'Big message': Northern delegates bring Indigenous, youth perspective to COP27

YELLOWKNIFE — Carissa Waugh says her family hasn't been able to set up their fish nets like they used to due to declining salmon numbers in Yukon.

"With that we are losing our connection to our culture," said the 29-year-old, who also goes by the Northern Tutchone name Eke Ewe.

"We aren't able to set up that net and teach the younger generation how to go and set up the net, how to take the fish out of the net, how to filet it and feed the community."

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said that this past summer 12,025 Chinook salmon crossed into Canada, where their spawning grounds are located. That's the lowest number on record and well below the goal of 42,500 to 55,000 fish under an agreement between Canada and the United States.

Waughis Taku River Tlingit First Nation belonging to the crow clan, and of Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation ancestry. A fellow with the Yukon First Nations Climate Action Fellowship, she's one of several Indigenous and youth delegates from Yukon and the Northwest Territories who have travelled to Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for the United Nations climate conference, also known as COP27, to share how they've seen first-hand their communities affected by climate change.

"My big message is that we need to invest in our Indigenous youth," she said.

Jocelyn Joe-Strack, also known as Daqualama, is a member of the wolf clan of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, a research chair in Indigenous Knowledge at Yukon University and co-lead of the Yukon First Nations Climate Action Fellowship. She said she's on several panels at COP27 to speak about how Yukon First Nations are at the forefront of self-determination.

"Just being able to demonstrate the power and potential of having Indigenous people have their rights and be able to make decisions that are keeping in mind the youth and future generations," she said.

Joe-Strack said she's interested in learning about climate change solutions that are focused on "coming back to humanity."

"I think the solutions that are really just focused on reducing emissions, electric cars, on the measurable, the tangible, that still expects the status quo without any real changes to the root cause which is our imbalanced way of life."

Monique Chapman, who grew up in Yellowknife and is from the Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation in northern Saskatchewan, said she was shocked and humbled when she learned she was selected to attend COP27 as part of the N.W.T. delegation.

"We're a small part of Canada and the world, but we're experiencing a lot of impacts," she said. "Hopefully putting a face to the people that are trying to help fight this or help find solutions, helps get more buy-in across the table."

Chapman, 26, works as a waste reduction analyst with the territorial government and said she is passionate about youth engagement. She studied marine biology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and said she hopes to continue her education pursuing science communications.

"It's so important to know how to communicate to the general public about climate change and the public's role and how everyone can get involved."

Reegan Jungkind, who grew up in Hay River, N.W.T., and is studying political science, sociology and sustainability at the University of Alberta, said she cried for "probably three hours" when she learned she would be heading to Egypt. She said she's looking forward to meeting people and bringing back what she's learned to her community.

"I hope I can bring a northern youth voice," she said.

"No one really understands northern perspectives or thinks about it in different contexts."

Jungkind, 20, said when she recently attended a youth ambassador program in New York, representatives from other countries were shocked to learn that the North is affected by climate change as they considered it a southern issue.

The United Nations climate change conference is taking place from Nov. 6 to 18 with a focus on climate change adaptation, building resilience and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The N.W.T. and Yukon delegations are co-hosting a panel on climate adaptation and resiliency in Canada's North. Some Yukon delegates are also part of a panel with P.E.I. and B.C. on efforts across Canada to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Rebecca Turpin, director of Yukon's Climate Change Secretariat, said the conference is "not business as usual," as world leaders have made statements on how countries are not moving fast enough to address climate change. A new report from UN Climate Change says efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions remain insufficient to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 C by the end of the century

"I feel optimistic because I feel like it's our opportunity to really jump on this and not wait any longer to really invest, especially for the North, in transportation and heating," Turpin said, adding those are the territory's main sources of emissions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Emily Blake, The Canadian Press