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Indigenous Voices Should Be At The Forefront Of Climate Change Discussions

Updated: Sep 6, 2019

The IPCC, which is a sub-group of the United Nations specifically assigned to bring together expert researchers and scientists from around the world to document various reports on climate change, warned in its landmark report that an inability to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will ultimately result in devastating risks of severe adverse effects such as drought, famine, floods and poverty, by as early as 2020 (1). With the average temperatures in Canada increasing at a rate that is twice that of the global average, it is pivotal that Canada take serious action on addressing the climate change crisis (2).

On Thursday, 13 September 2007 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), with a majority of 144 votes in favour and 11 abstentions, Canada was one of four to vote against it. (3). However, in November of 2010, Canada announced that they would be endorsing UNDRIP (4). Knowledge from Indigenous experts not only equips their own communities with the correct tools, assets and knowledge to increase adaptive capabilities, but it is also a driving force in finding climate solutions that work for the nation as a whole (4). With reconciliation and climate change going hand-in-hand, many Indigenous leaders such as Wilton Littlechild, a Cree lawyer and one of three commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, believe that UNDRIP must be incorporated into Canada’s climate change strategy (5). Littlechild explains that’s Indigenous communities hold spiritual connections with the treaty rights to hunt, fish, gather, food and sustenance (5). These rights are then threatened when the food and the animals eaten are contaminated due to pollution (5). Bringing Indigenous experts to the decision making table, rather than just being consulted on issues to pertaining to climate change, not only upholds their rights in adherence to UNDRIP but will also help to find significant solutions to the climate change crisis in Canada (5).

Climate change is a growing threat on marginalized Indigenous communities and affects their culture, territories and way of life (5). Many Indigenous people on the front lines, fighting against the development of fossil fuels, are not only fighting for their inherent rights but are also fighting to preserve the land and its biodiversity (5). With 80% of the world’s biodiversity within areas that are recognized as Indigenous lands and territories, it is clear that their maintenance of spiritual and sacred connections to the land in which they reside, is vital for climate stabilization (6). Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, explains that it is essential that all people in Canada work together to end the unsustainable use of energy and resource consumption (7). Due to the relationship that Indigenous communities have with the land, water and natural surroundings which have sustained them from time immemorial, they carry the knowledge and ideas that the world needs today (7). Indigenous communities have witnessed the ongoing destruction of the ecosystem since the start of colonization, and have been at the forefront of the fight against environment injustices. Their voices must come to the forefront of the discussion on climate sustainability (7).

The Indigenous Climate Action: Indigenous Worldview Climate Change toolkit is an excellent resource to explore the way in which Indigenous knowledge plays a critical role in creating solutions for climate change (8).

1) Allow peer-to peer-connections to form by hosting gatherings to share best sustainable practices (8).

2) Gather a number of resources and tools that will educate and train Indigenous communities in various climate action strategies, along with alternative climate action solutions that are formulated to coincide with Indigenous worldview and rights frameworks (8).

3) Create discourse on Indigenous rights and climate change through blogs, social media and seminars (8).

4) Connect communities that are currently working to uphold Indigenous rights while addressing climate change (8).

If you are looking to become more involved with this topic please contact Indigenous Climate Action via email;

Carolyn King, former elected Chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, speaking at the 2018 Decolonizing Thanksgiving Dinner, in Guelph, Ontario.

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