Opinion: 30 years after Oka, let’s not allow history to repeat itself

Denying our rights will only make us redouble our efforts to ensure Indigenous peoples get the respect they deserve.

KANESATAKE, QUEBEC: JULY 11,1990 — Men pound a drum near at the site of a blockade on a secondary road in Kanesatake Wednesday, July 11, 1990, the morning of the start of the Oka Crisis in Kanesatake near Montreal. The long summer of conflict began when Quebec Provincial Police attempted to forcefully dismantle the Mohawk blockade on a side dirt road that had been erected earlier in the year to protest the proposed expansion of a golf course. John Kenney / Montreal Gazette

Thirty years ago, on July 11, 1990, Quebec entered one of its worst human, social and political crises. The climate of violence that we witnessed from that July to the end of September 1990 had dramatic consequences, including the death of a serving Sûreté du Québec officer.

The Oka Crisis has, sadly, left an indelible mark in our minds. And it still serves as a point of reference, because nothing has really changed in 30 years.

The social and political divide between First Nations and part of the Quebec population is the result of decades of injustice and forced measures. It is obvious that subjecting an entire population to such actions can only result in wounds that remain raw today. Quebec is no exception in this regard; examples abound around the world.

The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador wishes to respectfully underscore the memory of the summer of 1990.

We also want to share with the premier and all Quebecers ways to prevent history from repeating itself.

The COVID-19 pandemic, police misconduct of a racist nature, a sad 30th anniversary — it is in this sensitive context that the debate on racism and discrimination is resurfacing in Quebec. Racism and discrimination also has a systemic nature, whether we like it or not. Systemic racism and discrimination are not just concepts or theoretical notions. Rather, they are a set of facts and behaviours, and we should not be afraid to name them and denounce them if we are genuinely willing to correct them. From the point of view of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, when a people denies the fundamental rights of another on the basis of its race, we are in the presence of racism. When this denial is formally and systematically exercised by a government, we are in the presence of systemic racism and discrimination. Again, let us not be afraid of words. They help us to face reality.

It should also be recalled that the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) more than 10 years ago, with the aim of breaking with such behaviour and proposing viable solutions to states to redefine their relations with Indigenous peoples on a respectful basis. Moreover, the declaration called for minimal standards to ensure the survival, the dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples. In our view, the political decisions that led to the Oka Crisis are a perfect example of actions to be prohibited under the declaration.

By now, the Quebec government has had ample time to learn the lessons of the recent past and to take to heart the provisions of UNDRIP.

However, what we are seeing is the contrary: Through recent court actions, the Quebec government is today challenging the fundamental right of First Nations to be self-governing, our right to take charge of our own services for our families and children. Must we remind the premier that denying our right to self-determination will only make us redouble our collective efforts to ensure that Indigenous peoples get the respect they deserve?

Putting so much energy and resources into impeding First Nations’ desire to better serve their populations will only exacerbate systemic racism and discrimination.

It is difficult to be optimistic in the search for constructive solutions when the wounds of the relationship are still contaminated by such contempt.

We need to learn from the past and act to move in the right direction, one that will ensure that there is no turning back on mutually agreed principles. Indigenous and Quebec leaders share the duty to find a path that is respectful and beneficial to our respective peoples. It is a matter of willingness.


Ghislain Picard is chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador.


30 years after Oka crisis, Kanesatake land claims remain unresolved

A warrior raises his weapon as he stands on an overturned police vehicle blocking a highway at the Kahnesetake reserve near Oka, Que., July 11, 1990 after a police assault to remove Mohawk barriers failed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson

MONTREAL — Thirty years after the proposed expansion of a golf course sparked a 78-day standoff between Quebec Mohawks and Canadian soldiers, the land claims at the heart of the Oka crisis remain unresolved, Indigenous leaders and elders say.

Serge Simon, the current Grand Chief of Kanesatake, vividly remembers the events of July 11, 1990, when Quebec provincial police moved in on a barricade erected by Mohawks who were protesting the planned development of what they claim as ancestral land in Oka, about 50 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

“I saw the tactical squad come out of their vehicles and start following this cube van up the hill and I thought, ‘Oh no, they’re going to kill everybody,’” Simon recalled in an interview this week.

