiltsuk Tribal Council, 2017)
    After the Nathan E. Stewart oil spill, it was clear that the current oil spill response capacity of the central coast of BC was inadequate and unsafe. This report highlights where the need for response capability is most urgent and outlines a plan for an Indigenous Marine Response Centre (IMRC) near Bella Bella to address this need. This is accompanied by an investigation report, detailing the 48-hours after the grounding of the Nathan e. Stewart and the spill that followed. It also outlines the response efforts by the Heiltsuk, and the attendance of other organizations.
  • Aboriginal disaster resilience planning guide (Justice Institute of BC, 2015)
    This guidance document assists community planners through a process of assessing resilience, building a resilience plan, and implementing that plan. In addition to the guide, the website also hosts a number of related resources, including assessment tools and strategies for community disaster resilience, hazard risk analysis, Indigenous emergency management info for each of the provinces and territories, and a traditional knowledge toolkit that promotes the use of storytelling and talking circles to facilitate transfer of traditional knowledge.
  • Emergency management on First Nations reserves (Library of Parliament, 2015)
    This background paper describes the roles and responsibilities of First Nations governments, provincial governments, and the federal government in on-reserve emergency management. The paper also considers challenges and concerns with respect to emergency management on First Nations reserves.
  • Emergency management (First Nations’ Emergency Services Society, 2015)
    This website outlines how First Nation communities can develop emergency plans and provides links to various resources that can guide communities in this task (while outlining how FNESS can assist communities directly).
  • Responding to the needs of Indigenous children in humanitarian context (Save the Children, 2014)
    This presentation, originally presented at the 2014 CRHNet Annual Symposium, highlights the specific needs of Indigenous children who have been displaced or otherwise impacted by disaster, and how to support them.

This list is not intended to be exhaustive. Omission of a resource does not preclude it from having value.



Last updatedAug 21, 2018