AFN's Perry Bellegarde to attend climate change talks in Paris

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde will be attending the climate change talks in Paris.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde during a September news conference in Ottawa. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

The Canadian delegation headed to Paris for climate change talks will include Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde — a move the aboriginal leader sees as significant.

"When did that happen historically? That's never happened," Bellegarde said Thursday. "We're going to build upon that openness."

We pretty much have to be there.- Perry Bellegarde

Bellegarde, who was invited to the conference by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, said the new Liberal government is working to build a more respectful relationship with First Nations.

"It's a whole new shift," he said. "We want to build upon the positive energy that exists so that indigenous peoples are involved in every shape and form when any policy and-or legislation is being developed that impacts on our people and impacts on our rights."

'We still hunt, we still fish'

It is critical for indigenous people to be part of the conversation on climate change, Bellegarde added.

"We pretty much have to be there ... we are really the first to experience the impacts of climate change," he said.

"Our people still are of the land and of the water ... we still hunt, we still fish, we still trap, we still gather medicines ...
the indigenous peoples, we say we have rights ... but we also have responsibilities as protectors and stewards of the land and water."

In a statement Thursday, McKenna said climate change is a collective responsibility and that the federal government is
committed to reaching an ambitious global agreement.

"At home, we will ensure national leadership, join with the provinces and territories to take action on climate change, put a price on carbon and reduce carbon pollution," McKenna said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who will also attend the Paris conference, has promised to work out a national climate change strategy with the premiers 90 days after the summit.

Bellegarde said he has not received an invitation to the followup meeting with the premiers but he plans on asking for one.

"I think that would send a strong message to the world, to other nation states, when they see Canada fully involving indigenous peoples, jointly developing strategies and plans and programs going forward, jointly working on the appropriate target," he said.

On Monday, Trudeau said he was pleased to see a united commitment to fight climate change following a meeting with provincial and territorial leaders.

"It is clear that the way forward for Canada will be in a solution that resembles Canada, that is shared values and a shared desire for outcomes and different approaches to achieve those outcomes right across this great country," Trudeau said.

Bellegarde said his organization will continue to push Canada for full inclusion.

"We've got to push nation states for recognition of rights and title," he said.

The national chief also said First Nations understand the need to strike the right balance between development and environmental protection — a concern raised this week by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

"There's ... the understanding that, in the long term, there is only one environment ... so you really have to continually work towards that balance," Bellegarde said.


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