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Wildfire evacuations have unique impacts on Indigenous communities: study

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When wildfires spread they can have devastating impacts — forcing people to leave their homes and belongings — and new research says the effects may be even greater for Indigenous communities.

The study, published in the February 2019 volume of the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, looks at how members of the Mishkeegogamang Ojibway Nation in northwestern Ontario — where over 1,000 people were living — responded to a mandatory wildfire evacuation in June 2011.

The fire was about 300 square kilometres in size and 15 kilometres away when a mandatory evacuation was called for the First Nation. Residents were relocated over three days to the communities of Sioux Lookout, located 230 kilometres away, Ignace, 236 kilometres away, and Geraldton, 763 kilometres away.

Lead author Tara McGee, who’s a professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, interviewed 28 residents about their evacuation experiences, many of whom said they did not want to leave the community.

“Evacuees were worried about their house pets and their possessions, some felt quite homesick over the evacuation period,” she said.

“There was also a strong desire of people to want to stay home within [Mishkeegogamang] and within the traditional territory to be able to carry out their usual activities.”

Tara McGee is a professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. (Submitted by Tara McGee)

The study found that for Indigenous people, attachments to place may be stronger and the freedom to carry out activities like hunting and fishing may be more important.

The desire to retain control may also be stronger for Indigenous people, the study said, due in part to the colonial legacy of government programs in Canada.

“Within an evacuation, often it’s RCMP who would go to the door to tell people to leave, so one of the residents essentially said that that seemed like it would be similar to the residential school experience,” said McGee.   

There were a number of other negative impacts on evacuees, McGee said, including extended families being split up while others were crowded in hotel rooms. McGee said this was especially stressful as families in the Indigenous community play a key role in providing social support.

“Some people also found that a few individuals in the three communities where evacuees were sent made racist comments that made them feel unwelcome,” she added. 

Because the power went out in the First Nation, McGee said many residents also lost food that was being stored in refrigerators and freezers,

“For people in northern communities, that takes a lot of time and money to replace that lost food.”

Indigenous communities are at high risk for wildfires in Canada. A recent analysis by the Canadian Forest Service indicates that 60 per cent of First Nation reserves in Canada are located within or intersect with wildland and urban development — high risk areas for wildfire. Research also suggests that the number of wildfires will increase over the next decade.

Indigenous Canadians are also disproportionately affected by respiratory diseases, including asthma, which are exacerbated by wildfire smoke.

Taking a different approach

McGee said when it comes to the evacuation of Indigenous communities, a different approach should be taken. She recommends that emergency managers consider ways to allow people to stay with their traditional territory when possible or relocate them to nearby Indigenous communities that can provide culturally appropriate accommodations and support.

That’s something the Northwest Territories government said it prioritizes when it comes to emergency planning.

Ivan Russell, manager of emergency measures with the territorial government,  said during evacuations they try and keep people within familiar cultural surroundings.

“Our protocol really for community evacuations is to try to keep [people] within their own region,” he said. “So if we have to evacuate a community we’ll try to evacuate them to the regional centre which is very familiar culturally, as well they share a lot of family ties.”  

Russell noted they consider other factors like the risk to communities and the ability of host communities to provide supports to evacuees.

In the past five years there have been 11 partial or full evacuations of communities in the Northwest Territories and four of remote cabin areas.

The territory updated its emergency plan in December 2018, which includes evacuation guidelines. It states that communities are responsible for developing and implementing emergency plans, including evacuation plans and the territorial government will provide assistance as needed.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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