Climate change solutions need to keep Indigenous knowledge at centre of approach

Wednesday, October 18th, 2023 2:15pm


Image Caption

AFN Quebec-Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard


“It all comes down to resources…Resources are very important to be able to do what we need to do to work together.” —interim National Chief Joanna Bernard
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has released its National Climate Strategy and is calling on all levels of government to “make space” for First Nations’ inclusion at the start of the process.

This past summer more than 15 million hectares burned in Canada, making it the worst wildfire season on record. First Nations from coast to coast to coast were impacted, said AFN interim National Chief Joanna Bernard this morning at a press conference held in Ottawa.

“Projections indicate that Canada’s temperature is expected to warm at double the average global rate and triple in the north. This means more extreme weather, including fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, species migrations, coastal sea level rise, among other challenges. In the face of this reality and observations from knowledge keepers, First Nations have taken matters into their own hands,” she said.

The AFN presented its 60-page national climate strategy that was four years in the making. It began with a 2019 declaration by chiefs-in-assembly of a First Nations Climate Emergency. At this past assembly in July, chiefs committed to urgent and transformative climate action through a second resolution.

 “These (strategies) are not a comprehensive review of all First Nations priorities related to climate change, but rather an enabling document to create space for First Nations at the local and regional levels,” said AFN Quebec-Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard, who joined Bernard in presenting the plan.

The strategy leverages the First Nations climate lens conceptional framework, said Picard, and calls for systemic change.

According to the report, the climate lens transitions away from the “overemphasis on ‘technological solutions’ and ‘market-based mechanisms’ towards a framing that emphasizes the centrality of First Nations’ knowledge systems, rights and self-determination.”

The document further states that the approach being taken by the federal, provincial and municipal governments, which have a “general disregard of First Nations’ rights and self-determination…is entirely insufficient.”

Seven priority areas are introduced, which include putting First Nations inherent jurisdiction to self-determination central in climate-decision making at all levels; addressing capacity needs to support First Nations as climate leaders; and ensuring First Nations are equipped to mitigate, prevent, respond to and recover from all emergencies.

Along with the priorities are 108 strategies or actions to be taken, the majority of which depend on the federal, provincial and territorial governments to be implementation partners.

That this is an implementation strategy document is important, said Bernard.

“We have done a lot of work in the past and a lot of reports and strategies and I find the number one issue…is once we have come up with these strategies…it’s all about the implementation. If we don’t have an implementation strategy it’s going to be another report put on the shelf,” she said.

Equally important, she added, is that First Nations be included in climate strategy discussions from the beginning. It is not acceptable for the federal government to discuss solutions “behind closed doors” and present First Nations with documents “to tweak…to our liking.”

“It seems like always we are at the tail end of decision-making and that has to change,” said Picard.

“And of course, it all comes down to resources…Resources are very important to be able to do what we need to do to work together,” said Bernard.

The report notes the “chronic underfunding” received by First Nations from all levels of government.

Picard said he expects to hear arguments from Ottawa about limitations to budgets, but those limitations need to be weighed by the challenges First Nations presently face.

“This is where we need to be innovative in the way that we approach the issues and understanding that First Nations have…been putting up with a lot…in recent years,” he said.

Find the report at:

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