Regreening Vancouver’s DTES to Combat Heat Island Effects

The Indigenous Strategic Initiatives (ISI) Fund has begun allocating money to successful Stream 3: Student-led Projects that will further the implementation of the Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP). $500,000 was set aside to fund Student-led Projects intended to advance at least one of the ISP’s 43 actions.

The following article explores details about a successful Student-led Project: Homegrown Climate Justice: Building Climate Resilience Through Community.

Funding Cycle2021-2022

In highlighting Indigenous relationships with the land for medicine, healing, food and connection, this project pairs studies of physical health in connection with environmental health and Indigenous ecological knowledge to mitigate urban heat island effects on the Downtown Eastside (DTES). This project activates Indigenous knowledge to facilitate climate justice and Indigenous human rights advancement by committing to re-greening areas of the DTES in alignment with Indigenous ways of knowing. A model of sustainability at UBC, this project will engage with traditional Coast Salish ecological knowledge to work alongside the City of Vancouver to plant culturally-rooted plants and trees.

Project Team

Alexandra Thomas is an undergraduate student at UBC Vancouver, majoring in Forestry Resources Management and minoring in Community and Aboriginal Forestry. Alex has Kwakwaka’wakw ancestry on her mother’s side and Coast Salish ancestry on her father’s side. Alex has previously worked to research and protect culturally important plants in her traditional territory and facilitate cultural awareness workshops for non-Indigenous communities.

Pablo Akira Beimler and Nadia Joe, Co-Senior Project Managers of Climate Emergency at UBC Sustainability Hub, work to inspire people to act on the urgent challenges of climate change through sustainable leadership. Together, Pablo and Nadia provided Alex with significant support in assembling Alex’s passion for social justice, healing work, and climate resilience into a full-fledged project.

Project Overview

As summers on the Downtown Eastside get hotter, residents – many of whom are unhoused – spend a great deal of time outdoors with few trees and limited access to greenspace. The urgency of this need increases alongside temperature.

Through proposing the creation of garden plots, we envision an opportunity for community building around these green spaces where shade and protection from the heat can be provided.

-Alexandra Thomas

By collaborating with external partners and knowledge holders, this project will foster community ties and provide space for community members to root themselves in Indigenous practices, culture, and connection to the land.

Indigenous Strategic Plan (2020) Alignment

By holding space for Indigenous students to work on this project, this project provides an opportunity for students to gain culture education around plants and community work experience, while engaging firsthand with different mechanisms we can adapt to increase climate resilience at a local level. Working in collaboration with Indigenous knowledge holders and student researchers and integrating traditional knowledge into the garden planning process, this project will provide ecological resources to provide for the communities they are planted in.

Photo by Alexandra Thomas. A tree cannot flourish without a forest. A person cannot flourish without a community. The same can be said about gardens, if they are not tended to with love and care, they cannot flourish either.

Action 12Support research opportunities for students to become global leaders in the advancement of Indigenous knowledge systems in health, governance, education, law, business, the sciences, the arts and Indigenous languages.
Action 14Provide Indigenous people who are engaged in research with equitable and timely compensation that recognizes the significant value of their participation to the research process and outcomes.


This project will build community around common goals: climate resiliency, reconnecting to plants in a culturally important way, and community healing. Further, it will establish healthy spaces for collaboration. The benefits of communal greenspaces are felt tangibly, by providing shade and cooler temperatures in the summer, and food and medicines to be harvested and returned to the community.