He remembers confusion, seeing community members fleeing tear gas and later, an exchange of gunfire.

“All of a sudden you just heard a popping sound and it just went crazy,” he said. “You just heard automatic gunfire coming from both sides, that was the beginning.”

Cpl. Marcel Lemay died in the gunfire, felled by a bullet whose source was never determined.

The army sent in some 800 soldiers, encircling the community with barbed wire and sparking months of negotiations that culminated in a deal: the barricades of dirt and mangled police vehicles were to come down in return for the cancellation of the golf course expansion.

The conflict inspired Indigenous movements across the country and led to the Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples, which helped usher in a greater awareness of the need to settle land claims.

But three decades later, the underlying land disputes at the heart of the crisis remain unresolved, and the Kanesatake community is deeply divided on how to move forward.

“It’s gotten worse since 1990, 30 years ago,” said Walter David, an elder in the community. He says Kanesatake has continued to lose land to developers who have cut down trees and started housing projects on disputed territory.

“There’s been a lot of secrecy about what’s been going on, lots of money thrown at band council for these negotiations from the federal government, and just no results back to the people.”

David says the events of 1990 are “blotchy” in his mind, likely due to the post-traumatic stress he’s suffered. But he says the event remains an example of police violence, and the extent to which governments will go to refuse talking about land.

“We wanted to disrupt the expansion of the golf, and do it peacefully, and it was peaceful,” he maintained. “Up until we got assaulted twice,” he said, referring to police raids and alleged attacks by non-Indigenous citizens.

David says the aggressive law enforcement response to Indigenous pipeline protests in North Dakota and British Columbia bring back painful memories, and show that police attitudes have yet to change.

Watching conflicts between Black Lives Matters demonstrators and police triggered by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police has once again “set off little triggers” inside him, he said.

“They’re still using the same tactics,” he said.

David and Simon were on the same side of the Oka events, and both express similar concerns over issues in the community and a desire to reclaim disputed land. But they stand at opposite sides of a divide that has pitted elected band councils against Mohawk traditionalists and the Longhouse, who are fiercely critical of the process underway and of Simon’s leadership.

David says Simon has carried out land negotiations with the federal government behind closed doors and has not been transparent with the community on this or many other matters.

“Band councils are funded by the federal government, so there’s kind of a conflict of interest for them to be funded for their own negotiations,” he said.

Recently, members of the community sent a 16-page document of questions to Simon, demanding answers to everything from the status of negotiations to band council expenditures.

Simon, on the other hand, says that while he is bound by non-disclosure agreements when it comes to land negotiations, he has tried to keep the community informed.

He also fiercely resents being branded a “sellout” or an arm of the federal government for trying to negotiate a peaceful repatriation of the land.

“All I want is peace,” he said.

The divide became clearer last year when a local developer offered to donate 60 hectares of the land to Kanesatake as an “ecological gift” and said he was prepared to discuss the sale of an additional 150 hectares he owns in Oka to the federal government to transfer to the Mohawk community.

While Simon believes the offer would serve the community by protecting Mohawk land from development, David and members of the traditional Longhouse government balk at the idea that the land would come with strings attached, including limits on its use.

The issue, which is still being examined by lawyers, also renewed tensions with Oka’s mayor, who raised concerns that becoming encircled by Kanesatake could lead to declining property values, illegal garbage dumping and an expansion of cannabis and cigarette merchants.

The mayor, Pascal Quevillion, later apologized for his comments, but Simon says relations remain tense.

While by some measures things have improved in the community since 1990, Simon says many problems remain, including illegal dumping on environmentally sensitive lands, the lack of an Indigenous police force to bring stability and the need for better jobs and housing.

While he tries to remain positive, he admits his optimism is “pretty shaky these days”  in the face of resistance from his own community, Oka’s mayor and other actors, including a federal government that “has to be brought kicking and screaming” to recognize aboriginal title, he said.

At age 70, David says he’s tired of fighting. He stopped attending 1990 commemorative events long ago, preferring to focus on his garden and his coffee-roasting business.

He feels that if there’s hope, it’s in the young people there, who he says are beginning to do “great things” for the community and the land.

