Until recently, Canada’s climate change discussion has not provided a platform for Canada’s Indigenous peoples to join the dialogue on much-needed environmental action.
As members of the communities that are most directly impacted by the effects of fossil fuel extraction and other environmentally damaging actions, it’s crucial that Indigenous peoples are recognized as leaders in the global action against climate change.
Many Indigenous communities, working alongside ecological and labour organizations, have supported the shift to a sustainable economy reliant on green technologies, a renewable energy strategy, and “green jobs” that aim to decarbonize production processes to guide Canada into a more sustainable future. In an effort to restore its relationship with Canada’s First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples, the Canadian government has committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Climate change impacts Canada’s Indigenous peoples with more immediacy than other populations, as many of these communities are located in remote, isolated areas. Thus it is integral that the voices of Aboriginal peoples be heard in the greater discussions about climate change and implementing sustainable changes to daily life and industry. Today, Indigenous peoples are reclaiming their roles as advocates for their lands and peoples through green jobs, community involvement, and other initiatives.
The nature of many Aboriginal peoples’ communities and lifestyles means that they are feeling the effects of climate change much differently than those living in urban neighbourhoods. Many Aboriginal peoples live in rural or Northern areas, where resource extraction directly and immediately threatens the biocultural diversity of the land and wildlife in these areas.
Apart from the large-scale implications of climate change like greenhouse gas emissions and acidic pollution, mineral mining processes have other consequences that affect these areas directly. For example, many Indigenous communities are negatively affected by surface and groundwater pollution, land and wildlife disruption, and land collapses from underground mining. Because many Indigenous peoples depend on the land for their livelihood, these practices make day-to-day activities like hunting, fishing, and gathering dangerous or near impossible. Yet feeling the impact of environmental damage so closely makes Indigenous peoples powerful advocates for sustainability and environmental awareness.
While you may have just become aware of the impacts of climate change in the past decade or so, Canada’s Indigenous peoples have have been pushing for action in this fight for decades, if not centuries. The rights negotiated by Indigenous peoples under their treaty rights depend on the longevity of ecosystems to allow for hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering. Therefore, efforts to improve climate conditions are not only vital to the well-being of the environment: they’re also legally binding.
Canada’s Indigenous peoples have a unique relationship with and understanding of their lands and territories. As such, their insight is key to the fight against climate change, but it has only begun to be recognized recently. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government have made it clear that they intend to rebuild Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples, firstly by implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples (UNDRIP). The UNDRIP protects the rights, dignity, and well-being of the Indigenous peoples of the world. The implementation of the UNDRIP in Canada will allow for Indigenous peoples to take back their roles as leaders for their lands and peoples. It calls on the government and Canada’s Indigenous peoples to work together, restore broken relationships, and fight for a common cause.
One of the ways Canada is seeking the assistance of Indigenous Peoples is by tracking environmental changes. It aims to use the oral histories provided by First Nations groups in the Northwest Territories along with Western scientific reconstructions of past climates to track differences over time. This could include documenting things like the position of trees to the length of icy seasons. Canada’s efforts to involve Indigenous peoples in climate change action is a necessary step; these communities have been marginalized and do not want to remain on the fringes of society. They want to be active participants in green initiatives, especially when it comes to the fate of their land.
Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan, for example, states that it aims to collaborate with Indigenous communities to reduce emissions and transition into a low-carbon economy. The Action Plan says that reducing greenhouse emissions will create job opportunities and economic development, as well as opportunities to help improve efficient energy use in Indigenous communities. Additionally, the Ontario government wants to establish low-carbon jobs and training partnerships in post-secondary institutions and Indigenous communities. These initiatives would create programs that would support skills training in relation to renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other green action plans.
Ontario also wants to involve both youth and elders from Aboriginal communities in regular symposiums that will take place in various communities across the province. Their focus will be to educate one another and engage with Canada’s Indigenous communities on climate change issues by learning from their traditional ecological knowledge.
Incorporating Canada’s Indigenous peoples into climate change action is not only monumental in terms of the positive environmental impact the new collaboration could bring, but also because it allows for a reestablished relationship between Canada and its Indigenous groups. The opportunity for more jobs (low carbon and green jobs at that) and community events which call for the joint partnership of Aboriginal youth, elders, and the government will create an open conversation and a more united attempt to protect and remedy the climate change issues we are facing. Together, these efforts will hopefully lead to a different kind of change — a positive one.