Many Indigenous leaders have expressed disappointment that only the leaders of the national organizations representing Inuit, Métis and First Nations were allowed to fully participate in the talks at a climate strategy meeting with the prime minister and premiers earlier this month. Other Indigenous leaders in attendance for the meeting in Vancouver were relegated to the role of spectators.
“Limiting conversation to three Indigenous voices from over 600 Indigenous communities across Canada is a vast under representation,” Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a climate and indigenous rights activist, said. “At a bare minimum, the regional chiefs should be at the table as well, but also Indigenous leaders and experts who work on climate should be as well.”
Regional chiefs were also frustrated that their input into the pan-Canadian framework for clean growth and climate change is limited, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise of a “renewed, nation-to-nation relationship” with Indigenous people in Canada.
“We thought we’d have a chance to speak, but it was the national chief who was permitted to speak for about ten minutes. Ten minutes for all First Nations in Canada? That is a slap in the face to First Nations and embarrassment for Canada,” Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day told DeSmog Canada. “Climate change is a matter of life and death. Our kids and grandkids will suffer if we fail to act and we only have a 20-year window to act. Clearly, we all need to work together.”
Treaty 6 Grand Chief Tony Alexis, an Alberta regional chief, said First Nations had been merely “asked to come and visit” the climate meeting. Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Fort Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta declared the federal government and premiers had “failed terribly” in addressing Indigenous concerns about climate change and protecting the environment.
“We Were Not Welcome At The Table": Chief Day
Two days of meetings took place in Vancouver: a meeting on March 2nd for Indigenous leaders, premiers and the prime minister and a meeting the following day exclusively for the provinces, territories and the federal government. Last-minute invitations to join the Alberta and Ontario provincial delegations allowed Day and Alexis to be present at the final meeting.
“We were not welcome at the table. If the meeting is an indication of how things will proceed moving forward, Indigenous peoples and Canadians should be concerned,” Day said.
Not all provinces appear comfortable with Indigenous leaders playing a significant role in the crafting of a Canadian climate framework either.
“From what I heard some provinces indicated during the meeting they would like to limit Indigenous involvement in the climate framework. I find this very concerning, not to mention deeply disrespectful,” Laboucan-Massimo told DeSmog Canada. “It is of immense importance for Indigenous governments to be engaged from start to finish at the four climate tables, and I hope that all levels of government respect that.”
Before the summit in Vancouver had begun, the federal government came under fire for failing to invite two other national Indigenous organizations — Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples — to the talks. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair blasted Trudeau in Parliament for the “slight” and Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger pointed out in the past all five national organizations have been invited to attend first ministers meetings.
Indigenous Peoples To Be Consulted On The Climate Change Framework
A “broader engagement process with Indigenous peoples” is meant to take place alongside the work of four federal-provincial working groups studying key climate policy areas such as clean technology, carbon pricing mechanisms and greenhouse gas reductions strategies. If the recommendations are approved at a first ministers meeting this fall, they will make up the bulwark of a national framework shaping Canada’s responses to climate change.
The details of the consultation process have not been made available yet, but both Day and Laboucan-Massimo agree the process needs to be as comprehensive as possible for Indigenous concerns to be heard and incorporated.
"I think a climate change accord in Canada is necessary going forward. It would spell out how a constructive dialogue between Indigenous people and the federal government could take place," Day said.
Indigenous knowledge could also strengthen a national plan to address climate change. Scientists have already begun using Inuit knowledge and observations for studying weather patterns in the Arctic. Firsthand information like this can be used to test climate models.
“Because of the innate connection to the land, Indigenous people notice changes in the ecosystem, animals and water that others may dismiss. We’ve had centuries of observation, experience and intimate relationships to the land that has built this unique knowledge and sensitivity,” Laboucan-Massimo told DeSmog Canada. Laboucan-Massimo is a member of the Sakaw Nehiyawak (“Northern” or “Bush” Cree in English).
Laboucan-Massimo also sees the low-carbon economy as much more in line with Indigenous worldviews than fossil fuels economies.
“For the first time since the age of industrialization, there finally exists a technology that produces energy that is not in complete contradiction with Indigenous values and our way of life,” Laboucan-Massimo said. “The time is now for our communities to begin integrating renewable energy technology such as solar photovoltaic to help us become less reliant on fossil fuels.”
Image: Melina Laboucan Massimo at a solar installation in her community of Little Buffalo in northern Alberta.