“Today, Indigenous peoples know that they must carefully control the influences that could destroy their cultural identity, their future, and the vital resources upon which all life depends.”
Why should we care?
Indigenous communities in Canada are some of the most vulnerable populations experiencing the impacts of climate change today, as they heavily rely on their local ecosystem and biodiversity for their survival and cultural identity. A major threat to their land is the expansion of extractive industries such as oil and gas, mining, and logging. Another is the growth of the tourism industry, bringing urban land expansion, road-building, and other infrastructure into the equation. These factors further jeopardize their traditional way of life through the destruction of hunting grounds, food supplies, and water resources, increasing the socio-economic gap between Indigenous peoples and Canadians. As the climate crisis intensifies, many Canadians have looked to Indigenous peoples, traditional stewards of the land, for ideas on how to live more sustainably.
For decades, the Canadian government has tried to develop ways to balance protecting wildlife diversity and natural resources while expanding industry. Many Indigenous peoples, such as the Dene Peoples of Dakelth, view the desecration of natural resources and wildlife as “acting against the laws of nature”.
The reproduction and regeneration of plant and animal life hold strong spiritual significance to Indigenous communities, and many have begun to resort to creating their own programs in hopes of protecting their culture and territories. The majority of these communities, especially those in remote and at-risk areas, have recognized that they cannot always rely on government programs alone to address these major issues. Indigenous cultures practice sustainability through their traditional customs on the land, such as controlled burns, and consider it the collective responsibility of the people to sustain and tend to the natural environment. More importantly, the concept of “Mother Earth” to Indigenous peoples in Canada can be defined as a force that gives and nurtures all forms of life. They believe that in order to live interconnectedly with the world and the people, this life-giving force must be respected and treated as one of us, as though it were a living person with inherent rights. Through the dissemination of their knowledge and traditional practices to younger generations, Indigenous peoples hope to maintain their sustainable ways of life, and by doing so preserve their culture and fight climate change.
What does the future hold for Indigenous Peoples?
To strive for a greener, prosperous tomorrow, various organizations and international agreements have been implemented to maintain the well-being and sustenance of Indigenous peoples and their homeland. One example of this is the First Nations Major Projects Coalition (FNMPC). The FNMPC is a collective group of First Nations that assist in coordinating projects taking place on their lands to ensure their sustainability. They consolidate the tools needed for project development, conduct impact assessments, environmental reviews, and ensure these projects will benefit and support the Indigenous communities across Canada and the US. Policies such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) acknowledge the injustices that Indigenous people have faced; stemming from colonization, they have stripped the rights of their cultures, spiritual traditions, land and resources. These agreements and policies were enacted to obtain consent for sustainable extraction of resources from Indigenous communities, and to actively find ways of solving the climate crisis using their traditional practices and ecological knowledge.
Current Indigenous practices and strategies of sustainability
Many Indigenous communities have their own unique practices for sustainable living, combining modern technology and traditional knowledge to combat climate change. For example, the Cree of the Lubicon Lake Band in Northern Alberta have built solar power installations in their territory, one of which was previously impacted by a major oil spill. In Mashteuiatsh Quebec, they have created two small run-of-rivers and installed hydroelectric power stations, resulting in the creation of jobs for Indigenous peoples. With the area already being a popular tourist landmark in Canada due to its mesmerizing falls and surrounding versatile species, visitors can be assured that this beautiful region is maintained with the help of these sustainability initiatives. According to Molecular Diversity Preservation International (MDPI), approximately 24% of global carbon emissions are stored in tropical forests and are managed by Indigenous Peoples. Even though Indigenous Peoples only make up about 5% of the world’s population, this demonstrates how integral Indigenous knowledge and traditional practices are on a global scale.
The Big Takeaway
Indigenous traditional practices and historical knowledge of the environment provide great examples of how we can incorporate sustainability into our daily lives. As stated by the Haudenosaunee Peoples, we must acknowledge that any decision we make today will impact the decisions of the next seven generations. By challenging ourselves to follow the Natural Law of Indigenous peoples, and to respect the land as we would a human life, we can reduce the rate of resource extraction and live in harmony with the ecosystem.
Written by Joanne Marie Velasco