“We are going to be there, watch them and help them and get them going, be there for them as a support mechanism, and then turn the key over to them and say, ‘It’s yours,’” he said.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2020

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

Mohawks take PM to task over unanswered land claims on 30th anniversary of Oka crisis

Mohawks from Kahnawake on Montreal’s South Shore stage a rolling protest on Route 132 to the Mercier Bridge on Saturday, July 11, 2020, to mark the anniversary of the start of 1990 Oka Crisis. JOHN MAHONEY / Mont

Mohawks from Kanesatake to Kahnawake took Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to task Saturday for failing to answer their centuries-old land claims on the 30th anniversary of the start of the Oka crisis.

A convoy of about 100 vehicles carrying Kahnawake residents — many of them sporting Mohawk flags — crossed the Mercier Bridge into LaSalle and back Saturday morning as part of a “rolling blockade” to commemorate the event.

Hours later, a second caravan — this time, carrying Kanesatake residents — took over Route 344 northwest of Montreal though a new development in an area used by Mohawk farmers for generations. Many onlookers stood on their front porch and waved.

Members of the traditional longhouse organized the convoys to commemorate the watershed event — a 78-day standoff between Quebec Mohawks and Canadian soldiers over the proposed expansion of a golf course in Oka.

Three decades later, the impasse over land rights remains unresolved — despite Trudeau’s numerous pledges to work toward reconciliation and foster a “nation-to-nation” dialogue with Indigenous communities.

“The summer of 1990 serves as a reminder that the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) are willing to defend their land and protect their people, by any means necessary,” Joe Deom, a spokesperson for the Kahnawake longhouse, told a small gathering in the village Saturday. “The same holds true, 30 years later.”

Ellen Gabriel, a member of Kanesatake’s longhouse, later read the same statement in her community.

Organizers chose to hold rolling blockades instead of marches because of the coronavirus pandemic and the contamination risks that would have resulted from demonstrators being in close proximity to each other, Gabriel told reporters.

The demonstrations come as Kanesatake’s Mohawks continue to fight residential developments in nearby Oka they say would encroach on the pine forest they planted nearly 200 years ago.
“Under Canada’s constitution, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could intervene and stop all development that’s taking place here, and he refuses,” Gabriel said. Indigenous relations minister Carolyn Bennett “is part of that problem of refusing and trying to silence the voice” of First Nations peoples, she added.

“We are fighting for our land.”

Gabriel and her fellow citizens were joined in Kanesatake by New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and one of his MPs, Manitoba’s Leah Gazan. Singh said he came to Kanesatake “as an ally” to listen, fight for justice and ensure contested lands are returned to First Nations peoples.
He also took time to reflect on the events of 1990, saying: “What happened on this land was the beginning of a powerful movement. Future movements were all inspired by the strength and resilience of the people here. Thirty years later, the lessons have not been learned. The same problem continues.”

Gazan was more blunt.

“There will never be reconciliation in Canada in the absence of justice,” she said. “The people of Kanesatake have waited for over 300 years for this justice, and their justice continues to be infringed upon. It is time that this longstanding land dispute be resolved, that it gets the attention that it deserves from the current federal government to act now. The people of the longhouse have waited long enough for justice.”

The message — and the anger — was the same in Kahnawake.
Trudeau “has made a lot of promises,” Kaherihshon, a Kahnawake resident, told the Montreal Gazette. “He’s talked a really good talk about all the things he was going to do to settle the issues of the First Nations people. What has he done to make anything right? What has he done to settle these land claims? There’s nothing that has been done that has made a difference so far. If he wants real truth and reconciliation, then he has to really sit down with the people and say: ‘What do we have to do to make this better? How are we going to help the people?’ ”

Asked what it would take for reconciliation to begin, Gabriel answered: “Land back. It’s going to be an uncomfortable discussion, but when are we going to have it?”


By Frédéric Tomesco Christopher Curtis of the Montreal Gazette contributed to this report  ftomesco@postmedia.com

Indigenous Peoples Are Vital to Curtailing the Climate Crisis

Madidi National Park has a record-breaking elevational range from 184 meters above sea level in the Amazonian lowlands to Andean peaks of 6,044 meters above sea level. Photo: Mileniusz Spanowicz/WCS.

