Congress of Aboriginal Peoples’ urgent message to environment ministers: include the grassroots

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“Canada, at all levels, must recognize that we are experiencing a human-caused climate crisis, and that Indigenous Peoples, low-income persons, women, and youth are the most impacted,” Chief Elmer St. Pierre said in a press release before addressing a meeting of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.

“The response from governments must be proactive, swift, and transformative to engage all aspects of society.”

To learn from the mistakes of the past, we also need to consult our Elders, he added.

The annual meeting, this year held in Carcross/Tagish First Nation in Yukon, focused on plastic waste, air quality and climate change. Provincial and territorial ministers were in attendance, along with federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Indigenous leaders from the Assembly of First Nations, Métis National Council, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and more.

St. Pierre’s message to the room “was that we need to be able to work with our communities; they have a lot to say,” Jim Devoe, executive director of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), told Canada’s National Observer.

CAP’s mandate is to advocate for non-status and off-reserve Indigenous Peoples, including those affected by the climate crisis.

For Indigenous Peoples living in urban communities — like East Vancouver, for example — the impacts of the climate crisis are staggering, says Devoe.

But the crisis also affects Indigenous Peoples in rural areas who are forced to move to urban centres because of the way climate change and biodiversity loss have impacted their home communities.

“If you’re from a rural centre, as I am, and there’s a shortage of jobs … people have no choice but to leave rural towns for urban centres,” said Devoe, whose home community in Nova Scotia has fisheries that are often overused and overexploited.

“People who leave their communities to go to urban centres to find better opportunities aren’t always finding better opportunities.”

The goal of the national chief has always been to advocate for the grassroots and to centre their voices on issues of climate change, Devoe adds.

“If we don’t have the voice of our communities, we aren’t well-informed,” he said.

Matteo Cimellaro / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Matteo Cimellaro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer