Sask. workshops focus on climate change solutions rooted in Indigenous teachings, values

Michelle Brass believes everything is connected. That's apparent when she talks about the climate change workshops she has been doing with a couple of First Nations in Saskatchewan.

'People feel the sense of urgency and want to take action,' says Peepeekisis First Nation's Michelle Brass

Michelle Brass says her climate change workshops on Saskatchewan First Nations are important because they can empower communities to come up with solutions that work specifically for them. (Submitted)

Michelle Brass believes everything is connected. That's apparent when she talks about the climate change workshops she has been doing with a couple of First Nations in Saskatchewan.

"If you look at our traditional teachings, we live in relationship with all other life, with all the other animals, with the plants, with water, with the air," she said. "All of these elements have spirit and they are our relatives."

Brass, a recent CBC Future 40 winner and a member of Yellow Quill First Nation, is also a member of the steering committee for Indigenous Climate Action. Since her workshops on the Okanese and Star Blanket First Nations, others have come forward and asked if she would bring her workshops to their communities.

Brass said the workshops are important because they can empower First Nations to come up with solutions that work specifically for them.

People are hungry for it. They want more information. People feel the sense of urgency and want to take action.- Michelle Brass

"Different levels of government are developing policy to address [climate change] but in many cases, Indigenous communities are not being included in those talks, even though policies drafted at all those levels of government will impact First Nations," she said. 

Indigenous people who lead a traditional way of life often contribute less to global warming, Brass said, but are impacted heavily by it.

Michelle Brass said Canadians have to be willing to have hard conversations in order for big changes to happen. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

"A lot of our traditional ways of life are being impacted because we're closely connected to the land," she said.

"We notice the changing seasons, and the changes and the impacts to the environment and to the land, moreso than we would if we're city dwellers."

'People feel the sense of urgency'

Brass moved to Peepeekisis First Nation, her husband's community, eight years ago. She said she had been disconnected from traditional practices and ceremonies while living in the city.

When she reconnected with those practices, she said she started to notice the land changing firsthand. That's another reason why she is doing this work now, she said. 

"I used to be really focused on healing the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and focusing on the past and how we could heal from past events," she said. 

"And for me now, what it's about is healing that relationship with eyes to the future. What kind of a future are we going to create?"

Brass said that climate change can be an overwhelming topic and can cause some people to shut down. 

"But the response to these workshops has been very positive. People are hungry for it. They want more information. People feel the sense of urgency and want to take action," she said.

Talking about how climate change can affect Indigenous food sovereignty resonates with a lot of community members and makes the problem tangible and relatable, Brass said. 

"When you really draw that connection, people sit up and take notice and those are the conversations I've been having at the community level."

Overall, Brass said that massive changes are needed to make a real change.

"What I hope these workshops do is bring our people together to really discuss and develop Indigenous-led solutions that are rooted in our Indigenous values and teachings. That needs to be at the core," she said.

"It's not about tweaking existing systems simply from fossil fuel-based to renewable-based," said Brass. "It's a complete resurgence in our way of life."

About the Author

Emily Pasiuk

Emily Pasiuk is a reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatchewan and an associate producer for The Morning Edition. She has also reported at CTV Saskatoon and written for Global Regina. Reach her at emily.pasiuk@cbc.ca.