Towards Reconciliation and Climate Justice

On June 21st, Canada celebrates National Aboriginal Day. 

There’s a wonderful sign being shared on social media from Just Us Coffee in Nova Scotia. It says, “Canada 150, Mi’kamaki 13,000”. It’s a simple message that offers some perspective on how we think of our history together.

The Government of Canada website says that the celebration of National Aboriginal Day is about recognizing and celebrating the heritage and diverse cultures of indigenous peoples in Canada, and the contributions they made to the development of Canada as a country. This year, it’s especially notable as we mark 150 years since Confederation and the official establishment of Canada as an independent nation.

Not only is Canada celebrating 150 years since Confederation, we also just passed the 2nd anniversary of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)’s Report and Calls to Action. And, it is the 10-year anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) – and one year since the federal government officially announced its full support for this declaration.

As we celebrate National Aboriginal Day, it is imperative that we acknowledge these significant elements of the current Canadian context. They give us a chance to reflect on what reconciliation looks like for Canada today. For many, celebrating Canada150 has been a source of tremendous dis-ease because of the harm 150 years of Confederation has caused for Indigenous peoples. The TRC and the commitment to UNDRIP are indicators that Canada is working towards reconciliation to repair these broken relationships. But how do we make sure these words become actions?

There are many things Canada needs to do in order to truly move forward on reconciliation, but one vital piece is acknowledging the right and connection to land.

This is especially true when it comes to Canada’s approach to climate change. Climate change is all encompassing – its impacts are felt by everything and everyone on Earth. For Indigenous peoples, for whom connections to land are at once historical, cultural, and spiritual – and so vital to their identity – the impacts of climate change are particularly devastating. Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada cannot, therefore, be fully realized unless we address the particular stake Indigenous peoples have in the fight against climate change through their connection to this land.

This means recognizing and addressing the disproportionate impacts of extraction, transportation, and the effects of warming on communities who depend on now-changing and at-risk ecosystems, or who live in the melting North.

This means recognizing and addressing the impacts on Indigenous rights to traditional use of land and to the historical and spiritual connections to the land, the rights to traditional ways of living off the land, and the right to protect the sacredness of the land that has been their home since time immemorial.

There is a lot of work to do to achieve true reconciliation and climate justice in Canada.

This National Aboriginal Day, let us start by committing to honour Indigenous peoples’ place and history on this land. Let us celebrate the millennia of care they have given to land, the abundance of knowledge they have of this land, and the vital role they have long played in protecting this land.

And let us walk together, gently on this land, towards reconciliation and justice on Turtle Island. 

Asha is CPJ's former Public Justice Intern

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