Environment: Current Problems

Climate Change

April 27, 2023


‘We will have to adapt’: Record high temperatures in Nunavik pose threat to Inuit way of life

‘Huge thaw’ in northern Quebec significantly reducing time out on land, says locals

Three boys walk on a dirt road, one pushing a bike. They have their coats off.
Kuujjuaq, Que. experienced record-breaking temperatures this week. Locals say winters are becoming shorter, changing their way of life. (Submitted by Adamie Delisle Alaku)

CBC News: Spring jackets were peeled off on Monday as people wore T-shirts and children biked around sunny and balmy Kuujjuaq, Que., in what became one of the warmest spring days the region has experienced to date.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) reported it was 16 C on Monday and 13 C on Sunday — setting two new record high temperatures in the town, located 1,400 kilometres north of Montreal. “It’s one of those days where it feels like it’s very early summer even though we’re in late April,” said Adamie Delisle Alaku, executive vice-president for the Department of Environment, Wildlife and Research at Makivvik Corporation, the organization representing Inuit in Nunavik in northern Quebec.

“That’s the talk of the town right now.”

Delisle Alaku says the melting snow in Kuujjuaq has left the town covered in dust, dirt and puddles — a rare occurrence at the start of spring in the region that’s indicative of bigger issues and widespread consequences on Inuit across the region. “Into almost early summer people are still able to go out on the land. But right now we’re seeing a huge thaw in the region,” he said. “Right now all the lakes and the surrounding lakes and rivers are very, very slushy.” “For the southern part of Nunavik, it is becoming very, very difficult to access our hunting grounds because there’s practically no more snow to drive on and we have to rely on lakes.”

A little pile of snow is surrounded by dirt and puddles. Children play together in the distance
Adamie Delisle Alaku says a lot of the snow has melted in Kuujjuaq after the two warm days this week, leaving behind lots of dirt and puddles. (Submitted by Adamie Delisle Alaku)
‘We will have to adapt’

André Cantin, a meteorologist for ECCC said temperatures usually range between zero and –9 C this time of year in Nunavik. “We’re forecasting temperature, let’s say 10 C to 12 C above normal during the day,” said Cantin. “So that is quite unusual.”

“The trend that we observe over the last few years is that the temperature is generally well above normal in the North from year to year.

Delisle Alaku says less snow has prevented Inuit from travelling on the rivers and fishing and hunting in the spring. “It’s becoming a big issue that we are unable to provide for our families,” said Delisle Alaku. “Since time immemorial, we have lived off the land and off the sea and the rivers that provide … It’s becoming really difficult nowadays. We will have to adapt. We will need to switch maybe to alternate forms of accessing our territory.”

Snowmobiles lined up in a row on a dirt road
Locals say the winters have become much shorter in recent years, reducing the time they can use snowmobiles. (Submitted by Adamie Delisle Alaku)
Snowmobiles fall through ice, reduced time on the land

The thin ice has become a hazard in the fall and spring to such an extent that people are advised not to go hunting alone and people also equip themselves with spare clothes and ropes to pull others out of the water, said Delisle Alaku. Just last fall, Larry Brandridge heard about a person whose snowmobile fell through the ice.

An Ontario resident who is the chief diving instructor for the Nunavik Arctic Survival Training Centre, Brandridge says the person was lucky to have been rescued. “But if they had been out there on their own, they probably would have perished,” said Brandridge. “It kind of worries me on two different levels. It worries me on my own personal safety and my friends’ safety. Because I know they’re going to go and travel their traditional routes. And now knowing that those [routes] are not as stable as they used to be … It does concern me.”

He notes that winter generally comes later and ends earlier, significantly reducing the period when they teach arctic survival training in the region.

A man in a winter coat stands in the snow looking at a pack of wild muskox
Allen Gordon runs a ecotourism camp near Kuujjuaq where visitors come to observe wildlife like muskox. (Submitted by Allen Gordon)

“Normally we couldn’t do that in the months of January, February because it was just too cold. It would be –40 C. Where now March and April it’s almost too warm to be building an igloo to be going out on the land and teaching a winter survival course,” said Brandridge. “It’s just kind of bad all the way around when the ice leaves early … Once the snow starts to go, the rivers all open up, the ponds and lakes all open up and you just can’t travel.”

Region losing out on 2 months of winter

Allen Gordon, a resident of Kuujjuaq, says the warming weather has significantly hurt his business. He works at the Nunavik Tourism Association and runs his own ecotourism camp located 72 kilometres from town. “My observation since the 1990s is that it’s changing, definitely changing,” said Gordon.

A man kneels on the land next to an Inukshuk
Allen Gordon pictured with an Inukshuk in Nunavik. (Mike Beedell)

“Spring comes very quickly and it melts the snow on the ground which reduces our time to be out on the land.”

Since his fly-in camp can only be accessed by snowmobile in the winter, the warm weather forced Gordon to change his plans. “My plan was to go out pretty well daily and haul a lot of equipment that way because I’m renovating the camp and on my last trip I barely made it,” said Gordon. “The snow was so soft I got stuck.”

A few cabins spread along a green grass overlooking the water
Allen Gordon hasn’t been able to access his ecotoursim camp located 72 kilometres from town because of the warming temperatures. (Submitted by Allen Gordon)

In total, he says the region is likely losing out on about two months of winter, with spring coming earlier and fall extending longer. “It’s sad,” said Gordon. “Sad in a way that what we got used to doing every year, what we were able to plan and what we pretty well knew would be safe is now so unpredictable and it’s a lot more risky.”


Rachel Watts, CBC journalist

Rachel Watts is a journalist with CBC News in Quebec City. Originally from Montreal, she enjoys covering stories in the province of Quebec.

October 13, 2022

BC, Fed. Govt.

‘Salmon are the heartbeat of our coast, our people, everything around us’

Coastal First Nations Community Storyteller Emilee Gilpin in conversation with Haíɫzaqv cultural leader and conservation manager Dúqva̓ísḷa, William Housty on Oct 11, 2022. Audio clips of the interview are included throughout the story.

NationTalk: A shocking video of over 65,000 dead pink and chum salmon in Heiltsuk territory spread across social media last week and was picked up by news outlets like BBCCBC, the GuardianCTV NewsGlobal NewsThe Narwhal, and more. 

While Indigenous peoples and scientists have been trying to raise alarms about the unprecedented rates of climate change for some time, footage like the chilling view of thousands of dead fish trying to spawn in an important coastal watershed hit home for many. The original video at the Neekas watershed, which is about 20 km north of Bella Bella, was taken by German anthropologist Sarah Mund, who was assisting crews of creek-walkers that are counting returning salmon as they come to spawn in Heiltsuk territory. 

Dúqva̓ísḷa, William Housty, a cultural leader for his community and  the conservation manager for the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department (HIRMD) says the video speaks to a larger issue of climate change, which is happening too fast for some species to adapt. When he shared the video on his Twitter it took off — currently with almost 200,000 views. 

In an interview with Coastal First Nations, Dúqva̓ísḷa says that while they knew things were bad, they didn’t realize just how bad. The find should be an alarming wake-up call for all of us to work together to find solutions, he says.

VIDEO: See link at the end of this article

Gilpin: Can you explain what we’re seeing in the video?

Dúqva̓ísḷa: I think what had happened is: we had a couple days of light rain… the salmon rely so heavily on environmental triggers, that once the rain started coming in, that’s kind of their cue, to head of the rivers. And so I think that’s what ended up happening is they went into the river and then weather conditions dried up again. 

As the pools started to shrink and some of the salmon started to die, they either died of lack of oxygen or ammonia poisoning, cause salmon give off a lot of ammonia once they die. The pools were so small that everything just died away. We had a reconnaissance into the Neekas, by our DFO colleagues just in the last couple of days and he reported that there was not one survivor in there.

Gilpin: Did you realize conditions were so bad?

Dúqva̓ísḷa: We knew that all the systems were pretty dry and pretty low. We didn’t realize that this sort of thing was happening. It was pretty shocking to see, to get word of what was going on. That triggered us to start to look at what’s happening in the broader territory. Understanding that we still have projects that are ongoing until the end of October, so we don’t have all of the data and observations compiled, but the general consensus from our field crews was that  pretty well every system in the territory is bone dry and Neekas is definitely the worst case. They are seeing some traces of pre-spawn mortality in some of the other creeks because of how dry things are. 

Gilpin: I know that you were born and raised in Wágḷísḷa, in Bella Bella. Tell me about significant changes you’ve witnessed in your territory in your lifetime.

Dúqva̓ísḷa: I’m 40 years old and in the course of my lifetime, I’ve seen drastic changes in lots of different areas, not just with salmon, but with other species as well, like herring and migratory birds. For the most part, the changes are to do with the migration patterns and when they’re coming, when they’re spawning, where they’re spawning and how they’re spawning. 


It’s just killing them off. Even just hearing other stories from my own Elders about how high the tides are getting and how we used to be so much more beach back in the 30s and 40s and things like that…just realizing that unless we’re tuned in and know that this is happening lots, it’s not something you really notice until you have instances like this where it’s a kind of an eye-opener. 

Gilpin: What message do you think this video speaks or should speak to the general public?

Dúqva̓ísḷa: I think the main message is that this isn’t just a Heiltsuk problem. It’s not just a First Nations problem or a BC or Canada problem. It’s a world problem and a human problem. It’s unfolding right in front of our eyes. It’s all of us that need to find a way to band together to slow down and reverse the impact.

Everybody can do their own small little part, however they want. But until we come together collectively as a human race around the world, we’re gonna continue to see these effects and they’re gonna get worse and worse and unfortunately, it’s gonna force us to start thinking about things like extinction of certain species in certain places. 

VIDEO: See link at the end of this article

Gilpin: Can you tell me a bit about the significance of salmon for your people?

Dúqva̓ísḷa: Salmon are the centerpiece of Heiltsuk culture. When you go back and look at all of the different archeological digs that our people have done over time, there’s one thing that’s consistent from the bottom of the pit of time immemorial right through to the present, is salmon. Our ancestors never would’ve survived to where we are today if salmon weren’t there. 


Our stories talk about how the salmon are so closely connected with twins and how when twins are born, well, there’s gonna be a big salmon run, because they’re all gonna come and celebrate the birth of a twin. Those kinds of connections on a human level have existed for thousands of years, and it’s really heartbreaking to know that the salmon populations are as low as they are, because that impacts the relationship we’ve had with salmon since time immemorial. 

To see how important salmon is to us in a potlatch or a feast, not only as a meal, something to eat, but the way they put it in, in academia is, you know, ‘the keystone species’ sort of thing — that’s true in our culture. They’re the heartbeat of the coast, of our people and everything around us. It’s a really important relationship that we’ve had for a long long time and we really need to find a way to help them recover and help them continue to be the centerpiece for life here. 