According to a recent study in Nature, indigenous peoples own or manage at least a quarter of the world’s land surface.

The Tacana are on my mind this week as international leaders meet at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco to adopt measures to reduce the pace of climate change. If we are to mitigate the impacts of global warming and keep the global average temperate rise below the two degree Celsius target set in Paris, our intact forests and the indigenous peoples who manage them have a prominent role to play.

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Indigenous Peoples own or manage at least a quarter of the world’s land surface, including more than 35 percent of all remaining intact forests. Credit: Mileniusz Spanowicz/WCS.

If they are to continue their vital stewardship role, indigenous peoples need national governments to recognize and support their legitimate authority to govern their lands and waters.

In addition to the biodiversity they support, these landscapes are also home to some of the poorest and most politically marginalized peoples on the planet. Indigenous peoples rely on forest resources to sustain their cultures and well-being. Their fates are inextricably bound with these lands, which makes them among our best partners for maintaining healthy forest systems.

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The Amazonian Royal Flycatcher (Onychorhynchus coronatus) one of 1,028 confirmedbird species within Madidi National Park. Photo: Mileniusz Spanowicz/WCS.

If we are to mitigate the impacts of global warming, our intact forests and the indigenous peoples who manage them have a prominent role to play.

Yet if they are to continue their vital stewardship role, indigenous peoples need national governments to recognize and support their legitimate authority to govern their lands and waters. To date, only 21 of 131 tropical countries have asserted that they will expand indigenous and local communities’ land tenure rights under their Paris commitments.


Reprogramming our economic ‘operating system’ with an indigenous worldview

Our WEAll member, the Post Growth Institute, recently shared a fantastic article on how we can reprogram our economic operating system to ensure a sustainable future – by adopting an indigenous worldview.

The United Nations estimates that indigenous territories cover approximately 20 percent of the Earth’s landmass. This 20 percent landmass stewarded by indigenous peoples amazingly contains 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity.

The indigenous worldview has been marginalised for generations because it was seen as antiquated and unscientific and its ethics of respect for Mother Earth were in conflict with the Industrial worldview … But now, in this time of climate change and massive loss of biodiversity we understand that the indigenous worldview is neither unscientific nor antiquated, but is, in fact, a source of wisdom that we urgently need.

As the article explains, we can adjust or un-choose. Read about the two adjustments in our worldview that can help us work toward a more sustainable economy – and world.


Do the police treat Black and Indigenous people worse than others? Most Ontarians think so

Activists and protesters yell at police in front of Toronto Police Headquarters, they are angry over allegations of police involvement in the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from the 24th-floor balcony of a High Park apartment building on May 30, 2020. A new polls shows respondents think police treat Black and Indigenous people differently than other people.

More than two-thirds of Ontarians believe police treat Black and Indigenous people “worse” than others and 90 per cent want mandatory body cameras for all officers, a new poll has found.

The Campaign Research survey for the Star also revealed opinion on cutting police budgets by 10 per cent was evenly split and that most don’t think officers all need to carry guns.

Campaign Research principal Nick Kouvalis said the findings should be concerning to police forces across the province.

“The major takeaway is the police have a big problem — they have lost the support of the super majority of the public and they need to work hard to get it back,” Kouvalis said Friday.

Campaign Research polled 1,395 people across Ontario on Wednesday and Thursday using Maru Blue’s online panel. It is an opt-in poll, but for comparison purposes, a random sample of this size would have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The survey comes against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter protests around the world after the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minnesota on May 25. Four Minneapolis officers, who have since been fired, have been charged.

Asked if they feel “Black people and/or Indigenous people and/or other people from racialized communities are treated worse by police than other citizens,” 68 per cent of respondents agreed with that statement.

Only 22 per cent disagreed and nine per cent weren’t sure.

“It’s not surprising two-thirds of people believe that, because it’s true,” said Kouvalis, who has worked with Conservative and Liberal candidates across Canada and managed the winning Toronto mayoral campaigns of John Tory and Rob Ford.

“Brown, Black, and Indigenous people know when they meet a police officer that they could have a problem because the officer has preconceived notions about them,” he said.

