We’ve all seen the ads — the polar bears precariously balancing on blocks of ice for a Coca Cola commercial, the devastated ecosystems captured by Discovery Channel documentaries. However, what we don’t see is input from indigenous peoples on the serious issue of climate change, despite being those who inhabited the land on which we currently live before settlers came to take it away from them.
On March 2, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and the Métis National Council were all invited to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Vancouver, to voice their concerns on a variety of issues concerning them. AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said that indigenous peoples should be included on the development of plans to combat climate change, as they are often among the first to feel its effects. However, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the Native Women’s Association of Canada were not invited to this meeting and are advocating to be a part of it.
The fact that Trudeau is even meeting with organizations that advocate for the interests of Aboriginal peoples is noteworthy in itself, for there has been a long history of silencing these voices in order to further self-serving colonial interests.
Indigenous peoples are the first to feel the effects of climate change.
Maisaloon Al-Ashkar is a second-year SFU student who is majoring in First Nations Studies. She is also a board member of the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) and an organization called Fossil Free Faith, in which she uses her Muslim faith as a voice to advocate for climate justice.
Al-Ashkar had these powerful words to say on the topic: “Climate change has developed because of colonial ideals of exploiting the land and those who rely upon it. To nurture climate justice, we need to acknowledge that our well-being and the environment’s well-being are deeply interconnected, and this is knowledge that’s beautifully embedded in many diverse indigenous worldviews.”
Her words point to the long history of exploitation and oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada, as well as alternative solutions and ideas for world issues that those who are currently in power may never even have considered.
Most importantly, more collaborative efforts between governments and Indigenous peoples would be an important step towards reconciliation. In working with them and valuing their input, the Canadian government would be doing more for Aboriginal reconciliation than an official apology ever could. Indigenous peoples are finally beginning to have their voices heard, but they need to be an integral part of every important conversation. It is about time that we let their voices shine.