Gilpin: What are the most significant factors in your mind that are contributing to climate change?

Dúqva̓ísḷa: Deforestation around the world. We always just assume that because there’s not a lot of logging and we have a lot of old growth forest here in our territory, that we’re okay. But when you look at it on a global scale, deforestation is causing a huge impact worldwide. It’s not just in the place where the forestry has occurred. Those sorts of things stand out as being the most important things that we need to tackle, allowing our forests to exist and to grow and continue to nourish the environment. 


That’s having a huge impact on the climate and there’s not enough carbon offsets. I think it’s everything right down to the vehicles that we all drive. Even just a place like Bella Bella, where there’s a lot of vehicles and you tally that up around the world, that’s a lot of exhaust in the atmosphere. We just need to be greener in the way we live our lives, not be so dependent on oil and gas and all those sorts of things. It’s a big, big problem that is gonna take everybody to get rid of.

Gilpin: What steps have you seen your Nation take to find solutions to climate change?

Dúqva̓ísḷa: We’ve taken some small steps as a Nation to contribute to going in the right direction, with the climate action network that we’ve established and the strategy they’ve put in place. We’ve done smaller things like revamp our recycling and garbage facilities so that we’re recycling a bit more and reusing a bit more. We’ve been a lot more aware of forestry in our territory and been aware of how important old growth is. We’ve put a stop to all commercial logging, there’s been no commercial logging in our territory for five years now while we figure out what’s sustainable. I think just smaller steps like that, that the Nation has taken to just kind of lead by example for our own people.

Gilpin: Anything else you’d like to share?

Dúqva̓ísḷa: What we do now is so important because we have to think about the world that we’re leaving for our children and grandchildren. We’ve seen a steady decline of species and salmon in general our entire lives. We just really need to think long and hard about what we’re leaving behind and make sure that the way we live our lives now is a good example for our children to carry out, carry it on, and make sure that we’re living by our values and making sure that we have everything in place that our ancestors fought so hard to hang onto for us. 

VIDEO: See link at the end of this article


February 28, 2023


A vanishing world: Winter sea ice is melting away from Labrador. For the Inuit way of life, it’s a death knell

Winter sea ice is melting away from Labrador. For the Inuit way of life, it’s a death knell

CBC News: Crystal Allen-Webb hangs strips of moose meat to dry above her sink, her infant daughter babbling in a high chair beside her.

It’s a frigid January evening in Nain — so cold the wind burns your eyelids raw — but the Allen-Webb house, warmed by a woodstove and a hot dinner, glows with comfort. “This ain’t our traditional food, but it’s traditional food now for us. We’re growing on it, the moose meat,” she says, stirring some in a cast-iron pan.

For Allen-Webb, the costs of sustaining this warmth and putting meat on the table are quickly becoming untenable. Nain is home, and she doesn’t want to move away. But it’s crossed her mind lately, she says: the family, despite its double income, is struggling. Even the moose she’s preparing comes from the community freezer, a donation from a hunter in Newfoundland.

There’s a long list of reasons the prices of food and fuel have spiked across Canada, including here in northern Labrador, forcing much of the working population nearly to its knees. But at the heart of that financial strife, in Nain at least, is a climate that grows warmer and more chaotic by the year.

A woman at a stove
Crystal Allen-Webb cooks dinner in her home in Nain. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

In the Inuit communities along Labrador’s north coast, the sea ice season traditionally lasted up to eight months of the year.  As the ocean freezes over each winter, an entirely new landscape appears.  From Nain to Rigolet, a highway emerges: a way of moving between communities, of getting out onto the land, of hunting and fishing, trapping, collecting firewood. 

Geographically, with no roads cut into the rocky vast tundra, there’s no simple way to travel along the coast without the sea ice. But it’s late, again, this year in Nain — this time, by six long weeks.

A boat on ice with houses in the background
The frozen harbour in Nain in late January. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Allen-Webb isn’t alone in her struggle to pay the ever-rising cost of living along the coast. Others in the community say they’re only scraping along these days.  Michael Earle, a father of three, stands outside one of Nain’s two grocery stores, visibly overcome by sticker shock.

Earle explains how even with a double-income household, his bank accounts are stretched nearly to breaking. When his kids come along to do the shopping, even they decline treats, he says. Corn dogs and pizzas are so costly even the children can’t justify the expense.

It’s far worse this year, Earle says. The late ice means hunting and wooding are delayed. Locals normally get resources from the land. Country food like arctic char, seal and ptarmigan, and dry wood from places accessible only by snowmobile, supplement their kitchens and homes. The land provides what they need to survive here, and without a solid layer of sea ice, they simply can’t get to it.

For weeks now, people have been relying on imported groceries and fuel instead, and their frustration shows. “I know there’s freight and overhead and storage,” Earle says, pleadingly, “but things shouldn’t be 100 per cent more.” 

Michael Earle, top left, says climate change is directly impacting the cost of living in northern Labrador. There’s another cost to the warming climate in Labrador.

For Rutie Lampe, it’s the close ties between the sea ice and well-being in remote Nain. Lampe, now an elder and mental health co-ordinator with the Nunatsiavut government, grew up in fishing camps. Living off the day’s bounty is how she was raised and taught. She’s seen the arrival of gas-powered snowmobiles, of electric heat. But the thought of seeing the sea ice disappear forever has left her dabbing at her eyes.

A woman in a parka with a backdrop of snowy trees
Rutie Lampe was overcome with emotion when talking about what the future holds for Nain. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

“It breaks my heart to even think about that,” she says quietly.  “It’s not survival. It’s a way of life, and what we always grew up with. Our ancestors, our grandparents. It’s sad to mention our children may not see it.”

Lampe runs a wood harvesting program for the community. Every Tuesday, the group heads onto the land, over the sea ice, cutting wood and hauling it home for elders. They have boil-ups, making coffee and sausages, and chatting among each other, like families in this part of the world have always done. She witnesses the grief, anxiety and depression melt away on these outings, their faces lighting up with joy in the crisp air.

The land and sea is who I am. It’s what keeps me alive

“You can see the change in a person, you know. Even ourselves: how you feel being out in the nature and the peace, to see the snow,” she says. “We’re all happy out there.”

But this year, it was the end of January before Lampe and her group could set out across the ice. It has to be thick enough to support their weight. People have fallen through before. Winters along the coast are unpredictable now. For a subpolar region, getting rain weeks into the new year has shaken society to its core.No sea ice, after all, means no way out.

In the last 50 years, the Labrador coast’s winter has warmed by about 1.5 C per decade on average. The most recent years have been the warmer, suggesting accelerated rises in temperature.  Those changes have meant fewer freezing days for the ice, and more vegetation growth on land, further isolating locals.

Derrick Pottle, a hunter, consultant and bear guard trainer, lives in Rigolet, a few communities south of Nain. As of late January, it was covered in barely a dusting of snow.  “I just can’t get out,” Pottle says.  “I’m just barred here in the community. All I can do is go around and around in a circle, almost like a caged animal.”

A man smiles sitting at a table
Derrick Pottle describes himself as a man of the land and sea, and wants the province to pay more attention to climate impacts on the north coast. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Rigolet’s trails need major upgrading for the winters Nunatsiavut is projected to face, he says. He likens it to a snowstorm blocking off all the major roads out of metro St. John’s. Imagine, he says, that the city didn’t bother plowing for two months. That’s exactly how he feels.

It’s something local researchers agree with.  “The observed changes in ice and snow conditions … have very likely had negative impacts on the physical and mental health of people in the region,” write the authors of a 2021 Nunatsiavut climate update report. “Model simulations of continued warming and declining snow and ice cover suggest that these impacts may be exacerbated in the future.”

Pottle, too, describes the deep connection between the ice and Inuit health. He later shows me pictures of sealskins stretched out to dry outside his home. “It’s our identities, where we come from. It’s where we belong. It’s our calling,” Pottle explains, eloquent and sincere. “The land and sea is who I am. It’s what keeps me alive. It’s my heartbeat.”

Like Lampe, Pottle can’t picture Nunatsiavut without the sea ice that serves as a road and a platform to the ocean’s winter bounty. How could he hunt seal without it? How could he visit the places his grandfather trapped and fished, or get wood to keep his family warm? “My generation could be the last generation that knows this lifestyle,” he says.  “That’s scary, when you take a culture’s identity away from them.”

Labrador’s north coast can expect its winters to only become warmer and more erratic as time goes on. A 2021 Vital Signs report from Memorial University projects a nearly 13 C increase in Nain’s average winter temperature by the end of the century. But it’s not clear exactly how that might affect sea ice in Nunatsiavut specifically. Researchers have called for more observation stations, meant to collect data that will help Inuit leaders plan for whatever the future may bring, in the region.

That forecast has already prompted one Inuit-led company to develop a now-essential technology. “We’re going to have to provide more and more data as climate change gets worse throughout the years,” says Rex Holwell Jr., leaning back in his workshop chair one morning in late January. He leads SmartICE, a Nain-based tech company that’s created sensors that detect how thick the sea ice is. 

Some of those sensors feed information back to the user in real time, as they travel. The data is fed back to an app, notifying the rest of Nunatsiavut about safe ice routes on any given day. Holwell is training a new group of SmartICE operators to use the technology themselves. He’s now done this in 24 communities across the Canadian North and expects to expand globally, he says.

Outside, surrounded by half a dozen trainees, Holwell boards his snowmobile, and the group whips along Nain’s snowy roads.  The transition from the shore to the solid sea is visible where the current and waves have pushed up hunks of ice. Then, quickly, it’s utterly flat. Snowmobile tracks recede into the distance, past the narrows. Everything is white and still.

After they stop, a student drills into the ice to drop a sensor. Holwell fiddles with the screen attached to it but can’t get the sensor to work. He needs a new cable: it may not come on the plane for weeks, he says, finally giving up. It’s just another challenge of tackling climate change in the isolated North, and one Holwell believes isn’t quite fair.

Rex Holwell Jr., top left, tinkers with the SmartICE measuring system.

“The Inuit population, we’re a very small population, some of the people who don’t contribute a whole lot to climate change,” he points out.  “But we’re going to be one of the first people who are going to be very affected by climate change.”

He’s matter-of-fact about it all. The only thing to be done, he says, is adapt: to invent tools to foster Inuit traditions, to keep people safe in unpredictable conditions. “Not travelling on the sea ice, that’s one of the biggest things of our culture. People say it’s a part of culture — it is our culture to travel on the sea ice. “In 20, 30 years, when people can’t travel on the sea ice, that’s going to be the last of our culture.”