The poll found 51 per cent agreed that “it is only a minority of police officers who engage in racist behaviour” while 35 per cent said “this is a widespread problem that has infected police culture.”

Similarly, 61 per cent said “it is workable to have a segment of our police officers who are not armed and can deal with appropriate calls where a firearm is not required.”

About one-quarter — 26 per cent — disagreed and 13 per cent weren’t sure.


Limit police access to lethal weapons in Indigenous communities: Justice Summit

Grassroots-organized National Indigenous Justice Summit was a free-to-attend two-day videoconference

Doug White III, chairman of the B.C. First Nations Justice Council, speaks at the endorsing and signing of the First Nations Justice Strategy March 6, 2020, at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Conference Centre. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

The grassroots-organized National Indigenous Justice Summit was a free-to-attend two-day videoconference held this week that featured speakers from across Canada. Viewership fluctuated throughout the event, but attracted several hundred virtual attendees Tuesday and Wednesday on Zoom.

Starting on July 7, four panels tackled the topics of policing reform, complications within the legal system, institutional racism.

Speaking Wednesday afternoon, Doug White, chair of the BC First Nations Justice Council, described the challenges of Indigenous life within Canada.

“Systemic racism is a simple reality of this country,” White said. “It’s built into the foundations of Canada. We need leadership of the governments and the RCMP to deeply understand that.”

With recent widespread protests against police brutality occurring across North American and around the world, White and the other participants spoke about why they felt it necessary to come together and hold these discussions.

“This is an issue that is sharply at the attention of everyone in this country,” White said. “We’ve seen our brothers and sisters in the Black Lives Matter movement: Black Canadians and Black Americans who have also been suffering a similar kind of treatment from police and we’ve seen the outrage that’s been expressed across the U.S. and Canada.”

The Summit found support from the Indigenous Bar Association, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, BC First Nations Justice Council, Membertou First Nation, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Indigenous Community Legal Clinic (UBC), Testify: Indigenous Laws + the Arts, and other groups and organizations.

While a variety of viewpoints were expressed, multiple moderators and panellists shared a common persective— Immediate action is necessary to disrupt current practices of oppression at all levels of Canadian policing and justice systems.

The second day of the webinar opened with a keynote address by Marion Buller, who served as the chief commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

“We as Indigenous people need to feel safe in our own homes and communities,” Buller said. “We need to be respected and we need to be heard. These are not just needs. They are our rights as Indigenous people.”

Buller emphasized the need for Indigenous policing strategies to be nuanced.

“We live in a variety of locations and circumstances across Canada,” she said. “There is a great diversity in safety issues, community resources, cultures, languages, practices. There’s not one-size-fits all solutions.”

Steven Point, former British Columbia lieutenant governor (2007-2012) and current University of British Columbia chancellor, was the keynote speaker on the day’s second panel titled Indigenous Approaches to Justice Reform.

“Future abuses of police authority will continue to be documented,” Point said. “We cannot wait until the social fabric of Canada is being literally torn apart.”

Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and former chief of the Hupacasath First Nation located at Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, B.C., discussed local approaches to wellness checks as one immediate action that can be implemented.

“Let’s start a campaign to not call 9-1-1,” she said, referencing the recent death of Chantel Moore during a wellness check at the hands of an Edmundston, N.B. police officer. Moore was a member of a Nuu-chah-nulth Nation, Tla-o-qui-aht.

“Of course, we need other teams that can go in… I think we need to put in place community wellness teams and peacekeepers. Let’s make sure these teams are trauma-informed. Indigenous people all know the trauma that we’ve gone through. Most police don’t,” Sayers said.

Joseph Murdoch-Flowers, an Iqaluit-based lawyer and former Justice of the Peace Court, expanded on the poor training and education mechanisms in place for police forces, particularly when dealing with Indigenous people.

“It is worthwhile to ask the appropriateness of police responding to mental distress,” he said. “We have to strategically examine the realistic reallocation of resources.”

“We demand that the police act in too many roles — social workers, crisis negotiators, coroners, and more,” Murdoch-Flowers added. “If you spread the resources too thin, you’re going to end up with an inferior service. And that’s not fair to anyone.”

