TORONTO – Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day says that any long term initiative on Human Rights and Climate Change must not only include Indigenous participation but include active Indigenous leadership for any strategy to remain relevant and successful.
“A climate change strategy can only be successful if the relationship with the First People’s is formally recognized,” said Ontario Regional Chief Day. “The work that the CIGI Roundtable on Human Rights and Climate Change is doing is vital in recognizing and promoting significant global issues and most importantly, influencing decision-makers to act.
Day adds, “There has been virtually no consultation with the First Nations of Ontario and in the few climate change workshops that occurred, government representatives could not answer fundamental questions unique to the socio-economic realities of First Nations. This global issue will require a real collaborative effort by all levels of government and everyone concerned about the future of our planet.”
The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is an independent, non-partisan think tank focused on international governance. The international organization is hosting a roundtable on human rights and climate change today in Toronto where Ontario Regional Chief Day is a guest speaker.
“We must be front and centre on climate change initiatives, from the Great Lakes to the Boreal Forests, in a province where 700,000 people live on 87 per cent of the land mass, it makes common sense that First Nations be allowed to finally fulfill our Treaty Rights, and preserve to protect our lands and waters for future generations,” he said.
International human rights treaties do not recognize a right to a clean environment, it is generally understood that inadequate environmental conditions can diminish the enjoyment of rights to life, health, water and food. However, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is an example of a treaty that recognizes this link.
Last week, several First Nation communities along with 30 civil society organizations took part in the UN’s review of Canada’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Indigenous priorities included the right to health, clean water and the safety of Indigenous women.
“There are human rights violations throughout our First Nation communities from access to clean water and sanitation to the drastic number of murder and missing women,” said Ontario Regional Chief Day. “Clean water is a human rights issue that is directly related to climate change and one that must be addressed in any climate change strategies. The women who presented to the United Nations Committee on Canada’s’ human rights record were provided a wonderful opportunity for First Nation to take Canada to task on upholding human dignity and human rights for all.”
The Chiefs of Ontario continue to have many questions. What is the government’s plan for outlining a consultation process and will the government honour the processes communities have developed on how to be consulted?
We need to know the role of community-based projects within a greater plan for addressing climate change. How will this approach and strategy provide opportunities for communities to develop their own approaches and strategies for addressing climate change?
For example, weather conditions prompted Indigenous leaders to raise concerns this winter about the impact of climate change on winter roads, which serve as lifelines for food, fuel and other necessities in several northern communities. The problem exemplifies why there was outcry from First Nations during the recent COP21 climate change summit in Paris.
Ontario has not indicated how the forthcoming cap-and-trade program will impact impoverished First Nation communities in Ontario, especially in remote areas across Northern Ontario where fuel and food prices are already much higher than in Southern Ontario.
“Youth, elders and the real powerhouses are not at the table: the Indigenous knowledge holders. We need to force that inclusion on a global level. Ontario means ‘beautiful water’ – we need to live up to this name, not just in an aesthetic sense but also in terms of being able to drink the water and eat the fish,” said Ontario Regional Chief Day.
“Governments clearly have obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. Protecting human rights includes protecting citizens against the harmful effects of climate change and ensuring that responses to climate change do not violate human rights.”