Women form a line on a snow covered road with mountains in the background
Elders parade toward Nain’s harbour on a crisp day in late January. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

From reducing the cost of living, to maintaining mental health, to composing the deepest roots of Inuit history and culture — the sea ice is at the heart of Nunatsiuvut. Its loss, in very real terms, can even kill.

Elsie Russell, a Nunatsiavut government mental health worker, says there are notable spikes in calls for services in the fall and spring, when there’s no ice to travel on and isolation peaks. “There’s a relationship between the land and the people. So when the land and the people [are] disturbed, especially when ice breaks up or is not forming, we’re seeing more people with anxiety. We’re seeing more sadness, we’re seeing more grief,” she says.

This year, people were fretting about the harbour ice not forming at all, Russell says. And if the winter one day comes when it doesn’t? “Devastation,” she says.  “This is real. We depend on that sea ice. If it’s not there, if it doesn’t form, we’re going to need support.”

One in four deaths — 25 per cent — are due to suicide in Nain, says Russell, speaking softly. “If we have more grief and loss and sadness, especially with the loss of sea ice,” she says, “we’re going to see higher numbers.”

About the Author

Malone Mullin: Malone Mullin is a reporter in St. John’s who previously worked in Vancouver and Toronto. News tip? Reach her at malone.mullin@cbc.ca.

July 15, 2020


Bill 17 Clean Energy Act ignores First Nations

The amendment of Bill 17, proposed in June, raises alarming concerns that the NDP government has no intention of honouring the principles of the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), despite proclaiming it to be a cornerstone of its mandate. Many of the UNDRIP principles speak to the importance of consent from First Nations when changing laws in ways that are directly and materially detrimental to First Nations and Indigenous peoples, as is the case with Bill 17.
Bill 17 directly threatens Tŝilhqot’in clean energy aspirations as captured in the Tŝilhqot’in Nation Clean Energy Plan, currently under review. That plan would see the Tŝilhqot’in become not only self-sufficient in the production of clean energy, but a net contributor to clean energy in BC. Bill 17 represents a direct threat to the future of that program and the clean energy independent power projects that have had such positive impacts for First Nations and regional economies.

The Tŝilhqot’in Nation has been actively involved in the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources’ Comprehensive Review of BC Hydro, which contains many progressive ideas which, if intelligently implemented, would have positive impacts on energy policy benefiting all British Columbians. The changes contained in Bill 17 have never been raised during these engagements and these changes diminish the progressive ideas discussed in that review. It is disconcerting to realize that while this government was “consulting” on BC Hydro’s future, Bill 17 was secretly being developed.

Bill 17 would introduce a poorly conceived policy detrimental to regional economies and CleanBC targets, as well as the economic and self-sufficiency aspirations of First Nations in this province. The government’s myopic focus on the single priority of ‘affordability’ has blinded it to the ramifications this Bill has for many other government priorities. On the altar of ‘affordability’ would be sacrificed: Reconciliation, First Nations’ economic and governance aspirations, regional economic development opportunities, the energy self-sufficiency we enjoy in BC, clean energy and the NDP’s much touted environmental goals.

November 3, 2017

AB, BC, Fed. Govt., MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Canadian Council of Ministers of the Envronment must include Indigenous views

Assembly of First Nations – First Nations must be full participants in all meetings of Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) to ensure their voices are heard in environmental and climate change solutions.

“Reconciliation has to include respect for our Elder’s traditional knowledge and our understanding of the lands and waters, the animals and plant life. We have a central role to play in lawmaking in this area, and we have responsibilities to safeguard our traditional territories and our people. We hold valuable knowledge that can help everyone in maintaining a healthy environment for all our children.” The AFN has created the Advisory Committee on Climate Action and the Environment (ACCAE) and is currently establishing a network of climate coordinators across Canada. The Assembly is also working with First Nations Elders on the development of an Indigenous Knowledge policy that would support federal efforts to better respond to the impacts of climate change and other environment issues.

In his presentation to the CCME, the National Chief advanced three points:

  • Establish “regional tables” between First Nations and provinces and territories to ensure First Nation participation within the different regions;
  • First Nations’ law must also be accommodated and recognized, in addition to common law and civil law, when dealing with environment and climate change regulation and management as a way to express and share First Nations’ traditional knowledge and responsibilities to safe guard the lands, wildlife, waters, and resources;
  • First Nations must be involved as key players in the emerging economic industry for clean energy, adaptation, and mitigation.

November 23, 2022

Carbon trading: A tool for reconciliation or colonization?

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger at a protest at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Deranger critiques how carbon markets may affect Indigenous nations. Photo by John Woodside / Canada’s National Observer

NationTalk: Canada’s National Observer: Eriel Tchekwie Deranger’s home community of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is in what she calls a “sacrifice zone.” The nation borders the oil production epicentre of Canada: the oilsands, which leak toxic chemicals and wreak havoc on local ecosystems.

The same is true for many nations within Treaty 8 territory, which covers northern Alberta. For those nations, which have suffered over a century of colonial dispossession of land, children and systemic hardship, there was almost no choice but to strike agreements with the oil and gas sector, including small minority-stake ownership in pipelines.

Deranger’s community was one of those nations. They needed a school and other infrastructure improvements, and the environmental movement was not stepping up to provide it, Deranger, executive director of Indigenous Climate Action, said.

Last week, delegates from around the world continued to negotiate details of a global carbon trading system at the United Nations climate conference in Egypt. While that system is not yet up and running, Deranger worries it will turn into a greener-sounding likeness of the extractive oil and gas industry.

As the world barrels towards a cleaner economy, companies, countries and organizations are trying to cancel out the pollution they can’t immediately end by purchasing carbon credits. These credits don’t cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions but, in theory, “offset” some of the pollution by neutralizing emissions elsewhere. “Offsets,” as the purchases are called, allow corporations or individuals to balance their carbon budgets. In practice, these credits are sold under a patchwork of regulatory systems and may not always lead to actual benefits. The new global market aims to solve that problem among nation states, but critics fear a poorly designed system could lead to bad credits and double-counting.

It’s an enticing opportunity for corporations looking to mitigate the rising cost of carbon-pricing programs and cap-and-trade systems — allowing polluters to keep polluting, so long as they can pay for the offsets.

Some First Nations have embraced carbon markets as a way to generate income and preserve their ancestral territories. The Coastal First Nations, an alliance of nine nations whose territory includes the Great Bear Rainforest, sells credits each year.

The current price for a carbon credit is around $30 per tonne from the B.C.-based Great Bear Rainforest, according to David Oxley, business corporation manager with the Great Bear Initiative, which sells carbon credits for the Coastal First Nations. Meanwhile, the federal government’s carbon pricing program charges $50 per tonne. In other countries, carbon pricing is even higher and will continue to rise through the decades. 

And as the global carbon trading system overseen by the UN gets underway, the value of offsets is set to explode. The International Institute for Sustainable Development predicts carbon markets will hit $1 trillion by 2050. 

There is worry the carbon market boom will further worsen the situation of Indigenous nations near “sacrifice zones” by effectively lengthening the life of the fossil fuel industry, whose products are the main driver of climate change. Carbon markets are a “false solution,” Deranger says, arguing they breathe new life into an industry that needs to be culled.

Carbon markets imply the existence of “sacrifice zones,” where some First Nations will remain on the front lines of fossil fuel extraction, with others benefiting from the conservation needed to offset that extraction. #CarbonOffsets #ClimateChange 

Deranger considers the carbon market a red herring because undeveloped lands already store carbon, which amounts to these organizations playing an “accounting game” with their emissions, Deranger explained.

The numbers game reduces the climate emergency to what Deranger calls “carbon essentialism,” or an over-focus on carbon numbers rather than human rights and social justice.

But Steven Nitah, the director for Nature for Justice Canada — a non-profit that entwines social justice, environmentalism and climate or carbon-based solutions — believes the free market economy isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

He believes First Nations can step into a larger role as credible offset project developers. “One of the principles in a free market economy is to invest in what works,” he said.

Indigenous Peoples have proven to be the best caretakers of nature and have the healthiest land that often encompasses carbon sinks. The free market should then invest in Indigenous rights, leadership, knowledge and value systems. “It’s a package,” he explained. 

However, Nitah acknowledges the biggest obstacle facing the carbon market is the integrity of the products, which has wobbled without strong regulation.

With no strong regulatory standard for governing a global market, there is another familiar worry: bad-faith industry types seeking to exploit land and Indigenous nations to control the new trading market. It’s already happening in the Global South, where some nations have been told not to harvest medicines and food to protect carbon stores, echoing the same paternalism that has been a marker of colonialism for decades, Deranger said.

Many nations have been given bad deals by extractive industries. And it almost happened again to the Coastal First Nations when different financial organizations proposed running a carbon market in the Great Bear Rainforest. However, the Coastal First Nations turned the offer down to pursue its own offset project development.

“They were offering millions, but in the long run, it’s almost insignificant,” Oxley said.

The Coastal First Nations developed its project from the ground up, setting the nations up for a decades-long benefit. The Great Bear Rainforest made $8 million last year alone from selling offsets, Oxley said.

Similar to extractive industries that force agreements on communities, some nations will have no choice but to play the game pitched by market players. Indigenous nations will either have to develop offsets or leave their territories open to resource extraction. For example, without the carbon offset program set up in the Great Bear Rainforest, Oxley believes there would be less protection and more logging in the Coastal First Nations’ territories.

Capitalism has rarely, if at all, given Indigenous nations fair deals and autonomy regarding their ancestral territories, Deranger says. Instead, she explains, the colonial paternalism that remains within carbon markets tells Indigenous people: “You should be happy we’re giving you anything at all.”

Instead of developing carbon markets, there should be a focus on Indigenous rights, land-based rights and a lens that doesn’t reduce the land and Indigenous Peoples to profit margins and spreadsheets, which leave some nations as sacrifices and others as stewards, Deranger argued.

“We need to be addressing root causes like colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy and racial injustices, and we can’t be doing that if we’re looking at this crisis through a market-based lens,” she said.

— With Files from Rochelle Baker 

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

January 25, 2023

Fed. Govt., NT

Caribou summit asks a burning question: What’s the future of the Porcupine herd?

The Porcupine is ‘one of the biggest herds in the world.’ Will it stay that way?

Ken Kyikavichik, the grand chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, speaks at the inaugural caribou summit in Fort McPherson, N.W.T. ‘The collective power and the collective knowledge we have in this room really is astounding.’ (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

CBC News: The Porcupine caribou is one of the few barren-ground herds in the circumpolar world that remains strong and healthy — and the communities who rely on it want to make sure it stays that way. 

