Let me begin this month’s column with a quote: “We do not doubt for a moment that the rest of the world would find us at fault, and hold us liable, should we fail to ensure adequate protection of that environment from pollution or artificial deterioration.” The person who said that was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau during a House of Commons debate on protecting the Arctic environment. That statement was made nearly half a century ago, in October of 1969.
Nearly 50 years later, the whole world now accepts the scientific fact that climate change is the greatest threat to the future of our planet. World leaders now recognize massive investments must be made to halt rising temperatures and rising waters. To avoid this reality is to turn away from the truth that climate change is here, and we must deal with it or life on this planet will cease to exist.
For the sake of our children and future generations, we must stop polluting the air we breathe and the waters that sustain life. Now, more than ever, Canada needs First Nations at the table. This is our right. It is a Treaty Right. It is a human right.
Indigenous peoples’ observations contribute importantly to advancing climate science, by ensuring that assessments of climate change impacts and policies for climate change adaptation are meaningful and applicable at the local level. Animal migration patterns have adversely affected hunting, while warmer winters have reduced or eliminated winter roads to remote communities.
The winter of 2015-16 was the worst ever in terms of access to remote communities. There were 31 Ontario First Nations virtually cut off from the regular delivery of goods and materials because heavy trucks are not permitted. Imagine the continued impact this would have on mining and large-scale energy projects. All-season roads must also be part of the solution in terms of access to the north for our Peoples, and future economic opportunities for all.
Farther south, Ontario’s lakes and rivers hold 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water. First Nations are in the best position to preserve and protect our environment. We can also work to reverse the damage that has been done.
Perhaps the most significant part of last December’s COP 21 Paris Climate Accord is the pledge to invest trillions of dollars in the decades to come on clean energy projects, which will mitigate and reverse the harmful effects of fossil fuels. There are already many Ontario First Nations communities involved in wind, solar and hydro projects. Now is the time for the both the provincial and federal governments to make significant investments in First Nations controlled green energy infrastructure projects.
First Nations must also be fully involved in greenhouse gas (GHG) and carbon cap discussions. We are in the best position to preserve and protect our environment. We can also work to reverse the damage that has been done. By investing in green energy, reforestation – and in environmental protection – First Nations in Ontario can set an example for Canada and the world.
By working together – on a Nation to Nation basis – and utilizing centuries of traditional knowledge – we will do our part in preserving the planet for our children and for future generations. By working together – and utilizing 21st century technology – we will create long-term prosperity for our children and all Ontarians.
Isadore Day, Wiindawtegowinini, Assembly of First Nations, Regional Chief Ontario