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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, and AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde at the COP21 climate talks in Paris.

Indigenous Leaders Stress Cooperation, Rights in Paris at COP21


Several indigenous leaders from Canada are in Paris for the COP21 talks as part of the official delegation, bringing Native concerns directly to world leaders.

Among them are Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde, AFN Northwest Territories Regional Chief Bill Erasmus and AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart, who is part of the Manitoba delegation. Also joining them are Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed and Dwight Dorey, National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

RELATED: Indigenous Peoples Know How to Care for Our Planet: Justin Trudeau at COP21

As has been extensively documented, Indigenous Peoples worldwide are on the frontlines of climate change’s effects, and that is especially evident in the Arctic.

“Inuit were among the first to directly experience and describe the impacts associated with a changing climate in the Arctic and on our way of life,” said ITK in a statement. “Inuit have called for actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for decades. We are a people who understand and appreciate that climate change is likely to become another key driver of massive societal change if concerted global actions are not taken. Inuit across Inuit Nunangat have direct experience with the severe and growing consequences of melting permafrost and coastal erosion on our communities, and Inuit food security is increasingly affected by climate change impacts on our subsistence activities.”

Obed emphasized joint action.

“We must now, collectively, work together to find solutions to not only mitigate the further progression and impacts of climate change, but to provide support to those who are already facing direct and significant impacts,” said Obed in ITK’s statement. “Paris is a key climate summit, and I will be focused on contributing to Canada’s presence by working on creating positive outcomes for the Arctic, which in turn will benefit all nations.”

Bellegarde, too, called for cooperation as he tied climate change mitigation to recognizing treaty rights.

“Indigenous peoples are the first to experience the impacts of climate change and our voices and our recommendations must be heard at COP 21,” he said in an AFN statement. “Climate change is affecting our peoples, our territories and our rights. We will put forward solutions that combat climate change and give life to First Nations rights to our lands, territories and resources. All states recognize that any international agreement must be made with the full and effective participation of First Nations and Indigenous peoples. We will be there to ensure First Nations have a strong voice and that outcomes recognize and respect the rights of our peoples.”

Dorey spoke of rights as well.

“Indigenous Peoples are at the forefront in the battle against climate change,” he said in a statement. “We need to work towards creating an environmental strategy that recognizes the rights of Indigenous Peoples, our territories and our resources.”

He noted that ties to the land make Indigenous Peoples especially suited to be collaborators when it comes to finding solutions to climate change.

“Indigenous Peoples have historically had an intimate relationship with the land and the environmental impact of climate change is destroying that symbiosis,” said Dorey. “We have to agree on an environmental strategy that accepts climate change as a human rights issue, one that recognizes the importance of traditional knowledge in mitigating the effects of climate change, and a strategy that embraces the full participation of all Indigenous Peoples.”

In his speech at COP21, Bellegarde said that not only treaty rights, but indigenous human rights must be respected, tying climate change to climate justice. The United Nations, which is sponsoring the talks, paid for the AFN leaders to attend, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) reported in October. It was done through the U.N. Development Programme, which funded the trips of Bellegarde and Erasmus. The talks began on November 30 and run through December 11.

Dorey said he hoped to make an impact in Paris.

“I believe that Indigenous leaders have the ability to make an impact on state-dominated discussions,” Dorey said. “The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples will support Canada in addressing global warming and in reducing carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Indigenous concerns are everyone’s concerns, Bellegarde said.

"We pretty much have to be there, because as indigenous peoples, we are really the first to experience the impacts of climate change,'' Bellegarde told the Canadian Press before the talks. "Our people still are of the land and of the water ... we still hunt, we still fish, we still trap, we still gather medicines ... so, when climate change is being talked about, the indigenous peoples, we say we have rights ... but we also have responsibilities as protectors and stewards of the land and water.''

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