This was the key takeaway from a three-day Caribou Summit held in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., last week. Organized by the Gwich’in Tribal council, it was the first event of its kind for the region.  “These types of gatherings … bring out the best in our people,” said Ken Kyikavichik, grand chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, in an interview on the summit’s first night. “The collective power and the collective knowledge we have in this room really is astounding.”

The herd has gained international attention over the years because of ongoing debate in the U.S. over development in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the herd’s calving grounds are. 

Caribou from the Porcupine herd migrate onto the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Associated Press)

The Porcupine caribou stand as an anomaly amid Canada’s many barren-ground caribou herds suffering major declines. Data collected in 2018 marked a historic high, with 205,000 to 235,000 animals counted. 

Today, that number sits around 218,000, according to caribou biologist Mike Suitor with the Yukon Government. “Right now, it’s actually one of the biggest herds in the world,” Suitor said.

“We collect information from a scientific perspective, but we also collect a lot of information working with harvesters and talking to people in the community, and a lot of indications are still fairly positive.

Blue and green map.
The Porcupine caribou herd’s range includes northern Yukon and parts of northern N.W.T., as well as the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. (Porcupine Caribou Management Board)
Herd is healthy and numbers are strong – for now 

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why the Porcupine caribou herd is doing so well at the moment, Suitor said. It could be that the diversity of the herd’s range has allowed the animals to better adapt to the changing climate, or that there’s fewer human-made obstacles (save for the Dempster Highway) impacting their migration. 

It also likely has to do with how proactive Indigenous communities have been in managing the herd. Gwich’in, Inuvialuit, and other First Nations governments signed the Porcupine Caribou Management Agreement in 1985, subsequently creating the Porcupine Caribou Management Board. 

Smiling woman in red lipstick holding small child also in red.
Liz Wright is the newly-elected chief of the Teetl’it Gwich’in Band Council. She told CBC she was proud to host the inaugural event in her home community. (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

But Suitor warned that a dip in numbers is inevitable.  “It’s normal for some herds — they go up, they go down,” he said. “If I was a betting person, I would say that there’s a reasonable chance it will decline in the near future. Is that two years? Five years? Ten years? It’s hard to say.”

Kyikavichik says this reality magnified the summit’s importance. “We don’t want to wait until we are in a crisis situation, per se,” he said. “We realize how fortunate we are that we have a healthy herd. So, it’s really important for us to gather and ensure that we do what we can so the caribou remain strong in terms of numbers.

“The vitality of the herd is our primary concern, so that our future generations do have access to vadzaih (caribou).”

Vehicles, meat wastage as top issues

People from across the western Arctic traveled to Fort McPherson to share their thoughts and at the summit. Open sessions explored the past, present, and future of the herd.

The use of ATVs and snowmobiles for hunting was top of mind for many in the crowd, with some expressing concern over the vehicles’ impact on the landscape and animals. “We have to talk about chasing caribou with Ski-doos,” said local elder Robert Alexie. “Those poor caribou … they don’t get a chance to eat. That’s cruelty. It’s really bad.”

Man in black hoodie at microphone.
Robert Alexie fears that people chasing caribou with Ski-doos is ‘cruelty.’ (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

Agnes Francis, a Fort McPherson resident, and full-time harvester, echoed Alexie’s sentiment. “I really am against stuff like that,” she told CBC. “When we teach our kids and our grandkids to hunt, we teach them that walking is the best way to respect the land and to respect the animal. Because if you’re using a four wheeler, you’re chasing it, and it’s getting scared. 

“Think about the way it’s making their spirit feel.” 

Meat wastage was another popular topic of discussion. A number of community members recounted experiences of finding caribou carcasses and heads left along the Dempster Highway. Joe Tetlichi, chair of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, said the organization has been aware of problems with improper hunting practices for some time now, but lacks the power to stop it. 

Four teenagers in black stand on a blue tarp, looking at caribou ribs/carcass.
A man shows young people how to skin a caribou. Passing on traditions has been identified as a crucial part of caribou conservation. (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

As such, Tetlichi said the responsibility of change lies with communities and harvesters themselves.  “I really feel that it’s everybody’s individual responsibility when they go out there to do best practices,” he said.  “It’s the common sense approach. You go in there, and you do what you need to do for the long term sustainability of the Porcupine caribou — if that’s harvesting off the road, cleaning up your kill site, [or] passing those teachings on to young people. 

“That, to me, is common sense.”

Despite several calls for formal resolutions and bylaws to address these issues, none were passed at the summit’s end. Leaders within the Gwich’in Nation are expected to convene again in the coming weeks and determine concrete action items based on what was shared. 

Kyikavichik confirmed that a ban on the use of ATVs for hunting, stricter protocols for harvesting seasons, and the creation of a land guardian program are being considered. 

Returning to traditional values and empowering youth

Perhaps the strongest message shared at last week’s gathering was a need to reconnect with traditional Gwich’in values.  Many attendees spoke about past practices, such as taking only what was needed and sharing with those unable to harvest for themselves, and advocated for a return to these teachings. 

A row of people in chairs in a small community gym.
People came from across the western Arctic to take part in the summit. (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

“It’s really important … to always be mindful of where we come from, and who we are as Gwich’in people,” said Lorraine Netro of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. “We have a spiritual connection to the caribou, we have a spiritual connection to the land, we have a spiritual connection to the water. And so it’s within us to take care of everything around us.”

A key part of this is listening to the advice of Elders and knowledge-keepers, Netro said. But as more pass away, that’s become harder to do.

Nineteen-year-old Alana Francis voiced concerns over the accessibility of traditional knowledge. “People say we need to start listening to our older people, but where [are] the teachings being taught?” Francis asked. “Why aren’t the traditional teachings of caribou and the stories behind it being taught in school?”

Girl with microphone amid crowd of people.
Alana Francis, 19, asked: ‘Why aren’t the traditional teachings of caribou and the stories behind it being taught in school?’ (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

She added: “We listen to our parents the most, and if our parents aren’t practicing these [teachings], then the younger generation isn’t going to be practicing it either.” 

In part, the summit sought to aid in that intergenerational transfer of knowledge. Daily demonstrations around skinning caribou and preparing meat were held each afternoon, with local youth invited to participate and learn under the gentle guidance of elders.  For former Teetl’it Gwich’in chief Wanda Pascal, it was heart-warming to witness, and an important start. 

Teenagers leaning on a table covered in cardboard, carcasses.
Young women work at skinning a caribou. (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

She even suggested a separate summit specifically for youth out on the land — a way of preparing the next generation of stewards to fight for the Porcupine caribou. 

“Taking the kids out on the land is really powerful, because that’s the only way they’re going to learn,” Pascal said. “Education is really important.”

Netro agreed. “I know our youth are strong. Like anything else, we just have to reaffirm those commitments by communicating with them, by walking with them, by encouraging them.”


Meaghan Brackenbury

Meaghan Brackenbury is a reporter with CBC in Yellowknife on Treaty 8 territory. You can reach her at meaghan.brackenbury@cbc.ca.

May 2, 2023

Fed. Govt., Inuit Nunangat

Climate change solutions becoming a ‘new way of colonizing’ Indigenous peoples, Inuit rep says

“We recognize our responsibility to our lands, waters and ice and future generations, and to our natural environment, so we have to be a part of this conversation with (the government) in equal ways.” —Dr. Amy Hudson

Two men and one woman sit at microphones. In from of them is a plaque identifying them as being from an Indigenous organization
Dr. Amy Hudson (centre) is flanked by NunatuKavut Community Council President Todd Russell (left) and Hughlett Williams, governing councillor, as they present at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. Photo supplied.

WindSpeaker.com: Dr. Amy Hudson has returned from the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) with renewed vigour to fight for NunatuKavut Inuit’s way of life in the face of climate change.

Hudson, who was part of a four-member delegation from the NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC) to attend the forum in New York last week, says hearing stories from other Indigenous delegations who continue to struggle against Eurocentric governments was “personally humbling.”

“When you come to these…global spaces with Indigenous peoples from all parts of the world and you’re hearing and sharing in these realities where you see all these similarities–similar experiences and impacts of colonization, similar approaches and assertions of self-government and self-determination from Indigenous people–it’s strengthening…and certainly validat(ing) in the sense that we’re all in this together,” said Hudson.

NCC is the representative governing body for the 6,000 Inuit of south and central Labrador, about nine per cent of Canada’s Inuit population. In 2019, NCC and Canada signed a memorandum of understanding to negotiate self-determination. While those negotiations are ongoing, NCC continues to exercise its inherent rights to self-government in such areas as health, education, land and resources.

This year’s theme of the forum was “Indigenous peoples, human health, planetary and territorial health and climate change: A rights-based approach.”

NunatuKavut Inuit are part of a global community and need to be part of that wider discussion even as they feel the impacts of climate change at home, says Hudson. “It was really important to have the opportunity to learn from the global community, the global Indigenous community, but to also have an opportunity to share some of our stories and some of our history and to talk about the importance of any concepts of governance in responding to climate change issues,” she said.

The delegation was allowed only three minutes to make a formal presentation in which “we really situated who Inuit are, where we live, and really centred around our relationship and our deep sense of belonging to our ancestral lands and why that’s important,” said Hudson.

Key impacted areas and emerging issues were also outlined in those three minutes. A side panel event that NCC hosted allowed the delegation to fill in the details. Already, says Hudson, sea ice conditions are changing and sea levels are rising. NCC’s coastal communities rely on sea ice for transportation to their ancestral traditional places, which allow for intergenerational knowledge transfer and gathering of traditional foods.

Unpredictable weather patterns and changing temperatures are also impacting the ocean and having adverse effects on the fishing industry. Coastal erosion and rising sea levels are disturbing cultural heritage and archaeological sites.

Hudson also draws attention to the animal-human relationship and the polar bears in her home community of the Island of Ponds, an island off of the east coast of Labrador. She says the bears are roaming the entire coast, something unheard of in years past, showing aggression and are less wary of people. “We’re really now developing relationships with academia so that we can better understand what are causing these changes and how we may be able to mitigate and adapt to the changes that we’re seeing,” said Hudson.

The side panel event also allowed NCC to “talk about climate governance and from the perspective of Inuit resistance, resilience and adaptation.”

Hudson says NunatuKavut Inuit are drawing from their own intergenerational knowledge and expertise to inform their understanding of climate change and how to move forward. “Our approach to responding to climate change must be holistic and it must come from Inuit values. It must come from a place where Inuit want to see themselves in generations to come. So how we respond, the knowledge we have to share and contribute is important,” said Hudson.

Unfortunately, western and Eurocentric governments are reluctant to engage Indigenous peoples in that important conversation, she said.