Summit attendees received a list of 10 “Immediate Action Points”, which included guidelines for creating a national Indigenous-led police oversight body, local Indigenous court services, and a multi-pronged de-escalation strategy centred around limiting police access to lethal weapons in Indigenous communities.

The Action Points also stressed specific changes to the existing court system, including increasing Indigenous representation as “Police, Crown, Judges, police commissions, and within the prison and parole systems” within the next five years, as well as a redirect of “Public Safety” funding to services that increase comm

unity safety and help combat social issues such as poverty, substance use, and lack of housing.


By Adam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com

Seeing nature through Indigenous ‘lens’ might improve environmental decision-making

Despite new legislation, critics say consultation often lacks real desire to listen, learn

Steven Nitah helped create a group of Indigenous guardians as part of a larger conservation effort in the Northwest Territories. (Sheldon Alberts/Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership)

incorporating Indigenous knowledge in that effort.

Last year, the federal government passed new environmental assessment legislation, the Impact Assessment Act, which requires Indigenous knowledge to be used alongside scientific information in any decisions about the environment, including natural resource projects.

In a guidance document, the government states that “including Indigenous knowledge in assessment processes needs to be based on a foundation of respect for the worldview of Indigenous peoples.”

  • Listen to What on Earth on CBC Radio 1 every Sunday at 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m. in Newfoundland

However, those who have studied these processes say that when companies come calling in the hopes of mining or transporting natural resources on Indigenous lands, consultation becomes more about ticking boxes than actually listening to Indigenous teachings.

Janelle Baker, an assistant professor of anthropology at Alberta’s Athabasca University who worked for years as a consultant on the use of traditional lands, said the process is often geared to “identify-specific locations where things happen … so that a site can be identified, avoided or mitigated, and they want to move on.”

In contrast, she said, “you go to a[n Indigenous] community member, and they see things more holistically” and are concerned with cascading and cumulative effects of development on their way of life.

Baker, whose mother and grandmother are Métis, called the consultation process itself “extractive.”

When a company comes to hear the perspective of an Indigenous knowledge keeper, “that person shares personal information, teachings — that’s a gift that someone is giving these people,” she said.

“To me, that knowledge has been extracted to prove [that an Indigenous person has] been consulted, without actually considering what that person has taught or shared.”

A different relationship with nature

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed a First Nations challenge against the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which would twin an existing 1,150-kilometre pipeline going from Edmonton to coastal B.C.

A group comprising the Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Coldwater Indian Band had challenged the federal government’s second approval of the pipeline, citing inadequate Indigenous consultation.

Nick Claxton explains reef net fishing to some young learners. (Submitted by Jeffrey Bosdet)


Part of the problem is the process is imposed on Indigenous people and leaves no room for their language, ceremonies or understanding of relations to the land, said Nick Claxton, elected chief of Tsawout First Nation on Vancouver Island, who testified on behalf of his community at the National Energy Board’s Trans Mountain pipeline hearings.

Claxton, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Victoria, is a co-author of a paper published earlier this year on the hurdles to properly expanding the role of Indigenous knowledge in environmental assessments.

He said one insight that shaped his appreciation of the natural world was learning from his uncle how his people’s language, Sencoten, refers to salmon.

“In our language, they have two names — a common name and a prayer name. Those prayer names are very sacred. When you understand that language, you are actually referring to the salmon as relatives with human spirits,” Claxton said.

“That was a key understanding for me to come to, in terms of how to relate to our homeland and territories…. It’s a different way of understanding the world.

“If you take that lens, you would have a different perspective on environmental assessment processes.”

‘A colonial way of thinking’

Baker, of Athabasca University, said one of the things that complicates assessments of resource projects is a historical skepticism of Indigenous knowledge.

“It’s a colonial way of thinking that Western science is right and the only way to know things,” she said.

To demonstrate how Western science can come up short in understanding the natural environment, Baker cited work she did a few years ago studying traditional knowledge about berry cultivation in Fort McKay, Alta.

Elders had told Baker’s working group that the cranberries were better near Moose Lake, a “really sacred, clean area that they really respect.” But that puzzled scientists because berries thrive on water, and rain gauges set up there had registered less precipitation than in other areas.

