Grassroots team creating Indigenous-based climate plan across Canada

A new grassroots organization is developing a tool kit to help Indigenous communities address climate change.

Volunteers work to bridge gap between government strategies on climate change and Indigenous knowledge

A new grassroots organization called Indigenous Climate Action is developing a tool kit to help Indigenous communities address climate change. (supplied by Eriel Deranger)

A new grassroots organization is developing a tool kit to help Indigenous communities address climate change.

Indigenous Climate Action is run by a group of Indigenous people from various First Nations across Canada who noticed a gap between government strategies on climate change and Indigenous knowledge.

"We have international and national leadership stating that Indigenous rights are critical [to climate change], but no one has weaved together what that looks like and what that means," said Indigenous Climate Action interim director Eriel Deranger.

The tool kit, which will incorporate traditional knowledge, is being developed to hand out to Indigenous communities to increase climate change literacy and provide resources and renewable energy project training.

Indigenous Climate Action plans to send a community co-ordinator and toolkit researcher to Indigenous communities over a six-month period to discuss climate change and Indigenous rights, and create solutions that will uphold and affirm their rights, Deranger said.

A lot of communities still don't understand climate change, she said. And although many are already seeing climate change impacts, many aren't prepared to address it, she said.

Indigenous Climate Action's mandate is not to prescribe solutions — it's to outline the needs and make sure Indigenous rights are recognized and Indigenous knowledge systems are used in the development of climate change strategies in Canada, Deranger said.

The goal is to gather as much feedback from communities as possible to incorporate into the development of the kit.

"[It's intended] to give them [Indigenous communities] the tools to be able to determine how they want to participate in climate change action," said Deranger.

Right now, Indigenous Climate Action is doing the work on its own, on a volunteer basis.

The organization made a choice not to apply for government funding in order to remain non-partisan, Deranger said.

Indigenous Climate Action had a meeting with Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna last year, said Deranger. McKenna was receptive to Indigenous Climate Action efforts and open to amendments to incorporate its suggestions into Canada's climate change framework, she said.

Eriel Deranger is the interim director of Indigenous Climate Action. (provided by Eriel Deranger)
"I think they're [Canada] trying. She [McKenna] was interested in looking at the correlation between environmental protection and Indigenous rights," said Deranger.

"I told Minister McKenna, 'You're under the limitation of a colonial government. It was not made to uphold and implement Indigenous rights, so your ability to address our concerns going forward becomes problematic. That is the reality.'"

Indigenous Climate Action hasn't heard from McKenna's department since the meeting, Deranger said.

McKenna's office declined to comment on Indigenous Climate Action's tool kit.

Indigenous groups say the federal government must act on climate change under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada has adopted. Climate change potentially interferes with UN declaration-protected Indigenous rights to life, adequate food, water, health, adequate housing and self-determination.

Indigenous Climate Action is also helping Indigenous communities deal with governments and form positions on climate change and Indigenous rights.

"So far the consensus has been that communities don't feel really engaged in the development of what climate solutions are," said Deranger.

Heather Milton Lightning, Indigenous Climate Action's support and resource person, said the initiative is important because it affirms self-determination and sovereignty over Indigenous lands, titles and resources.

"Our people are the first ones that feel the impacts of climate. Our people are still picking medicines. We're still practicing our traditions and ceremonies. We need to be honest with ourselves. We're the caregivers and stewards of the land. We have the ability to save ourselves. We need to be prepared for what we see coming, whether it's dramatic weather changes, pollution, etc."


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.