Hudson points to what she calls Canada’s “arbitrary recognition of Indigenous rights” despite passage of the United Nations Declaration Act, which sets out ways to incorporate the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into federal legislation. The federal government is presently working on an action plan with Indigenous communities and organizations to make that happen.

“We recognize our responsibility to our lands, waters and ice and future generations, and to our natural environment, so we have to be a part of this conversation with (the government) in equal ways, and those ways certainly must be understood that our rights need to be upheld and we can’t disconnect our right to self-governance from our inherent rights as Indigenous people,” said Hudson.

In Canada and globally, the push for a renewable energy as a means to tackle climate change is a “new way of colonizing” Indigenous people, says Hudson, as traditional lands are being exploited for mineral extraction and mining companies are seeing permits fast-tracked. “What I understood from the forum at the UN was that Indigenous peoples are asserting and upholding their rights and making the connection between their rights to the work of responding to global climate change,” said Hudson.

“I didn’t hear anyone in the Indigenous community abdicate their responsibilities to responding to climate change. I heard that we all have strength and knowledge that are important to ensuring a just future for our community.”

By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com

November 18, 2020


Climate Crisis and First Nations Right to Food

The Narwhal – Human Rights Watch released “My Fear is Losing Everything: Climate Crisis and First Nations’ Right to Food in Canada“.

The report details how longer and more intense forest fire seasons, permafrost degradation, volatile weather patterns and increased levels of precipitation are all affecting wildlife habitat and, in turn, harvesting efforts.
The report also outlines how there are more hunting and foraging risks due to warming temperatures. For instance, it’s harder — and sometimes impossible — to hunt caribou because the ice and permafrost they travel on isn’t stable enough for hunters.

“Climate change threatens to decimate these food systems, risking further serious consequences for livelihoods and health,” the report states.

The report also found that climate change is driving up prices for less-nutritious, store-bought alternatives that need to be brought in from the south. This is in part due to the fact that roads constructed from snow and ice are becoming less reliable because of warmer winters, meaning food needs to be flown in, which is far more expensive. This compounds the risk of food poverty for First Nations people, the report states.

Canada gets a failing grade on mitigating the effects of climate change, according to the report. The country is among the top 10 emitters of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, with per capita emissions upward of four times higher than the global average, the report states, noting that between 1990 and 2017, emissions increased by roughly 19 per cent, mainly due to mining and oil and gas production.
Canada is warming roughly twice as fast as the global average; in the North, it’s even worse, with temperatures rising three times as quick.

Human Rights Watch lays out several recommendations for the federal government, including that:

  • Canada deem the right to food a basic human right
  • strengthen its climate change policies to reduce emissions
  • improve climate adaptation measures in First Nations and
  • support a transition toward renewable energy, including for First Nations, in the COVID-19 stimulus package.


March 20, 2023

Fed. Govt.

Committee grills minister on failure to support First Nations during climate emergencies

‘The government should be ashamed,’ says NDP MP Blake Desjarlais as committee examines audit

Houses sit in a vast flood of water.
A house partially submerged in floodwater on the Peguis First Nation in May 2022. The auditor general says emergencies tied to climate change are increasingly impacting First Nations. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

CBC News: Members of Parliament accused Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu of ducking accountability on Monday after the auditor general criticized her department’s ongoing failure to help First Nations deal with climate emergencies.

Hajdu began the week flanked by her top officials at the House of Commons public accounts committee in Ottawa as it studies Auditor General Karen Hogan’s 2022 audit of emergency management on reserves. According to the audit, chronic problems identified nearly a decade ago remain unaddressed, putting First Nations at heightened risk of death and destruction from disasters like wildfires and floods.

Hogan late last year joined her predecessors in condemning a “beyond unacceptable,” multi-decade failure by Indigenous Services, previously known as Indigenous Affairs, to effectively serve Indigenous people.

Hajdu responded by telling the committee she accepts the audit’s findings and that her department is working on an action plan. “We know that we don’t have the luxury of time,” Hajdu said. “The gap is very large and there is still much to be done.”

Patty Hajdu answers a question in the House of Commons.
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu rises during question period, in November 2022 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The MPs’ questions began with Conservative Kelly McCauley who called the audit “damning” and one of the worst he’s ever seen in seven years in the House of Commons. “No one has been held accountable and no one’s getting the work done,” McCauley said. “Who is responsible for this debacle?”

Hajdu wouldn’t answer directly. “It’s all of us who are accountable,” she replied.

She then started attacking the Conservatives for voting against past Liberal budgets that upped spending on Indigenous programs and blamed the Tories for years of inaction under former prime minister Stephen Harper. A 2013 Harper-era audit of the same program found chronic underfunding, jurisdictional confusion and systemic ill-preparedness increasingly put First Nations at risk from emergencies.

Hogan reiterated those findings, noting with concern that these problems persist under the Trudeau Liberals.

McCauley rejected Hajdu’s point.  “It’s Harper’s fault, yes, that’s a disgraceful answer, minister,” he said.

Department spending too little on prevention, mitigation

Hogan’s 2022 review found Indigenous Services is “reactive” and spends too little on prevention and mitigation, finding a backlog of 112 approved-but-unfunded infrastructure projects that could help. “Concrete actions are needed to address these long-standing issues,” Hogan told the Senate committee on Indigenous peoples in November after releasing the report.

“Government needs to be held accountable.”

Hajdu said the backlog has since been slashed nearly in half but refused to say how much money the department budgets for these “structural mitigation projects.” Joanne Wilkinson, a senior assistant deputy minister, eventually said the department has $12 million for these projects annually.

NDP MP Blake Desjarlais, who is from Fishing Lake Métis Settlement in Alberta, said the figure is embarrassing, called the audit “deplorable” and denounced the partisan attacks as shameful. “We should be ashamed of ourselves. The government should be ashamed. These are people’s lives, beyond politics, beyond partisanship,” he said. 

“This government continues to fail Indigenous people, and not just your government. I’ll take that point,” he told the minister. “Governments right across this country have failed Indigenous people.”

A man in a suit speaks in a crowd.
NDP MP for Edmonton Griesbach Blake Desjarlais rises in the House of Commons in November 2021 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Hajdu’s testimony was underscored by a dire warning from the United Nations delivered a few hours earlier, when an international group of scientists handed down their latest in a series of reports urging world leaders to act now or risk climate catastrophe.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned “the climate time bomb is ticking” and threatening humanity’s future as he introduced the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, calling it a “survival guide for humanity.”

Hajdu said it’s clear First Nations sit on the front lines of this crisis, which has astronomical costs tied to evacuation, emergency accommodation and rebuilding of communities and livelihoods.

She rejected the accusation that she’s dodging responsibility. “I have never said, ‘No problem. Don’t look here.’ I am the first to say that we are still in a colonial system that oppresses Indigenous people,” Hajdu told Desjarlais. Changing any “dysfunctional system” takes time, the minister added, calling it a problem her department takes seriously.


Brett Forester, Reporter

Brett Forester is a reporter with CBC Indigenous in Ottawa. He is a member of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in southern Ontario who previously worked as a journalist with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

September 27, 2019

Fed. Govt., QC

Cree Nation imput into climate change policy

Cree Nation Government – Proposed government action must be inclusive of Cree observations and efforts in the fight against climate change. Our privileged relationship with the territory is fundamental to the proper and meaningful development of government policies on climate change for Eeyou Istchee. Government policies must take into account the experiences of Indigenous communities threatened by this ever-growing crisis.

The COMEX, a James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) – protected environmental review board – established in 1975 – has already begun taking into consideration climate change when analyzing impacts from all development projects. Sensitive and high carbon-stock forests are being planned into regionally protected areas. Local greenhouse projects and Styrofoam bans have been contributing to the escalating social conversation in the Cree Nation.

“The Cree Nation has been proactive in observing and adapting to the risks of climate change threatening traditional activities and way of life. Communities understand firsthand the severity of this, but are also in a position to provide invaluable direction to policies. We insist that governments, federal and provincial, include the Cree Nation in the elaboration of climate change policies imperative to the sustainability of our development, a cornerstone of our 1975 JBNQA treaty.”, declared Grand Chief Dr. Abel Bosum.

Impact Assessment Agency of Canada – An important component of the JBNQA is Environmental and Social Protection (sections 22 and 23) that contain provisions related to the undesirable environmental impact and social effects of development. The provisions attempt to maximize positive effects while assessing their impact.

December 2, 2022

Fed. Govt., NT

Government of Canada invests $3.8 million to support barren-ground caribou conservation in the Northwest Territories

Environment and Climate Change Canada: Caribou is an iconic species for Canadians and plays an important role in the culture and history of Indigenous peoples. The Government of Canada is determined to halt and reverse Canada’s biodiversity loss, and the decline of this species, by working in collaboration with the provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous peoples, and other stakeholders.

Today, the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, announced that the Government of Canada will support the Government of Northwest Territories’ actions to conserve barren-ground caribou by investing $3.8 million in three conservation projects. The Government of Northwest Territories will provide an equal investment of $3.8 million.

These projects will monitor barren-ground caribou, their habitats, and threats that may be affecting herds in the Northwest Territories by using Indigenous and Western science and knowledge. Projects also aim to conserve and protect barren-ground caribou populations and their habitats by working to minimize human and predator impacts, and identifying important barren-ground caribou habitats such as calving grounds and migratory routes for conservation. These actions have been identified as priorities in the 2020 Recovery Strategy for barren-ground caribou in the Northwest Territories.

The funding is part of the Enhanced Nature Legacy initiative that enables significant, targeted investments and partnerships to drive protection and recovery for a large number of species throughout the country and respond to threats to Canada’s ecosystem and wildlife.

In December, Canada will welcome the world to Montréal for the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15). This is an important opportunity for Canada to show its leadership, along with international partners, in taking actions to conserve nature and halt biological diversity loss around the world.


“The Government of Canada is committed to working to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030 in Canada. The only way we can achieve this goal is by working in collaboration and with everyone’s commitment. Taking actions to protect barren-ground caribou means supporting several other species that share the same habitats. These actions are for biodiversity, to protect our identity and health, and to support Indigenous culture and way of life. These projects demonstrate the Northwest Territories’ will to protect barren-ground caribou, and we are proud to support them.”

– The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

“Barren-ground caribou play a critical role in the social and cultural well-being of communities across the Northwest Territories. The Government of Northwest Territories has been working closely with co-management partners in the Government of Northwest Territories to take coordinated and comprehensive actions to help support conservation and recovery of all our herds. This investment will help us bring Indigenous knowledge and science together to inform the wise management of barren-ground caribou to ensure they remain for future generations.”

