Monday, October 26, 2009

Climate Day Speech

October 24, 2009 was the International Day of Climate Action and I was invited by the Lakehead University Student Union Sustainability Commissioner, Alex Boulet, to participate in a rally at Waverly Park in Thunder Bay. The rally was one of 5200 events held in 181 countries around the world where people gathered to call for strong action and bold leadership on the climate crisis.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will take place in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009, where the world leaders will gather to finish negotiations and decide what the world will do when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

The UNFCCC was started in 1990 by the United Nations. (UN) The convention sets out the overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to deal with climate change. It acknowledges that “the climate system is a global resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.”  The goals of the convention are “to stabilize the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in such a way as to give ecosystems the opportunity to adapt naturally.”

As of March 2009, scientists say that we are at 387ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. The safe upper limit for humanity is 350ppm.

Canada has voted to delay Bill C-311, the environmental climate legislation, until after the meeting in Copenhagen.

I gave the following speech at Waverly Park in Thunder Bay on Saturday, October 24, 2009.

I’m  John Cutfeet and I work for the Wildlands League as the Bilingual Mining Coordinator, acting as a resource for the far north communities dealing with mining and exploration issues. I work out of the far north office of the Wildlands League at Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, (KI) which is my home community. I provide communities with the best available information so they can make the best informed decisions. Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug is located six hundred kilometers in the boreal forest, north of Thunder Bay.

KI has faced challenges from plans for unbridled development, which saw community leadership incarcerated for preventing an exploration company, who claimed that they needed to drill in an environmentally sensitive area so they can mine platinum-group metals. They wanted to develop new fuel cell technology for catalytic convertors to lower emissions from vehicles. It was to be done at the expense of the communities who rely on the lakes, rivers and the ecosystem that allows life to flourish and maintains the well-being of nature and humanity

The Elders of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug say that Big Trout Lake, where we are located, has springs and streams flowing in and out, connecting with other systems along the way, each with its own unique features within the ecosystem.

When we were talking about protecting entire water basins, including rivers, one of the elders pointed out that we had to protect the marshes which she described as the lungs of  the earth.  If we didn’t, we would be allowing the air that we breathe to be destroyed. This elder, had a limited english vocabulary and very little formal education. Yet, she understood how the ecosystem interacted to sustain life on earth that provides life to everything in it.

Sustainability is a term that is applied to almost every facet of life including over various time periods and it can be on a local and global scale. Sustainability is often referred to by the environmental, social, economic dimensions known as the “three pillars.”

Science tells us that we, as human beings are living beyond “the carrying capacity of supporting eco-systems,” and that we are living unsustainably. Human sustainability implies the integration of economic, social and environmental spheres to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.”

It is understood that societies and economies rely on the natural world. One environmentalist put it this way, “The economy is, in the first instance, a sub-system of human society, which is itself, in the second instance, a subsystem of the totality of life on earth.” He continues, “And no subsystem can expand beyond the capacity of the total system of which it is part.”

Are we beyond the point of the supporting capacity of our ecosystems?

In April of 2009, I attended the Indigenous Peoples Global Summit on Climate Change in Anchorage, Alaska. It was attended by about 400 Indigenous Peoples from 80 different countries. Indigenous Peoples came from the Arctic, North America, Asia, Pacific, Latin America, Africa, Caribbean and Russia.  We worked towards obtaining a unanimous Indigenous Peoples Declaration on Climate Change to be taken to the World Leaders Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen this December.

Unfortunately, we could not come to a unanimous declaration to be carried to Copenhagen. We came up with these two options:

a) We call for the phase out of fossil fuel development and a moratorium on new fossil fuel developments on or near Indigenous lands.
b) We call for a process that works towards the eventual phase out of fossil fuels, without infringing on the right to development of Indigenous Nations.

H.E. Miguel d’Escoto Brockman, President of the United Nations General Assembly to Indigenous Peoples stated that, “Indigenous Peoples are amongst those who contributed least to the climate change crisis because of their traditional livelihoods and sustainable lifestyles. It is a bitter irony, however, that they are suffering the worst impacts of climate change.” He continued, “The Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic witnessed the unprecedented thawing of permafrost and the melting of glaciers 30 years ago, even before the world was aware of climate change.”

Ironically, it was the Arctic who held out on the moratorium language as they had been fighting for 30 years to get involved in oil and gas exploration in their territory. They were finally getting that opportunity to reap the benefits from their lands as others had been doing before their very eyes.

Indigenous Peoples throughout the world have watched resources being extracted from their territories creating great wealth to others while we live on islands of poverty and development happening all around us in an unsustainable manner.

President Miguel Brockman expressed it more eloquently:

“Now is not the time to pull any punches, we must call a spade a spade. The Third World cannot afford to subsidize the First World anymore through unjust debt repayments – where developed countries portray themselves as charitable donors coming to the financial rescue and relief of the ‘pitiable beggars’ which is how they portray developing countries.”

The Earth Charter goes beyond defining sustainability and seeks to establish the values and direction in this manner: “We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect of nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace.

