Efforts to address climate change must include Indigenous leaders: report

A Climate Action Team report suggested that any efforts to address climate change must include Indigenous leadership and ensure free, prior and informed consent.

“Manitoba's Road to Resilience: A Community Climate Action Pathway to a Fossil Fuel Free Future,” introduces an achievable and concrete pathway to a climate-resilient Manitoba.

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The report states Indigenous populations are disproportionately impacted by pollution and climate change due to “environmental racism,” and therefore have less access to the resources and materials required to respond and adapt to its impacts.

“Climate has an impact on people, which will continue to grow over time,” said Curt Hull, the lead author of the report and project director for Climate Change Connection, one of the organizations behind the report.

“Impacts include injustices; generational, cultural and economic. The effects of climate change are unfortunately often felt by the segments of our population that are typically the least contributors but yet, they are the ones who suffer from it the most.”

Hull said that smaller populations should be taken into account when finding a solution to address climate change effectively and respectful of the needs of all communities.

Even though Indigenous peoples make up less than five per cent of the world’s population, they protect about 80 per cent of global biodiversity.

Environmental degradation has impacted many Indigenous communities that centre on a close relationship to the land.

To improve climate pollution, the report proposes that remote communities should grow more food locally without the use of fossil fuels.

However, First Nation reserves are often relegated to areas that are not suitable for agriculture resulting in food insecurity due to climate irregularities. Their lands are often susceptible to floods and forest fires.

Still, Indigenous communities like Garden Hill First Nation have found ways to make growing food possible through its Meechim Farms, a food security project that consists of a farm, food market, agriculture-based training, and educational programming teaching children about growing food and healthy eating.

As well, there is a need to protect wild spaces as Indigenous people and those from other remote areas need access to hunting, fishing, and gathering.

“We cannot forget our obligation to maintain the wilderness, not just from a holistic standpoint, it is just the right thing to do,” said Hull.

The report also acknowledges that hydro dams have caused severe and on-going social and environmental devastation to nearby Indigenous people, their communities, traditions, and lands.

Authors of the report recognize that the lasting impact of hydro-electric development in Northern Manitoba is an issue that must be addressed if proper reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is to occur.

“We have a responsibility to the Aboriginal people who were stewards of the land and the water that we are now using for the generation of electricity. It has to do with the acceptance of the economic responsibility as we are getting the benefit, but they are paying the price,” said Hull.

Manitoba's Road to Resilience emphasized the need for nation-to-nation relationships between the Crown and First Nations, Inuit, and Metis governments to fulfill national obligations and commitments to the recognition and implementation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights to address climate change.

The Climate Action Team is a collaboration between several groups, including Climate Change Connection, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Green Action Centre, The Wilderness Committee and Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the government of Canada.

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