– The Honourable Shane Thompson, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories

“Better research and understanding of caribou populations, their movements, and the land upon which they thrive is the key to the survival of this iconic species for many generations to come.”

– Michael McLeod, Member of Parliament for Northwest Territories

Quick facts

  • Barren-ground caribou are one of five different types of caribou in the Northwest Territories.
  • Barren-ground caribou populations have been declining for several years. The current population of barren-ground Caribou is estimated at about 800,000 individuals.
  • A number of threats are thought to be causing the decline of barren-ground caribou, including climate change, industrial activities, and harvest.
  • The Government of Northwest Territories has listed barren-ground caribou as threatened under their species at risk legislation. The territory and its co-management partners have management plans, which provide direction for the management of barren-ground caribou herds.
  • The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada assessed barren-ground caribou as Threatened in November 2016.

Associated links


Kaitlin Power
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Media Relations
Environment and Climate Change Canada
819-938-3338 or 1-844-836-7799 (toll-free)

March 26, 2021

Fed. Govt., BC, AB, SK, MB, ON, QC, NB, NS, PE, NL, NU, YT, NT

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

The AFN, based on direction from the Chiefs-in-Assembly, intervened in this case, as well as court cases in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta, arguing the Government of Canada has a direct legal obligation to recognize Aboriginal and Treaty rights in any legislative efforts to address climate change.

March 25, 2021

Fed. Govt., BC, AB, SK, MB, ON, QC, NB, NS, PE, NL, NU, YT, NT

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

Supreme Court finds that the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act 2018 is constitutional.

March 25, 2021

AB, BC, Fed. Govt., MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

Westaway Law Group – The majority judges noted that climate change “has had particularly serious effects on Indigenous peoples, threatening the ability of Indigenous communities in Canada to sustain themselves and maintain their traditional ways of life.” [para 11] They also acknowledged that, “the effects of climate change are and will continue to be experienced across Canada, with heightened impacts in the Canadian Arctic, coastal regions and Indigenous territories.” [para 12] These are important acknowledgements on the part of the Court, and no doubt had some impact on their assessment that the matters addressed in the GGPPA are matters of national concern.

Although the Court did not specifically make reference to s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, as noted, the result is consistent with the evidence and arguments put forward on behalf of First Nation interveners.

October 20, 2020

AB, BC, Fed. Govt., MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

Toronto Star – The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) reserved judgement on whether the federal government’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act 2018 (GGPPA) is constitutional following hearings on September 22 and 23 with the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM), along with the Anishinabek Nation (AN), granted intervener status.

The GGPPA sets minimum standards for carbon pricing on provinces that have not implemented an equivalent provincial program. The provinces argued that they should have control of greenhouse gas (GHG) policies while environmental advocates and other interveners asked the court to recognize the necessity of a national response to climate change.

“The UCCMM intervened in this case because climate change disproportionately affects First Nation communities, our traditional way of life and our ability to assert and exercise jurisdiction in relation to environmental issues that directly impact their lands and their people,” said Patsy Corbiere, UCCMM Tribal Chair. “As stewards of the largest freshwater island in the world we are ensuring that the courts take into account the Anishinabek perspective when determining if climate change is a matter of national concern. As the quality and quantity of our natural resources and medicines continue to diminish with the effects of climate change, it is vital that our voices be heard and our rights be respected.”

In the current appeal to SCC, the AN and UCCMM urged the court to “adopt an approach to the issues in this case which allows jurisdictional space for all levels of government: federal, provincial and Indigenous, in regulation of critical environmental matters.” Patricia Lawrence from Westaway Law Group, appearing on behalf of the AN and UCCMM, argued that “First Nations should not be left without effective redress as a result of federal-provincial jurisdictional disputes.

The Crown must be held accountable for the protection and preservation of the aboriginal and treaty rights recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. If the provinces are unable to effectively protect these rights, the federal government must be permitted to step in and enact legislation,” said Chief Corbiere.

December 13, 2022

Fed. Govt.

Indigenous Peoples have been the most effective stewards of animals and nature since time immemorial

Following the march, Indigenous leaders addressed a crowd on stage close to where COP15 negotiations were ongoing. Photo by Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer

Canada’s National Observer: About a million animal and plant species around the globe are on the verge of extinction — more than ever before in human history. As the world gathers in Montreal for COP15 (the UN biodiversity conference) to negotiate a deal to halt and reverse nature loss in the coming decade, calls to put Indigenous rights and leadership at the heart of biodiversity initiatives are growing louder.

Through their diverse cultures, laws and knowledge, many Indigenous nations in Canada have maintained healthy ecosystems and economies in harmony since time immemorial. Globally, an estimated 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversityexists in lands inhabited by Indigenous Peoples, despite these territories accounting for just 22 per cent of the world’s land.

Canada struggles with a legacy of colonial conservation policies that have disregarded Indigenous rights and sovereignty and damaged relationships with Indigenous communities. As Canada looks to shape its action plan on biodiversity protection in the coming decade, we have an opportunity to reimagine the role of Indigenous sovereignty alongside Canada’s legal framework, reshaping our country’s exploitive relationship with nature and working towards reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

Challenges from Canada’s historic approach to conservation

Biodiversity laws in Canada have perpetuated fortress conservation, which SAGE Knowledge defines as “a conservation model based on the belief that biodiversity protection is best achieved by creating protected areas where ecosystems can function in isolation from human disturbance.” 

The first-ever march at a COP biodiversity conference took place on Saturday in Montréal, and it was Indigenous-led. Photo by Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer

This approach undermines many Indigenous stewardship practices, which often require active and continued interactions with their lands and waters. This is conflated with fortress conservation’s reliance on colonial conceptions of sovereignty that discount Indigenous jurisdiction over their traditional territories, resulting in the displacement of Indigenous communities from their ancestral lands and loss of their livelihoods and access to their spiritual sites.

Natural resource extraction represents nearly 13 per cent of the Canadian economy, which has fed the country’s anthropocentric approach to nature — where humans are seen as separate from and superior to it. This conflicts with the reciprocal relationship with land that many Indigenous Peoples hold as central to their culture, laws, knowledge systems and livelihoods. 

Adopting a rights-based approach to nature

Canada’s colonial relationship with conservation has contributed to a pattern of broken trust with Indigenous communities and violations of their rights and sovereignty. To enact meaningful change, all levels of government in Canada must adopt a rights-based approach to biodiversity protection. A starting point for this approach is the implementation of all rights entailed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). 

As Canada shapes a biodiversity protection plan, we can reimagine the role of Indigenous sovereignty alongside Canada’s laws, writes @VCheyWatson @ecojustice_ca #COP15 #IndigenousRights #Ecojustice #EnvironmentalLaw #Nature #NatureCOP #Biodiversity 

The declaration was adopted by Canada in 2021, necessitating its implementation in any new laws. This requires centring Indigenous leadership in any plans to protect and restore biodiversity in Canada, thereby respecting Indigenous rights to self-determination of their own social, political and cultural identity and membership.

Promising announcements at COP15

The federal government appears to be moving in the right direction toward dismantling Canada’s colonial relationship with nature. In the first week of COP15, two major announcements were made that will empower Indigenous-led biodiversity protection in the coming decade.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $800 million in federal funding to support four major Indigenous-led conservation projects across the country, covering nearly one million square kilometres of land and water. 

First Nations Guardians Network, announced on Dec. 9, is the first of its kind in the world. The network will streamline funding and capacity-building opportunities for guardians from Indigenous nations across the country. 

A pathway towards ethical co-operation

While these announcements are a promising first step, Canada still requires a concrete plan for how these initiatives will be implemented. That means ensuring any agreements emerging out of COP15 — as well as any national, provincial, or territorial biodiversity legislation — include mechanisms for accountability and legislative safeguards that commit governments to respect Indigenous rights and sovereignty in a robust way, aligned with self-determination.

This can be best achieved through co-creation of biodiversity laws and declarations with Indigenous leadership, holding Indigenous communities on equal footing as allies or partners, not separatist threats to be oppressed. This means doing away with the idea that state sovereignty is superior to Indigenous sovereignty. Not only is this approach effective, but Indigenous rights necessitate it. This process can be characterized as a reconciliation of sovereignties, which is the foundation for ethical co-operation.

Canada must also recognize there is no one-size-fits-all model for Indigenous communities across the country. The government must ensure biodiversity laws and funding schemes are flexible and adaptable to community context. These frameworks must also pair management rights with governance rights and jurisdictional recognition, ensuring a community’s laws and knowledge systems lead the way.

Indigenous Peoples have been among the most effective stewards of biodiversity since time immemorial. If Canada has any hope of achieving its target of protecting 30 per cent of land and marine ecosystems by 2030, it is critical this process involves First Nations, Inuit and Métis, using both western and traditional ecological knowledge to find the best solutions to protect nature.

Victoria Watson is a law reform specialist with Ecojustice and co-chair of the organization’s reconciliation working group. She is a Haudenosaunee woman working on the traditional unceded territory of the Anishinaabeg people and is passionate about decolonization/reconciliation initiatives.

April 28, 2023

Fed. Govt.

Inuit want access to loss and damage fund, Inuit Circumpolar Council president says

Sea ice melts in Frobisher Bay, Iqaluit, Nunavut on Wednesday, July 31, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

NationTalk: Canada’s National Observer – Inuit want direct access to a global fund dedicated to addressing destruction caused by climate change, the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council’s Canadian arm says.

Lisa Koperqualuk says loss and damage funding is needed in Inuit Nunangat, the homeland for Inuit, which is warming four times faster than the global average. Canada’s National Observer spoke with the ICC president last week while she was in New York City at the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, a UN body focused on the concerns and rights of global Indigenous Peoples.

The loss and damage fund Koperqualuk referred to is a major agreement to come out of COP27, last year’s UN climate conference. How exactly the fund will work is still being negotiated, but it’s expected wealthy developed countries will pay into its coffers and vulnerable developing countries can then tap the money to deal with loss and damages caused by climate change, like when heat waves destroy crops that farmers depend on for livelihoods.

The loss and damage fund comes after three decades of poor countries calling on their wealthy counterparts to help pay for the damage the latter has caused by fuelling their economies with fossil fuels.

Inuit hunters’ boats struggle to break a passage through difficult sea ice conditions in Uummannaq, an island settlement placed well above the Arctic Circle in Greenland. Photo by Adam Sébire / Climate Visuals

But Koperqualuk told Canada’s National Observer she is concerned the divide between developed and developing countries is taking precedence over inequity between settler communities and Indigenous nations within wealthy countries. Those nations are struggling with the impacts of the climate crisis and ongoing socioeconomic harms caused by colonization, she said, adding: “Us Inuit live in developed countries.”