Janelle Baker is an assistant professor and anthropologist at Athabasca University. (Submitted by Janelle Baker)


“It was kind of this mystery,” Baker said, until an elder pointed out that the reason the berries were responding so well is due to a mist that comes off the lake. Scientists put up humidity monitors in the area and confirmed the elder was right.

“If we relax and just open our minds a bit, I think there are a lot of times where that [scientific] knowledge can come together ― if we can really hear one another,” Baker said.

Indigenous solutions

There are other signs of mutual understanding when it comes to balancing nature and economic activity.

Steven Nitah, a former elected chief of Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories, helped create an Indigenous guardians program, in which Dene members monitor and manage “high-biodiversity areas.”

He said that because Dene know the land “intimately and intricately,” they’re able to provide guidance on how to minimize environmental harm.

In 2010, Canada and the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation committed to negotiate a park agreement for the establishment of Thaidene Nëné or ‘Land of the Ancestors’ National Park Reserve at the eastern end of Great Slave Lake. (Parks Canada)


The group monitors things like caribou migrations and the downstream effects of diamond mining, and Nitah said that he has already seen progress in being able to continue economic activity while safeguarding nature.

“For example, during caribou migration, the guardians are out here informing the mines that the migration is in effect, and the mines … shut down traffic during that time,” he said.

Last month, Nitah and the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation won a United Nations award for the establishment of Thaidene Nëné or “Land of the Ancestors” National Park Reserve. The Indigenous Protected Area, near Great Slave Lake, spans 26,376 square kilometres of boreal forest and tundra with lakes, rivers and waterfalls.

The Equator Prize, which is handed out every couple of years, celebrates “Indigenous peoples and local community solutions to conservation and sustainable development.”

Nitah said that as the world faces the increasing threat of climate change, initiatives like the guardian program can be of benefit to all.

“The world only has 25 per cent of its biodiversity left, and Indigenous people influence or control 82 per cent of that, so that tells me that the Indigenous worldview and its relationship with nature is a solution that all populations of the world can look towards.”


How do the impacts of climate change compare between 1.5C and 2C?


Piers Forster: “1.5C is a brave new world. Since the inclusion of the 1.5C limit in the Paris Agreement, there has been something of a flurry of research into the impacts of 1.5C of warming on the planet… Climate scientists were caught napping. “

In fact, as Prof Piers Forster – professor of physical climate change at the University of Leeds and a lead author on chapter two of the special report – wrote in a Carbon Brief guest post at the end of the Paris talks, “climate scientists were caught napping” by the 1.5C limit:

“Before Paris, we all thought 2C was a near-impossible target and spent our energies researching future worlds where temperatures soared. In fact, there is still much to discover about the specific advantages of limiting warming to 1.5C.”

In a recent interactive article, Carbon Brief presented the findings of around 70 peer-reviewed studies showing how the potential impacts of climate change compare at 1.5C, 2C and beyond. The data covers a range of impacts – such as sea level rise, crop yields, biodiversity, drought, economy and health – for the world as a whole, as well as specific regions.

In the special report on 1.5C, chapter one (pdf) notes that climate impacts are already being observed on land and ocean ecosystems, and the services they provide:

“Temperature rise to date has already resulted in profound alterations to human and natural systems, bringing increases in some types of extreme weather, droughts, floods, sea level rise and biodiversity loss, and causing unprecedented risks to vulnerable persons and populations.”

The people that have been most affected live in low- and middle-income countries, the report says, some of whom have already seen a “decline in food security, linked in turn to rising migration and poverty”. Small islands, megacities, coastal regions and high mountain ranges are also among the most affected, the report adds.

In general – and, perhaps, unsurprisingly – the potential impacts of global warming “for natural and human systems are higher for global warming of 1.5C than at present, but lower than at 2C”, the SPM says. The risk are also greater if global temperatures overshoot 1.5C and come back down rather than if warming “gradually stabilises at 1.5C”.

There are a lot of impacts to consider, which is reflected in the fact that chapter three (pdf) on impacts is the longest of the whole report at 246 pages.

