Assembly of First Nations to have seat at international climate change conference for first time

The Assembly of First Nations will participate as an official delegate for the first time in a major international climate change conference happening next week in Europe.

Indigenous groups gathering from around the world for United Nations Climate Change Conference in Germany

Bill Erasmus, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, will head to Germany to take part in the COP23 conference. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

The Assembly of First Nations will participate as an official delegate for the first time in a major international climate change conference happening next week in Europe.

Indigenous groups from around the world will gather in Bonn, Germany this weekend, ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23) starting Monday.

AFN regional chief Bill Erasmus will be attending as part of the Canadian delegation and will participate in the International Indigenous Peoples' Forum on Climate Change, a gathering intended to facilitate representation of Indigenous Peoples in regards to climate change solutions. Other Indigenous organizations from Canada participating in the event include the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Metis National Council, Native Women's Association, and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

Erasmus said he will push for Canada to urge the UN to incorporate Indigenous rights and traditional knowledge into global climate change solutions.

"We have a lot of convincing to do yet," he said. "In the Paris treaty, two years ago, we were able to get wording into the Paris agreement, which respects and supports Indigenous Peoples."

Part of the Paris agreement calls for a UN Platform for Indigenous and Local Community Climate Action, which gives indigenous peoples and local communities an active role in shaping climate action, including a prominent role in the first open multi-stakeholder dialogue.

Canada played a lead role in helping to facilitate negotiations to include Indigenous rights during the drafting of the agreement in 2015.

Erasmus said he has faith in Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna to continue to advocate for Indigenous rights in the Paris Accord.

He added that governmnets also need to "work with Indigenous Peoples to come up with solutions and work towards sustainable development and green economies."

"The parties need to respect and take into account traditional knowledge when scientific measures are being used, recognize Indigenous Peoples' authority in their own homelands and territories when it comes to climate change."

Including recognition of Indigenous rights on climate change initiatives is crucial, said Erasmus, because Indigenous Peoples tend to be the most vulnerable to the rapidly-changing climate.

"We are most hit by what happens immediately to the land. Even up north, the winds have changed," he said, pointing to his home territories in the Yellowknife/Great Slave Lake area of NWT which is dealing with changing water levels and abnormal ice development.

Filling the gap

Heather Milton-Lightening of Indigenous Climate Action (ICA), an Indigenous-led organization seeking to fill the gap between government strategies on climate change and Indigenous knowledge, said her group will work with Erasmus and the AFN to help influence international decisions on climate change at COP23.

"It will be interesting to see what Canada is proposing on the international stage and how they're talking about themselves in regards to Indigenous rights, not only globally but here in Canada," she said.

"In the meantime we need more time to absorb these (climate) plans in our communities to really get an understanding of what the impacts are going to be and how this is going to help us."

Milton-Lightening also said she hopes Canada is sincere in its efforts to combat climate change.

"Are we really talking about a phase out of fossil fuels and a just transition on the ground?" She asked.

"The plans from the government to help Indigenous peoples sound amazing — but how are they going to work on the ground? Will they suit the needs of our elders? Our moms, our single moms? All the people who are not heard within the political framework," Milton-Lightening said. 

"It's a big job."

COP23 officially starts Monday and runs until Nov. 17.


Brandi Morin, Métis, born and raised in Alberta, possesses a passion for telling Indigenous stories. Based outside Edmonton, Morin has lent her talents to several news organizations, including Indian Country Today Media Network and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network National News.