Since Inuit live across the Arctic, in wealthy countries like the U.S., Canada, Greenland (part of Denmark), they can’t access the COP27 loss and damage fund to support their needs and rights as Indigenous nations, Koperqualuk said. That’s because funding is expected to only be handed out to countries recognized as “developing” in the UN system, as opposed to Indigenous self-governments.

Climate change is directly threatening Arctic ecosystems. With the world on track to surpass 2 C of global warming based on its current policies and pledges, loss and damage are already occurring. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets “will be lost almost completely and irreversibly” at 2 C warming, causing several metres of sea-level rise that would devastate coastal communities.

Already, a hotter planet impacts Inuit culture, access to food and traditional and contemporary economic opportunities. A recent policy paper from the Inuit Circumpolar Council notes that a warming Arctic means pressure is growing on species that depend on sea ice, as just one example.

Inuit ways of life, economic opportunities, and more are at risk from climate change but they are unlikely to be able to tap an international fund for loss and damages. The damage is undeniable, so is it time for a national loss and damage fund? 

The paper calls for financial support from governments to increase environmental monitoring, address coastal erosion, and incorporate Indigenous knowledge into climate adaptation and emergency preparedness.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault acknowledges climate change is already impacting northern communities and that “more needs to be done” to support Inuit. But in a statement, he said it’s important to recognize the loss and damage fund agreed to at COP27 exists within the UN system.

As a developed country within that system, Canada is expected to contribute money to funds for developing countries to use. That means “it is hard to imagine a scenario” where Canada could receive money from an international loss and damage fund. “However, Canada was one of those contributor countries that has consistently pointed out that a loss and damage fund must be accessible to Indigenous Peoples around the world, who are on the front lines responding to climate impacts,” he said.

Guilbeault added that Canada’s position on loss and damage finance is that it should come from different sources, not just through the UN system. “It may be possible that there will emerge certain programs administered by third parties, like development banks or philanthropies, who could also offer support to Inuit in Northern Canada,” he said. “But it is too early to say, and it is important to note that Canada has a range of programs aimed at supporting Inuit in Northern Canada, though undoubtedly more needs to be done.”

Inuk hunter travelling by snow scooter on melting sea ice in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. Photo by Peter Prokosch / https://www.grida.no/resources/4479

Among the programs are funding for climate change preparedness in the North, Indigenous community-based climate monitoring and health and infrastructurefunds.

Mattias Söderberg, chief adviser with Danish humanitarian non-profit DanChurchAid and co-chair of the global ACT Alliance’s climate justice group, backed up Guilbeault’s statement. Because COP27’s loss and damage fund was created to assist developing countries vulnerable to climate change, Inuit within Canada’s borders would not be eligible, he said.

However, Söderberg said the list of countries that could potentially tap the fund hasn’t yet been agreed upon, and some stakeholders are arguing it would be more effective to determine eligibility for funds based on vulnerability criteria rather than a list of nation-states, which could potentially make Inuit eligible.

“At the same time, I also think it is more fair that the Canadian government takes responsibility for developments within the country, which could include a national decision to establish a national loss and damage fund,” he added.

Matteo Cimellaro & John Woodside / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative 

January 17, 2023

Fed. Govt.

Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau on Perpetuating Climate Injustice Against First Nations

NationTalk: Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

Canada bears responsibility for the climate crisis that is driving humans to the precipice of a global catastrophe. While the Government of Canada has begun to acknowledge this crisis and has enacted some measures to try to help pull humanity back from the edge, two major problems characterize government action. Current measures are misleadingly presented as enough when they are far from that, and Canada continues to harm those who can do the most to help lead us out of this mess.

The Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPPA) is one such measure. Enacted in 2018, it imposes a Fuel Charge on carbon-emitting fuels, such as oil, gas, and natural gas, as a monetary incentive for us to reduce and eventually stop the production and use of these “bad fuels.” Still, Canada’s highest-emitting sector, the oil and gas industry, receives special accommodations in national and provincial programs for large emitters, which enable them to pay lower carbon tax rates than most other sectors of the economy. This happens through programs such as the federal Output-Based Pricing System and provincial incentive programs.

Rather than targeting institutional and systemic change, Canada’s policies and messaging to the broader public places the onus of combatting climate change on individual citizens. It markets its strategies on climate change as being good for everyone’s wallets and good for the climate and environment. The average household in Ontario spent $362 on the GGPPA Fuel Charge in 2020 and received $436 back in the rebate (The Climate Action Incentive Payment). The GGPPA charge on carbon emitting fuels will be raised each year from the current rate of $50 per metric tonne to $170 per metric tonne by 2030. While pollution pricing is an important tool, its impacts are highly uneven and do not target major emitters.

The same rebate available to the “average” consumer for the Fuel Charge is not available to First Nations citizens who live on reserves. When the Crown obtained First Nations ancestral and territorial lands for their own use and profits, it promised to pay First Nations for their use through treaty annuity payments and exemptions from Crown-imposed taxes. This was a minuscule price to pay for the vast wealth the Crown has extracted and kept for itself. As a result of these treaty promises, First Nations citizens have tax exemptions and are not required to file tax returns, which means they cannot get the rebate of the Fuel Charge that others receive.

The reality in First Nations communities is poverty stricken conditions along with substantially higher costs for all goods and services in rural and remote communities. The Fuel Charge program has added a costly burden on First Nations, who experience far greater poverty and substandard housing and infrastructure than the “average” Canadian as a result of colonialism. The Fuel Charge cost to First Nations citizens amounts to another cash grab for Canada, removing several million dollars a year from those least responsible for the climate crisis. There will be a huge cost to pulling us back from the precipice and fixing the underlying problems associated with climate change. We are not going to fix hundreds of years of decimation and desecration of Mother Earth without facing facts and working to address these truths. It is First Nations, with our laws, customs, Earth-derived knowledge and wisdom, who are best positioned to lead humanity out of the crisis and into a sustainable Earth-centric future. Canada should be working with us, strengthening us, and learning from us. Yet, First Nations are actively ignored by the federal government.

We call on Canada to immediately correct the injustices toward First Nations and our members in the GGPPA. We call on Canada to stop pretending that there is no cost to your populace for hundreds of years of damage to Mother Earth and the climate. The wealth experienced by many in this country has come at great cost to First Nations citizens. First Nations will no longer pay for Canada’s failures.

We call on Canada to recognize and remedy this by working directly with First Nations. It is time that Canada stops loading a grossly unfair burden on First Nations to fix the climate crisis and exempt First Nations from the Fuel Charge. We are requesting to meet with you, Prime Minister Trudeau, to expedite this urgently needed Fuel Charge exemption, and to discuss how the Government of Canada can support First Nations in a just transition to sustainable energy sources.

Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare

October 4, 2022

AB, BC, Fed. Govt., MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Put out wildfires before they begin with Indigenous fire stewardship

The Keremeos Creek wildfire southwest of Penticton, British Columbia on July 31, 2022.


Canadian governments need to better engage with Indigenous fire stewardship to counter increased wildfire occurrence and severity

Policy Options: by James Michael Collie, Hannah Verrips

After the Keremeos Creek wildfire swept through the southern Interior of British Columbia in August, one may wonder how these catastrophic events should be handled across Canada. Not only were hundreds of B.C. residents forced to evacuate their homes with only a moment’s notice, but uncharacteristically large fires were spreading at the same time on the opposite coast across Newfoundland. These events prove what scientists have long predicted: climate change means an increase in wildfire occurrence and severity. That is why we suggest governments in Canada need to better engage with Indigenous fire stewardship (IFS).

As increased temperatures and dry environments cause wildfires to spread more easily, Canada is facing significant and alarming challenges in regions not usually affected, many of which are ill-prepared to respond. The increased frequency of wildfires each year due to the changing climate will result only in an unforgiving cycle of destruction. Indigenous Peoples have practices that have existed since time immemorial for preventing, containing and managing wildfires. While these proven cultural practices are known to us, Canada makes little use of them. Why is that so?

Inuit Nunangat needs a community public safety officer program

Time to get serious about mitigating disaster risk

The historical practices for dealing with wildfires belong to a broad banner known as IFS, which in many ways is diametrically opposed to traditional Western forms of firefighting because it stresses prevention rather than extinguishment. Canada uses these forms of firefighting in addition to more Western forms of nature preservation, which are based on principles of preserving an ecosystem rather than continuously engaging with it – whereas Indigenous Peoples have always interacted with the natural environment in a stewardship role, using techniques such as IFS.

IFS encompasses a multitude of traditional ecological knowledge, including the intergenerational teachings of fire-related knowledge and the role of cultural burnings, with this article focusing primarily on the facet of IFS involving prescribed or controlled burns. While cultural burns are often small-scale, done to maintain the health of the ecosystem, controlled burns are larger, more intense and used to prevent large-scale forest fires.

The ecological maintenance of prescribed burns can be both preventative and healing for the land because it clears dead leaves, tree limbs and other debris from the forest floor. It also provides the opportunity for additional sunlight to help younger trees and plants flourish – all of which can disarm large-scale fires before they can begin. While traditional Western firefighting is usually focused on extinguishment – to put out fires after they arise – the methods and practices of IFS approach these large-scale natural disasters in a different and arguably more effective way – by putting out the fire before it begins.

One such example of the dangers of wildfires is Lytton, B.C. Not only were the majority of the Nlaka’pamux people of Lytton displaced in June 2021 due to a catastrophic wildfire that destroyed the entire village, but just one year later the community was yet again faced with another scathing fire.

Rural communities may be the most impacted at the moment, but studiesshow that major Canadian cities, including Ottawa and Vancouver, will likely be threatened by wildfires as well. Furthermore, the threats caused by wildfires are diverse, ranging from the destruction of ecosystems, property and infrastructure to contaminating water sources and contributing to extremely harmful air quality as wildfire smoke spreads across the country. This is why wildfires are not just a problem for the frontline provinces, but for everyone.

Recent research confirms the effectiveness of IFS, which can offer increased biodiversity, protect the health of an ecosystem and prevent large-scale wildfires. We also know that Indigenous nations want the capacity and ability to use the stewardship they have enjoyed over their traditional territories for thousands of years. For example, after the tragic Elephant Hill fire, the Secwepemcúl̓’ecw Restoration and Stewardship Society (SRSS) released a report detailing the fire and what went wrong. This report, among others, notes the need for IFS. The SRSS report also mentioned how the knowledge and practices of IFS are complementary to modern firefighting – one focuses on fire prevention while the other focuses on addressing existing fires.

