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 BBC, CBC, the Guardian, CTV News, Global News, The 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.
THE THING IS THAT THE CHANGES ARE SO VAST AND SO RAPID THAT NONE OF THESE SPECIES EVEN HAVE TIME TO ADAPT TO THE CHANGES.
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 ANCESTORS REALIZED HOW VITAL SALMON WERE TO OUR EXISTENCE. THEY HAD A HIGH LEVEL OF RESPECT FOR THE SALMON AND WHAT THEY MEANT TO US AND HOW THEY’RE THE DRIVER OF ALL LIFE IN THIS PART OF THE WORLD.
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.
WE’VE TAKEN TREES OUTTA THE FOREST ALL AROUND THE WORLD AT A HORRID PACE.
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
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?
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
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.
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
- 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.
- Canada Invests $796 Million to Collaborate With Provinces, Territories, and Other Partners to Protect Nature Across the Country
- Caribou in Canada – Barren-Ground Caribou
- Overview of the Pan-Canadian Approach to Transforming Species at Risk Conservation in Canada
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
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.
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.
THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Don Denton
Canadian governments need to better engage with Indigenous fire stewardship to counter increased wildfire occurrence and severity
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?
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.
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.
November 21, 2022
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.
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.