It is my honour to be the inaugural Climate Writer in Residence at the West Vancouver Memorial Library, and I am thankful to staff and patrons for joining me on this journey. This support enables the vital work of writing on the importance of planetary health, the abolition of ecocide, and the ways we can unite in understanding.
Growing up and being raised by my grandparents, I was taught to love the land, respect it, and protect it as much as possible. This residency will provide the opportunity to do just that, by connecting with the community and delving into written works on climate change, while giving me time to focus on my upcoming novels whose themes center around the energy of fire and the healing powers of water.
I devote my love of my northern homeland through my writing, recognizing the importance of place-based teachings. I acknowledge I am a visitor on the traditional territory lək̓ʷəŋən speaking peoples. As the Climate Writer in Residence for WVML, my role is to share my knowledge of climate related impacts from a northern perspective, while listening to and learning from the teachings of emerging and seasoned storytellers sharing their knowledge on climate change. I am particularly excited to connect with those who carry knowledge within the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Nation, səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) of the Coast Salish People whose traditional and unceded lands so called West Vancouver resides on.
I took a personal interest in environmental issues in 2011 while completing my Bachelor of Arts in Justice Studies at Royal Roads University. After learning about the devastation that an abandoned gold mine was having on the land, water, and animals in my own backyard since the 1940s I decided to write my undergraduate thesis on toxic torts, a personal injury from pollutants. Environmentalists are still not sure how to effectively contain the 340,000 tons of inorganic arsenic that was dumped underground. This inorganic arsenic has the potential to leach into the Great Slave Lake and Arctic Ocean. I took up the cause as a Council Member with my First Nation, the Yellowknives Dene, and we collectively demanded compensation for the contamination of our territorial lands. Years later, the federal government has finally agreed to negotiate, but no amount of money can fix the land that has been left in complete disrepair.
In 2013, I enrolled in a Master of Environmental Management program at Royal Roads University where I studied the cumulative impacts of environmental racism on Turtle Island, a term that I and many other Indigenous Peoples use when speaking of North America as found in the Anishinaabe Creation Story. Environmental racism occurs globally in Indigenous communities and stems directly from colonial industrialization. It is found in the remains of old abandoned mines and mills, in ongoing deforestation, chemical agriculture, and proposed pipeline areas. These eyesores all have one thing in common, they are located directly on or near Indigenous lands.
I took a break from school to focus on my career and was hired by the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) in 2015 to help create a groundbreaking water agreement with Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Jurisdictional cross-provincial water ways are all connected and flow downstream into the Mackenzie River basin in my home of the Northwest Territories (NWT) which contains Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake, two of the largest lakes in the world. As part of the negotiation team, I traveled the NWT listening to Indigenous leaders and community members had to say concerning the health of our pristine northern water basin and the impacts of downstream oil from Alberta. Initially signing with Alberta marked a threshold on acceptable limits of releases. It was the first agreement of its kind, ultimately setting precedence. The agreement is now used as a model for other countries looking to implement water agreements.
Instead of continuing in my environmental studies program, I realized I could make a larger impact by switching to practicing law. I am currently in my third year of Indigenous Legal Orders and Common Law at the University of Victoria. I strongly believe that I must be well versed in how legislation, policies, regulation, and corporate structures operate so I can help dismantle the controlling forces that are causing the climate emergency. We need a shift to happen—the economy does not need to be in competition with the ecosystem.
I’m looking forward to the next few months as I join the West Vancouver Memorial Library to discuss the impacts of climate change from an Indigenous perspective. I am excited to be facilitating book clubs, climate panels, teaching different writing methods from a storied perspective all with the goal of combatting and educating on what should be at the top of everyone’s priority – climate change.
Read Katłįà’s memoir Northern Wildflower.