KI calls it ‘the right to exist’ in a safe and secure environment and to benefit from the land and resources like everyone else in the world. This needs to happen. Not only does it need to happen, but it must happen in an environmentally and sustainable manner. Not because it is the right thing to do but because justice demands it!


In my entry on the First Peoples of Asubpeeschoseewagong, (Grassy Narrows) I reported that Roberta Keesic was charged with building 2 cabins for shelter in her traditional territory without a permit and refusing a stop-work order and that her case was coming up on October 20, 2009. Her charges were dropped on October 16th, 4 days before she was to go to court.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Waterway Parks in Dunakiiwin (Our Homelands)

Dunakiiwin is a term used to describe the homelands which lie in the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, (Treaty # 9) – an area covering two-thirds of the far north of Ontario.

It is estimated that about 74% of the surface of the earth is water according to David Suzuki in his book, “You are the Earth”; including oceans, lakes, rivers, and polar ice-caps. He says that we are made up of 70% water because our cells as such, are mainly composed of water. He writes, “You are actually a big blob of water, with just enough solid material to keep you from dribbling away onto the floor.”

In mid-September, 2009, a meeting took place at Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, (KI) with representation from communities located along the Fawn Rivers 1& 2 and both the Severn and Pipestone rivers. These rivers have been designated as “Waterway Class Parks.” These waterway parks have a combined total of 192, 469 hectares or approximately 1,925 square kilometers which is 6.4 times the size of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug.

Frank Beardy, NAN Chief Negotiator for Oshki-Machiitawin (formerly Northern Table) explained the purpose of the meeting: “Our main objective is how can we ensure that the  First Nations have control of our watersheds?” He continued, “If any development happens in Muskrat Dam, everybody down the river will be affected. It will not make a difference if we only protect part of the river. Can we protect the whole water basin?”

In June 2006, the Ontario Legislature passed the new Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act, which came into effect, along with the new regulations, on September 4, 2007. Under the legislation, Waterway Class Parks are one of the classifications.

The objective of these parks is to protect recreational water routes and significant terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, including associated natural and cultural features. They have also been designated to provide high quality recreational and educational experiences.

The First Peoples living in Noopemig, have always used the lakes, streams, rivers for travel routes; a place to hunt, fish, and trap for food. More importantly, access to drinking water while pursuing traditional activities is considered to be guaranteed under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution 1982. Living off the land has always been understood that the environment is protected and water, as the source of life, is maintained. Living with Noopemig means ensuring that the landscapes with its natural features are maintained and kept healthy.

Former Premier of the Northwest Territories, Stephen Kakfwi spoke of how his elders pointed out that they would have to also protect the “mountains, valleys, trees and the landscape” if they wanted to protect the waterways.

The elders of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug say that Big Trout Lake has rivers and streams flowing in and out, connecting with other systems along the way; each with their own unique features. Establishing waterway parks on the west and east side of the lake brings with it different management systems to huge chunks of a whole ecosystem that could potentially disrupt an otherwise healthy landscape.

The communities of Wapekeka, Bearskin Lake, Wunnumin, Kingfisher, North Caribou, and Cat Lake, have been asking for the de-designation of these classifications since July 5, 2007 claiming the parks “were established without meaningful consultation” and “without seeking the consent by First Nations whose traditional homelands were affected.”

In July 2008, Premier  McGuinty announced the  protection of 225,000 square kilometers to be off-limits to development but traditional aboriginal uses like hunting and fishing would be allowed, along with tourism. “It is imperative that the province strike the right balance between conservation and development. We need to plan for development and we will only get one chance to get this right.”

The new planning process for the far north would “enshrine a new respect and working relationship with First Nations” and create “a true partnership.” Mr. McGuinty had committed to giving a greater say to First Nations concerning development projects on their traditional lands including a share of the benefits from these resource projects.

Bill 191, the Far North Act, was introduced on June 2, 2009 as “An Act with respect to land use planning and protection in the far north. The proposed planning process identified “a significant role for First Nations,” and dedicated “225,000 square kilometers of the far north as an interconnected network of protected areas.”

While the province, through the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)is not willing to de-designate the parks, it is willing to review the parks on a case by case basis and claims that boundaries could change through the land use planning process. In addition, there is a commitment for the co-management of parks, also on a case by case basis.

For their part, the represented communities, including Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, resolved that; “We do not recognize the imposition of waterway parks or any of their associated rules and regulations in our traditional territory. We will assert our jurisdiction over our traditional territories and use the waterways as we have since time immemorial.”

The communities resolved to “establish a permanent committee to address waterway park issues and to develop protocols to protect waterways based on indigenous knowledge.” Each First Nation will contribute its share of the funding to the overall project and will submit a proposal to the ENGOs and to both levels of governments for additional funding.

The First Peoples have only recently become aware of the establishment of these waterway parks in their territory although planning has been ongoing for decades. Setting up those waterway parks without First Nation involvement and the lack of meaningful action to address this grievance is hindering the development of a “new respect and a working relationship.” Using indigenous knowledge, they plan to exercise jurisdiction to control and protect entire water basins and not just rivers.

The mighty waters of the Fawn River 1 & 2, the Pipestone, and the Severn, continue to echo through Noopemig in Dunakiiwin for as long as the rivers flow……