Dene leaders want place at table at next month's UN climate change conference

A Gwich'in elder briefed N.W.T. chiefs on environmental impacts of climate change on Wednesday, as they ponder their place in international negotiations.

Indigenous voices need to be heard at global meeting in Morocco: Chief Bill Erasmus

Gwich'in elder Charlie Snowshoe briefed N.W.T. chiefs on environmental impacts of climate change on Wednesday. (Gwich'in Renewable Resources Board)

Fewer migrating birds and animals, longer summers and plunging water levels are just a few of the environmental changes respected Dene elder Charlie Snowshoe shared with N.W.T. chiefs this week, who are meeting in Inuvik to strategize their next steps in the fight against climate change.

The 82-year-old Gwich'in leader from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., told the Dene leadership meeting he's seeing unusually low water levels in the Mackenzie Delta and he fears they will diminish further once British Columbia's massive Site C Dam becomes operational.

Snowshoe also blamed mining and the oil and gas industry for the profound changes he is witnessing.

"I call it 'man-made' change. I don't call it climate change."

Dene leaders invited Snowshoe to tell them what he's seeing on the land, as they work to tackle the impacts of climate change and influence national and international negotiations. 

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus said the environment was one of the key topics during Wednesday's discussions.

Chiefs talked about the Paris agreement on climate change, adopted by nearly 200 countries — including Canada -— last spring. The agreement sets out a plan to limit global warming to below 2 C. It comes into effect in 2020. 

Bill Erasmus takes part in discussions with Dene leadership Wednesday. Erasmus says that the environment was a key component of the meeting. (submitted by Dene Nation)
Erasmus said the agreement addresses the need to develop a "greener" economy with less pollution, which reflects many Indigenous people's views on a sustainable economy. He said the agreement makes specific reference to Indigenous people.

"It says our knowledge has to be endorsed when we change the economy," Erasmus told CBC. "Anything we do with the environment has to include our people."

Participants, not bystanders

Erasmus wants Indigenous representation at next month's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco. The conference is expected to be the next step in implementing the Paris agreement.

Erasmus said he hopes to work with the federal government so Indigenous leaders can attend the Marrakech conference as full participants, not just bystanders. But, he said, he has to consult with other leaders first on what to do next.

In the meantime, Snowshoe is working with other elders to find solutions to climate and environmental change.