In her book Warrior Life, Pamela Palmater writes on Aboriginal rights, saying that “it is up to Indigenous Peoples and environmental allies to protect the public interest.” Today, asserting our Aboriginal rights is becoming more difficult as we experience the impacts of climate change. The permafrost is melting rapidly, invasive species have traveled north creating imbalances in the ecosystem, water levels are fluctuating from flooding to drought, forest fires are out of control, and extreme changes in temperature are making it unsafe for hunters to rely on seasonal patterns.
It was not that long ago that my ancestors in the North were completely nomadic. My ancestors set up camp as they followed the migration of their harvests in order to leave a small environmental footprint on the land. This connection has been severely interrupted. Humans have had a tremendous impact on the environment since the industrial revolution. If I had it my way, we would have skipped the Fossil Fuel Era altogether and propelled straight into the Technological Revolution. Unfortunately, it is too late to turn back. Yet technology is now enabling us to use natural resources like wind, solar, and biomass sustainably … and an array of new innovations are yet to be discovered. These systems complement Indigenous worldviews by fixing the problems created over time through colonialism and capitalism. Green technologies create smaller environmental footprints, helping to clean up the mess we are in and slow the impacts of climate change.
Indigenous Peoples in countries like Bolivia and Ecuador are taking action by setting out a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, respecting the fundamental rights of the planet. The Government of Canada should take a cue from this and begin making real change by amending the outdated Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 through Indigenous leadership at the forefront of genuine consultation with Indigenous Nations. Indigenous Peoples on Turtle Island can stop environmental degradation through section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that Canada passed on June 16, 2021. It is a battle that may take a lifetime and requires allies.
I have started making concerted efforts to hold the government accountable on climate initiatives. One way I do this is by using my writing and my platform to ramp up the coverage of climate change in the media to educate and inspire the public to demand regulatory and legislative change. I seek input from Indigenous knowledge keepers who provide insight into why Indigenous sovereignty is so critical at this time. Alluded to by Seth Klein in A Good War, it is the resistance and collective guardianship of Indigenous peoples who are gatekeeping the land by speaking out, protesting –even risking arrest- while asserting Aboriginal rights and title. It has become our integral responsibility as Indigenous Peoples to lead the way forward bringing our teachings with us into the future for the health of our planet. This is done while remaining steadfast, reflecting on ancient principles and laws in the face of adversity, and resisting government and corporate monetary incentives for access to our land rights. These projects can potentially cause irreversible damage to the land. There is pushback from Indigenous nations who want the land and water to remain health above all else. However, the ongoing impacts of colonialism puts pressure on Indigenous leaders to give up their land rights in exchange for financial incentives and the promise of jobs. While this may seem a fair trade to some, it ignores the fact that colonial governments created the dire financial situation some Nations are in.
Indigenous people may be leading the way, but the monumental battle of climate change urgently needs all of our attention. The climate emergency will not be solved during this residency, but it is my hope that together we can create something profound in the written word for library patrons to use in their everyday lives, getting us one step closer towards a healthier planet. One way of doing so is turning to Haudenosaunee principles of caring for the next seven generations. As such, the Library will be creating programs with Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation that reflects those principles by working with leaders, knowledge keepers, and young people to envision a healthier future for everyone.