Ecojustice Blog – Climate change, Healthy communities Posted on June 24, 2013 (updated: February 17, 2015)

Guest blog: Human Rights for Cultural Survival

Kimberly Shearon headshotKimberly ShearonStaff

Today we’re featuring a guest post by Grand Chief Ruth Massie, Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations and Member of the Board of the Arctic Athabaskan Council. Read on to learn why climate change is a very real threat for the Athabaskan peoples she represents.

By Grand Chief Ruth Massie

Today I had the honour and responsibility of submitting a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the Arctic Athabaskan Council. Our petition asks the Commission to declare that Canada is contravening the human rights of Athabaskan peoples guaranteed in the 1948 American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man by inadequately regulating emissions of black carbon, or soot, a short-lived climate pollutant that accelerates warming and melting in northern Canada – our homelands.

Many Athabaskan peoples live off the land part of the year, hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering. Sharing country food – caribou and moose are favourites – is fundamental to our culture, but our people can no longer rely on traditional foods because it is getting dangerous to go out on the land. Climate warming is melting lake ice. The weather is increasingly unpredictable. Our trees have become diseased because it is never cold enough to kill the bug infestations. All of this means that our elders no longer feel confident teaching young people our traditional ways. We drink from lakes and streams, but more and more we worry about our water supply. Climate warming is altering fundamentally the natural environment upon which we depend. Please think about this for moment. Put yourself in our shoes. What would you do if your age-old culture and economy was threatened?

As Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations and a leader of the Arctic Athabaskan Council it is my responsibility to share our stories and observations. But more than that, we cannot stand idly by as climate warming devastates our homelands, and the world in which we all live. Athabaskan peoples are taking a stand. We invite citizens of Canada, the United States and all concerned with the future of our planet to stand with us.

Scientists believe that reducing black carbon emissions is the best way to slow climate change in the Arctic in the next few decades. We have asked the Commission to recommend to the Government of Canada that it ensure emissions of black carbon are comprehensively reduced. This will requires action by Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Our petition urges immediate action that will help not just Athabaskan peoples but Canadians and Americans wherever they live. We’ve launched this petition not to confront the Government of Canada but in a spirit of co-operation for we are all in this together. I serve and work for Athabaskan peoples. As Indigenous people we owe Mother Earth our protection and thanks for everything she has given us, so I offer our petition to all who wish to make the world a better place in which to live.

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