Incorporating IFS must be a careful and ethical practice. Given the federal government’s history of colonization, Indigenous nations may be skeptical of trusting programs that involve sharing traditional, sacred and protected knowledge. However, using the SRSS report as an example, there is clearly a desire to work with the government to incorporate IFS and prevent catastrophic fires in Canada.

Such a change must be mindful and complementary to a greater push for Indigenous autonomy over their traditional territories. It is only in doing so that we can ensure we meet the challenges listed in the SRSS report: “From the very first meeting of the leadership table, Secwépemc communities were raising these broader issues of reconciliation and Indigenous stewardship and sovereignty as intimately connected to wildfire impacts and recovery.” Incorporation of IFS cannot be isolated; it must be Indigenous-led and cognizant of Canada’s historical and modern colonial structures.

Canada’s climate adaptation deficit

Mobilizing the hidden army of first responders

What would this program look like? For this, we can turn to existing examples such as the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership in California. This program has a geographic and planning scope that corresponds to the traditional territory of the Karuk Tribe. It is run by the Karuk – in conjunction with federal, state and other tribal authorities – to plan small-scale preventive fires and ensure Karuk territory is a fire-ready landscape.

In Canada, Parks Canada and Natural Resources Canada have large responsibilities for fighting wildfires. To some extent, there has been an acknowledgment that the practices of these two departments is outdated. Canada must follow the example of other jurisdictions and work with Indigenous nations on their territory to ensure that wildfires are put out before they even begin. Such a policy must be expansive and wide-reaching, appealing to different Indigenous nations on different territories, and ensuring data sovereignty and program autonomy for Indigenous nations.

Considering the literal threat of destruction of ecosystems, property, infrastructure, clean air and water supply, wildfires threaten life as we know it. We know that there are solutions and preventive measures for these wildfires – namely those of IFS. Indigenous fire stewardship would show Canada’s commitment to facing climate change while being in accordance with its sacred obligations to Indigenous nations. As long as wildfires continue to rage the way they do, Canada is in danger. We need to act.

April 9, 2022

UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change includes the word “colonialism” for the first time

Toronto Star: Earlier this week, the world’s top scientists not only mentioned colonialism as a catalyst for causing climate change but also for making segments of the population vulnerable to its impacts today and in the future.

“Present development challenges causing high vulnerability are influenced by historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, especially for many Indigenous Peoples and local communities, the world’s most authoritative global climate change report says in its summary for policymakers.

Environmental journalist Yessenia Funes, who first reported in Atmos magazine, wrote that the addition if the word “has tremendous potential for how world leaders shape future climate policy.” If colonization is acknowledged as a cause, decolonization has to be part of the solution.

The final language in the summary is meticulously scrutinized and discussed line by line – and not just by the world’s top scientists, but also by officials representing 195 governments, ” Funes wrote. Meaning they all formally recognize the role of colonialism.

Industrialization wreaked havoc on the planet. Industrialized nations made their money in industries such as cotton, cocoa, rubber, mining and oil from colonial expansion. This expansion needed not only to push some people off their lands, by hook or crook, but to also commodify others for labour. This model of growth for some at the expense of others is historical and ongoing.

March 21, 2023


Why BC Needs a Climate Fund for First Nations

COP27 created a global loss and damages fund. David Eby’s government should do the same.

The sky is dark and fiery red. A driver has paused to take it all in. Their headlights illuminate an area of the road directly in front of them.
A wildfire sweeps down a mountain near Lytton, BC, in 2021. A Nlaka’pamux Nation community in the area has developed an adaptation strategy to deal with climate change — BC needs to support these kinds of initiatives, and establish a climate loss and damages fund. Photo by Darryl Dyck, the Canadian Press.

The Tyee: COP27 ended in November with a historic agreement to establish a “loss and damages” fund to address the impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable nations. 

Given the disasters B.C. has faced over the last couple of years, is this a model the province could draw on to support historically marginalized communities that bear the brunt of the climate crisis? For 30 years, so-called developing countries have asked for a loss and damages fund to help them deal with the unavoidable economic, cultural and human losses attributed to climate change. And for 30 years, so-called developed nations have refused to entertain talks of what some dub “climate reparations.” 

This is why the loss and damages fund is seen as one of the few successes to emerge from COP27. With this fund, countries like Pakistan, Kenya and Vanuatu that have suffered climate-induced losses from floods, droughts and rising seawater, will receive financial support. The idea is that countries that have historically contributed the most to climate change will compensate those that have contributed the least.

We can find parallels to the realities of First Nations here in B.C.

Although these First Nations have contributed the least to climate change, they are already suffering the most severe impacts and will likely continue to do so as climate impacts worsen. Two years ago, when a wildfire destroyed 90 per cent of Lytton, the Nlaka’pamux Nation was severely impacted. Last year, when a record-breaking drought struck, thousands of salmon died in Heiltsuk territory, depriving the community of its traditional food and a foundation of its culture.

And there can be no doubt that B.C., as an oil and gas exporting province in one of the countries with the highest per capita and historic emissions in the world, has contributed to climate change. A loss and damages fund akin to what was negotiated at COP27 could help B.C. fulfil its moral obligation to acknowledge the vast inequities of the climate crisis.

At COP27, the climate minister for Pakistan, a country that has experienced devastating floods, said “This is not about accepting charity…. This is a down payment on investment in our futures, and in climate justice.” 

If B.C. were to explore a loss and damages fund, it would likewise be more than just compensation — it could support First Nations in their self-determined efforts to rebuild their communities and make them resilient for the future. The rest of Canada would benefit from learning how to adapt to a changing climate.

There is no shortage of ideas from First Nations on how to tackle the effects of climate change.

For example, one of the communities making up the Nlaka’pamux Nation in the Lytton area has developed an adaptation strategy to preserve water resources, deal with forest fires, protect traditional foods and support self-sufficiency. 

As Lytton awaits compensation from the federal and provincial governments to rebuild infrastructure after the wildfire, the story does not end here. These kinds of human-induced climate consequences, some of which are irreversible, will continue to happen with increasing frequency and severity.

Can BC afford to set up a loss and damages fund? The answer is a resounding yes. A recent CCPA-BC report found that if the province wants to increase public spending to tackle big challenges, it has the economic capacity to do so. 

Alternatively, a loss and damages fund could be financed from a share of B.C.’s carbon tax revenues. The tax is set to reach $170 per tonne by 2030. Allocating some of these revenues to a loss and damage fund would be an opportunity for B.C.’s new Premier David Eby to deliver on his commitment to prioritize climate action.

Thinking about the parallels between global and local climate inequities is an important part of climate justice. But of course, it is up to First Nations to determine their respective and collective priorities. 

One thing is clear: as a province, B.C. cannot continue to ignore the fundamental interrelatedness of environmental and racial justice. It cannot successfully confront the climate crisis without addressing social, economic and racial injustices. 

The parallels with the First Nations and the settler colonial state are painfully obvious.

Lisa Akinyi May – Lisa Akinyi May is associate director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC Office.

How a ‘Perfect Storm’ Could Flood the Musqueam Reserve

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The Staggering Price of Climate Inaction

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November 21, 2022

Fed. Govt.

World leaders must come out of their bubbles and hear other voices — especially Indigenous women — in climate-change debates

Indigenous people have unique relationships with their environment. If they listened, leaders would hear us urging a just transition away from fossil fuels.

By Madeleine Redfern, Lisa J. SmithContributors

Toronto Star: World leaders making decisions around climate change must consider ideas originating beyond their own bubbles — especially those proffered by Indigenous people — if the problem is to be tackled in any meaningful way.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) recently sent us — two Inuit — to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt where we were tasked with ensuring that Indigenous human rights were upheld in every negotiation. We think we had some success.

But there is an inclination for people, even at international meetings like COP, to interact with their own kind. Members of country delegations tend to talk amongst themselves instead of reaching out to hear what others have to say. That is not how climate change will be curbed. And it makes it much more difficult for Indigenous voices like ours to inject themselves into the international conversation at a state level.

That is a problem, because Indigenous people have a lot to offer.

Many of us live in places where the effects of global warming are already forcing shifts in our traditional ways of life. And many of us work in the resource industries that are a prime cause of those shifts.

It is a double vulnerability that should put Indigenous people at the centre of the climate-change debate. Too often, however, we are forced to sit on the sidelines while others in positions of authority make decisions about global warming without us, even though those decisions will profoundly affect our lives.

If they listened, world leaders would hear us urging a just transition away from fossil fuels. Indigenous people are not uniformly demanding an end to all oil and gas production. Some of us own the companies. Many more of us are employed in the sector. According to a 2021 report by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Indigenous people make up 6.3 per cent of the upstream industry’s workforce — nearly twice the Indigenous participation in the Canadian workforce at large.

Making the move away from oil and gas will not be easy on those people. It will require investment and it will require skills training. We, as Indigenous people, are best positioned to decide where that money should be spent and how that training is delivered. NWAC is currently running a massive apprenticeship program for Indigenous women and LGBTQ+ people in the Red Seal trades that is funded by Indigenous Services Canada. That is the kind of co-operation required for a just transition.

As for global warming, Indigenous people around the world have unique relationships with their environment based on intergenerational knowledge, skills and awareness. 

In the North, we have known from time immemorial that the climate is changing. Now we see it changing at an accelerated rate. We have the knowledge around climate change adaptation because we have been adapting through millennia. It is a citizen science where our hunters, our people, are effectively the eyes and ears on the ground.

There is also an academic bias that excludes Indigenous women from these conversations and this knowledge sharing. We too hunt, whether it’s caribou, seals, polar bears or deer. We are the berry pickers and the clam diggers. We are the ones who prepare game and fish, so we are the ones noticing the condition of the animals. This is valuable information that should not be discounted.

But the participation by Indigenous women — and in fact all women — at international climate change meetings is depressingly low. A BBC analysis says less than 34 per cent of the negotiators at this year’s COP were female.

On a positive note, COP27 had the largest Indigenous caucus in the history of the conference. Collectively, we issued a statement emphasizing that Indigenous rights, including those affecting the places we live, are inherent and internationally recognized. We will not allow the international community to diminish them by conflating us with other vulnerable groups like minorities and local communities.

But there has to be more than a simple acknowledgment of Indigenous rights in climate-change talks that are conducted among non-Indigenous men. Indigenous people, including Indigenous women, can inject a sense of grassroots reality to these discussions.

The members of the international community need to accept the value that we bring to the table. The world needs our voices in the climate-change debate.

Madeleine Redfern is president of the Nunavut Inuit Women’s Association. She is the CEO of CanArctic Inuit Networks and a past mayor of Iqaluit. Lisa Smith is an nonpracticing Inuk lawyer and is senior director, international relations for the Native Women’s Association of Canada.