(Truth and Reconciliation Commission Commissioner Wilton Littlechild, left, Chair Murray Sinclair, centre, and Commissioner Marie Wilson, right. APTN/File)
APTN National News
One of the commissioners with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) says climate change and reconciliation go hand-in-hand.
Wilton Littlechild, one of three commissioners behind the ground-breaking TRC, says he hopes that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau incorporates the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into Canada’s climate change strategy.
“He (Trudeau) says that nothing is more important to him and to Canada than a total renewal of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous,” said Littlechild. “When he said (the relationship) it’s about respect, recognition of rights, cooperation and partnership- the recognition of rights, to me, that includes Treaty rights, the rights under UNDRIP and human rights.”
Littlechild helped to write UNDRIP and attended the COP21 climate meeting in Paris last December to advocate Indigenous rights to be included in an international climate deal to slow the rising global temperature.
From Paris, Trudeau declared to the world that Indigenous peoples can help care for the planet. He said that Indigenous people were taking a leadership role on the issue and that Indigenous knowledge could lead to climate solutions.
Those words did not match the outcome of last week’s climate change talks between Trudeau, premiers and Indigenous leaders, according to chiefs who attended the talks. Some Chiefs said they felt like they were once again left out of high level decision-making tables that affect their rights.
“They’ve (Trudeau government) stated publicly about a renewed relationship. So, if it’s so centrally important to Canada and himself (Trudeau) then why were the chiefs shut out?” said Littlechild.
Littlechild says Indigenous rights are already being violated by climate change and the decisions made by Canada about how to deal with environmental crisis.
“We have a right to participate in decision making, not just to be consulted, and not just to be invited to meetings. That means too that any discussions regarding climate change or any other matter that affects us, we need to be there as full partners,” said Littlechild.
Littlechild said the TRC concluded that reconciliation is about partnership. At the very first national TRC meeting the main theme was about the “sacred” teaching of respect, he said.
He said climate change was mentioned in the testimony of some survivors during the TRC hearings.
“I remember one elder saying, ‘You know, when we were separated from our parents, yes that was traumatic, but we were also separated from the land, and in order to heal, we need to go back to the land and we need to protect mother earth,’” said Littlechild.
Trudeau is in Washington DC where he is expected to endorse a continental strategy on climate change at his first formal bilateral meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday.
Littlechild wonders if Trudeau will be thinking of Canada’s treaty and Indigenous rights when signing off on the expected continental strategy.
“Look at the rivers that are being polluted to the point where we can’t drink the water anymore as we used to in terms of fresh water, and the grass, the herbs and the medicines and the sweet grass that we use are also being impacted by contamination,” said Littlechild. “There’s even a spiritual connection to the treaty rights with climate change. When you talk about the right to hunt, to fish and gather, the right to food, the right to sustenance, that’s a treaty right and that’s impacted when the foods the animals are eating are contaminated.”
The Trudeau government has promised to implement all the TRC’s calls to action.
The TRC was created by the multi-billion dollars Indian residential school settlement between survivors, Ottawa and the churches.