In many cases, the IPCC has “high confidence” that there is a “robust difference” between impacts at 1.5C and 2C – such as average temperature, frequency of hot extremes, heavy rainfall in some regions and the probability of drought in some areas.

As an illustration, the report includes a “reasons for concern” graphic that shows how the risks of severe impacts varies with warming levels. The example below shows a section of this graphic showing some of these impacts. The coloured shading indicates the risk level, from “undetectable” (white) up to “very high” (purple).

The graphic shows how warm water corals and the Arctic are particularly at risk from rising temperatures, moving into the “very high” category with 1.5C and 2C of warming, respectively.

How the level of global warming affects impacts and/or risks associated for selected natural, managed and human systems. Adapted from IPCC (pdf)

How the level of global warming affects impacts and/or risks associated for selected natural, managed and human systems. Adapted from IPCC (pdf)

Tropical coral reefs actually get their own specific section in Box 3.4 in chapter three, which emphasises that at 2C of warming, coral reefs “mostly disappear”. However, even achieving 1.5C “will result in the further loss of 90% of reef-building corals compared to today”, the report warns. And short periods (i.e. decades) where global temperatures overshoot 1.5C before falling again “will be very challenging to coral reefs”.

For the Arctic, the report expects that “there will be at least one sea-ice free Arctic summer out of 10 years for warming at 2C, with the frequency decreasing to one sea-ice-free Arctic summer every 100 years at 1.5C”. Interestingly, the report also notes that overshooting 1.5C and coming back down again would “have no long-term consequences for Arctic sea-ice coverage”.

Warming of 1.5C will also see weather extremes become more prevalent across the world, the report says. Increases in hot extremes are projected to be largest in central and eastern North America, central and southern Europe, the Mediterranean region, western and central Asia, and southern Africa. Holding warming to 1.5C rather than 2C will see around 420 million fewer people being frequently exposed to extreme heatwaves, the report notes.

High and low extremes in rainfall are also expected to become more frequent, the report says. The largest increases in heavy rainfall events are expected in high-latitude regions, such as Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, northern Europe and northern Asia. Whereas in the Mediterranean region and southern Africa, for example, “increases in drought frequency and magnitude are substantially larger at 2C than at 1.5C”.

For global sea levels, increases are projected to be around 0.1m less at 1.5C than at 2C come the end of the century, the report notes, which would mean that “up to 10.4 million fewer people are exposed to the impacts of sea level globally”. However, sea levels will continue to rise beyond 2100, the report says, and there is a risk that instabilities in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets triggered by 1.5–2C of warming cause “multi-metre” increases in sea levels in the centuries and millennia to come.

Sea level rise is particularly pertinent for the risks facing small island states, which are covered in Box 3.5. The combination of rising seas, larger waves and increasing aridity “might leave several atoll islands uninhabitable” under 1.5C, the report warns.

Another topic given its own specific box is food security (“Cross-Chapter Box 6”), which is affected in various different ways by climate change, the report says:

“Overall, food security is expected to be reduced at 2C warming compared to 1.5C warming, due to projected impacts of climate change and extreme weather on crop nutrient content and yields, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture, and land use (cover type and management).”

Climate change can exacerbate malnutrition by reducing nutrient availability and quality of food products, the report notes. However, in general, “vulnerability to decreases in water and food availability is reduced at 1.5C versus 2C, whilst at 2C these are expected to be exacerbated, especially in regions such as the African Sahel, the Mediterranean, central Europe, the Amazon, and western and southern Africa”.

— Carbon Brief (@CarbonBrief) October 4, 2018


In-depth Q&A: The IPCC’s special report on climate change at 1.5C

Earlier today in South Korea, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its long-awaited special report on 1.5C.

In-depth Q&A: The IPCC’s special report on climate change at 1.5C Photo by IISD/ENB | Sean Wu

The IPCC is a body of scientists and economists – first convened by the United Nations (UN) in 1988 – which periodically produces summaries of the “scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation”.

The reports are produced, in the first instance, to inform the world’s policymakers.

In this detailed Q&A, Carbon Brief explains why the IPCC was asked to produce a report focused on 1.5C of global warming, what the report says and what the reaction has been…