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Climate action is not whole without climate justice

31 March 2020

This article originally appeared in The Circle: Youth in Action. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

What image comes to mind when you think of climate action in Canada? Maybe it’s leading change, emphasizing inclusivity and being ethical. But when it comes to the Indigenous Peoples who have called the land now commonly known as Canada home for millennia, this is far from the truth.

There is a false narrative circulating that Indigenous young people are radical protestors and an inconvenience. When a foreign body such as the colonial Canadian government invades lands that Indigenous Peoples have thrived on for centuries and violently imposes a governance system and way of being that is disconnected from the land, do we as Indigenous People start to mobilize by taking a proactive and protective role as stewards of the land and water?

Yes, so this narrative needs to change. It needs to present Indigenous Peoples as they are: as protectors, mobilized peacekeepers and stewards of the living environment. There is no escaping this role for us when our cultures and livelihoods are so intrinsically tied to the natural environment, especially at this point in history when the global community is facing a climate crisis.

A large portion of the land now commonly referred to as Canada is unceded Indigenous territory. This essentially means that no treaties (agreements between Indigenous nations and Canada) exist surrounding the use of the traditional lands and resources that Indigenous People have called home for millennia. Ninety-five percent of what is now referred to as British Columbia is unceded territory. This land is not only unceded, but culturally and ecologically sensitive. Wet’suwet’en frontline land defenders (Indigenous Peoples in what is now known as British Columbia) are being forced to protect their land and water from invasions by Canada.

“Consulted” but having not consented, the Wet’suwet’en suggested alternate routes for the federally supported Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project that is invading their territory. Regardless, the Canadian government persisted with its plans to the point where the country’s national police service (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or RCMP) forcibly removed land defenders—men, women and youth—from their unceded land to “uphold a provincial court order.” This was a direct violation of human rights that are ostensibly protected by the Canadian constitution and the United Nations—and it was done with a media exclusion zone set up to prevent coverage.

If your environmentalism does not include the complexities that have just been laid out—including, but not limited to, antioppressive, anti-racist and anti-colonial rhetoric—then it is not environmentalism.

Considering the complex connections between society, politics and the climate crisis is part of being an environmentalist. Social issues are environmental issues. Climate action is not whole without climate justice.

Fortunately, once we know better, there is room to do better. Look for ways to volunteer your time to participate in land defender actions. Educate others and raise donations for those at the frontlines. Call your government officials to bring attention to injustices. Act in solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples who are protecting the environment that all of us, as global citizens, benefit from.

JUKIPA KOTIERK, a guest editor for this issue, from Inuit Nunangat in Canada, works for the Nunavut Department of Health as a territorial wellness program specialist. She is doing her part to hold herself and others accountable for climate action that includes the social and political complexities that inform the climate crisis.