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Colonialism causes climate change, and Indigenous rights are the solution.

That phrase — a tagline from Indigenous Climate Action, an Indigenous-led organization that works at the intersection of climate justice and Indigenous rights — has found new meaning as fires stretching across Alberta and Saskatchewan have devastated local communities.

Last week, the East Prairie Métis Settlement in northern Alberta lost 27 homes and a bridge to the wildfires, which have prompted a state of emergency in the province. Residents fought the blaze on their own, even using a water truck to extinguish flames coming up the community's road, CBC reports. An evacuation order later came, forcing members to wait a week before they could return to see what was left.

In nearby Drayton Valley, a non-Indigenous community, military aid arrived to help fight fires outside the community, according to a press release by Indigenous Climate Action published Wednesday.

“As Indigenous people, we should have access to the same financial and technical assistance as other communities and individuals across Turtle Island,” Rosalyn Boucha, communications manager at Indigenous Climate Action, said.

As of Wednesday, nine First Nations in Alberta and five others in Saskatchewan were under an evacuation alert, Indigenous Services Canada said in a media statement regarding the ongoing wildfires. Nine other First Nations in Alberta have been identified as threatened and have begun preparing for the imminent threat of the fires.

A map created by the federal government and viewed by Canada’s National Observer shows that almost all of Alberta's risk status for First Nations is categorized as extreme. On Thursday afternoon, 92 fires were burning in the province, with 26 listed as out of control by Alberta Wildfire. Yet, provincial funding for forest firefighting has been cut.

Indigenous communities in Canada, 80 per cent of which are located in fire-prone regions, are increasingly feeling the brunt, Boucha said.

Last November, federal auditor general Karen Hogan released a report that found Indigenous Services Canada spent three and a half times more on responding to and recovering from emergencies in First Nations than it did on prevention.

As of Wednesday, nine First Nations in Alberta and five others in Saskatchewan were under an evacuation alert, Indigenous Services Canada said in a media statement regarding the ongoing wildfires. #Climate #ClimateCrisis #Reconciliation

Boucha calls the report’s finding “disheartening,” adding it indicates Indigenous communities are an afterthought for Ottawa.

Wildfire rates are only expected to worsen over the next 40 years, the Indigenous Climate Action press release said.

Displacement of Indigenous Peoples from their territories stretches back to the Indian Act and the inception of reserves, said Boucha. Now, the climate crisis is creating a second exodus, she added. She points to the oilsands tailings pond breaches near Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, floods in Manitoba displacing members of the Peguis First Nation, and now wildfires in Alberta as signs Indigenous Peoples may become the first climate refugees in Canada.

Boucha said colonization is a significant cause of climate disasters, which are worsening over time. The fossil fuel industry, including in northern Alberta, is a proven driver of the climate crisis. Paired with the extinguishing of Indigenous land management practices, such as cultural burns, the conditions are ripe for ongoing climate disaster, Boucha said.

Cultural burns — minor, controlled burns to remove flammable dead brush — had long been used on the landscape before Canada suppressed the practice when they gained control of Crown land.

Boucha sees the continued restraint of Indigenous land management as a violation of articles 25, 26 and 29 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The articles declare the right of Indigenous Peoples to maintain, conserve and strengthen their relationship with their ancestral territories, including the right to use and develop those lands, including through ancestral practices. Canada passed a law recognizing UNDRIP in 2021 and is currently developing an action plan, to be released in June, that will lay out how to align Canadian law with the declaration.

“We would like to see Indigenous communities leading the decision-making, and that they should be local and community-based solutions,” Boucha said.

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

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These extreme fire events are the very face of global heating in action, It is not a future threat anymore.

I expect this will seem to some as nit picking, but I think it's nonetheless important because if we identify the problem incorrectly, how can any proposed solution fit the need?

"Colonialism causes climate change, and Indigenous rights are the solution."

I'm not convinced it is colonialism that is the cause.

It is my understanding that colonialism has been going on for eons; since well before Europeans started voyaging out, laying claim, stealing, killing and oppressing.

Perhaps it matters what definition of colonialism one uses. I found the following at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/colonialism/

"Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another."

One can subjugate without causing a climate disaster. One can even be genocidal without causing a climate disaster, or a global biodiversity crisis, or any other current ecological crisis caused by, I would suggest, industrial civilization (whether capitalist, communist, or what-have-you).

Further, the climate crisis is a global disaster; Canada did not cause it alone, and it isn't limited to a dark cloud sitting only above our own piece of paradise. In fact, Canada's emissions are a very small percentage (1.5%) of recent global totals.

https://www.google.com/search?q=CAnada%27s+share+of+ghg+emissions

By stating that number I am not excusing us; I am not saying it doesn't matter; I am not saying we should not stop burning fossil fuels (and, maybe, help others reduce their consumption); I am not saying that we should ignore that, per capita, we have one of the highest emissions and, also, one of the highest per capita ecological footprints globally. Etc.

The colonization of Canada, is not "the" cause of the climate crisis. In my opinion, if you prefer. The cause of climate change (and mass species extinction; water crises; soil crises; etc.) is the global spread of industrialism -- unchecked resource extraction, land-use changes, chemical assaults on ecosystems, refining, and waste generation -- which, of course, often followed "modern" colonizing.

Which is not to say that settler society has nothing to learn from our indigenous brothers and sisters. What we learn, however, would not be a cure for colonialism -- that's a done deal; a historical, though continuing story -- but maybe part of the solution to realizing the damage our (predominantly settler) society causes and has caused, and some possible alternate ways of viewing the planet, the biosphere, and our place in it.

I don't intend to offend anyone by these comments, but "colonialism" is the whipping boy du jour which must be dealt with, but it is counter-productive, I believe, to conflate it, fully, with the causes of our ecological crises.

We'd be better off trying to understand why the general concensus is that, with just a few tweaks, we can continue our (rapacious) lifestyle. Does anyone see much day-to-day change in how the average Canadian behaves (specifically, that's not COVID-related; e.g. work from home)? Take a look, for example, at the rebound in air travel; what does that tell us?