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What does the Maiyoo Keyoh and the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference have in common?

Pipelines, climate conference and the need for change

British Columbia, and Canada, finds itself at an interesting cross-roads in the lead up to the UN climate conference in Paris. Just days ago, the social democrat government of Alberta released its climate plan. The rise of Justin Trudeau, the history-making election in Alberta a few months ago, and Obama’s announcement about the Keystone XL rejection, have collectively signal-led a change in the way people think about social and environmental issues. Climate change, and its associated changes to the Earth system by humans (global environmental change), has increasingly become something we talk about every day. Geoscientists have been telling us for a long time now that humans are now at the centre of global environmental change – people are now literally writing history in the rock layers (our era is now described in terms like ‘the Anthropocene’). Social and
environmental issues are becoming connected in people’s minds: no longer are environmental issues seen as ‘green’ and therefore distant and irrelevant to the rolling on of everyday life. However, the upcoming UN conference will, like the others that came before it, will not produce the outcomes that bring justice for all people, least of all First Nations. First Nations peoples are often sidelined as ‘separate issues’ but the issues – all of us – are all deeply connected.

New ways of thinking, and talking, about our future are required. The oil and gas pipelines are a symptom of the elephant in the room: all Canadians, and in fact the world, need to begin a real discussion about long-term climate plans. As part of this, we need to talk about our future way of life.

I write this as not only the President of the Maiyoo Keyoh Society but also spokesperson on behalf of Chief Sally Sam (Keyohwhudachun): we are ‘in the way’ of the controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline’s proposed path. This is not just a ‘First Nations’ issue. My everyday life for the last several years has involved ongoing consultation, endless meetings, endless administration, and so on, all related to the path of one pipeline. This is in addition to my fulltime job and, of course, my family. There are five other pipelines planned just for the Prince George area, let alone for the Province. The Energy East, and the Kinder Morgan pipelines are only the other main ones.

While this has been my everyday life in relation to global environmental change for some time, I realize that this is far removed from the life of most Canadians.  The paradox is that we, as First Nations, are struggling not only to deal with the problems within our own communities, but a lot of us are also thinking of the future of all people living presently, and everyone’s children, at the same time. There are serious problems regarding the way in which we think and talk about global environmental change, and why long-term strategies have not been actioned.

There are at least three reasons for ongoing problem with the underlying thinking:

  1. Global environmental change is the indicator we need to understand that we have transgressed boundaries with the Earth. These is a not naïve, romanticized, and clichéd statement: we are all, quite literally, at a crossroads. Using too much or too many resources for your needs means that consequences will occur. We can already see the consequences.

  2. Governments are on short-term election cycles that do not invest in long term strategies, so the big changes that are required are not actioned.

  3. First Nations who demonstrate in opposition to projects are often viewed as antagonistic groups that like to resist things for the sake of it, rather than as protectors of the futures of our families as well as having a responsibility for our collective home (for all people). Part of moving forward is ceasing further investment in carbon-based futures.

Human transgressions and their consequences

The important point is that global environmental change is a direct consequence of human’s transgressions of boundaries over which the Earth can provide for us. The stories from our ancestors are not merely quaint references from the past.

Perpetual economic growth based on finite environmental resources is not possible, nor is it desirable. We are already altering our planet and this calls into question who we are and the values and goals that prevent us from being otherwise.

The recent rise of pipelines is intimately linked: the push for more growth has caused this
situation of climatic and wider environmental change. We are already feeling the effects of these choices. Why would we, then, reinvest in more and more carbon-based energy production that will cause more transgressions? How is it that we haven’t yet had a debate over how we frame our way of life into the future?

Geoscientists and our First Nations ancestors are certainly not the only ones who are warning about the transgressions. The Earth itself – the changing patterns of plant and animal interrelationships, for example – have been telling us for some time that we need immediate change to ameliorate the effects of global environmental change. The consequences of those transgressions are already upon us, with global temperatures heating up. Pacific and other coast-dwelling people are already having to migrate to higher land due to rising sea levels.  Things that are often viewed as ‘the future’ are now here. The effects of climate change, and these choices, are violence, especially to those people who have least say – and benefit – in what causes them.

The point is that, far from being ‘green’ speak, rethinking the premises of everyday life is a
basic reality that all people of the world must embrace. This is not merely up to those in
representative seats of short-term power.

So, what meaning do the pipelines have for all people?

The pipelines often seem like a long way away from the main city centres. They have provided jobs, security, and more broadly, they are intimately linked to the Canadian identity of resource development. These things are not easily changed. Large, global, conferences like the UN climate gathering, on which Canada has a seat, aim to come up with strategies that may in good faith mean to assist vulnerable groups. But more often than not, they end in more marginalization for people like us. Often, in reality and away from large conferences, ways of dealing with big picture, linked, economic and environmental issues seem to be far away. The gap between what scientists are
measuring in carbon emissions, for example, and most people’s lives, seems a large one from the lives of you and me.

We, the Maiyoo Keyoh Society and other Keyohs of the Great Beaver Lake, have planned and self-funded many research projects that move towards this future.  We are also interested in land and water based long term plans. We see these solutions as important
for us, but also for the world.

The last thing we need is more investment in infrastructure that is going to be economically, and socio-environmentally, destructive – like more pipelines. But we also need to have a discussion about what comes next.

Why connections matter

We, the Maiyoo Keyoh, along with many First Nations, believe that our Keyoh, or traditional territory, is part of us. We are intimately connected to our places. This is not just mere romanticism: we literally cannot survive without our territories. Rampant drug and alcohol problems are not just social problems; they are intimately environmental ones. Without the land, we are more and more lost – morally, ethically as well as physically. Non-indigenous people are not so different in this orientation – we all have places. The Earth is also our collective home. Each and every person needs to look after it. These are issues of socio-environmental justice, for all people.

First Nations across Canada are questioning pipeline developments not to be anti-development, but for title and rights in order to have self-determined futures. What we want is simple: more equitable social and environmental conditions for ourselves. It is our life’s duty to protect the territory and its waters. This means that we are determined to find alternative ways that do not further transgress boundaries, the consequences of which we are already exposed to. We are, like canaries in the coal mine, already more vulnerable than most to global environmental change’s effects, on so many levels.

Is ‘more and better’ science the answer?

A long-term climate change strategy that takes account of both global geosciences and our values is possible, but the thinking needs to change. The international discussion for climate change is often presented as science. A lot of technical science. There is talk at the global level of two degrees on average of warming being the limit to sustainability on Earth. And so many giga-tonnes of carbon dioxide being emitted. This is wholly true. But what does this mean on the ground?

For example, large scale industrial deforestation of our land combined with the pine beetle
epidemic has already degraded habitat. This is not just habitat degradation but also an
infringement on First Nations’ rights to hunt, trap, fish and an infringement on society at large: we all breathe the same air and drink the same water.

I am certainly not anti-science and science is absolutely central to change, but we need to link the science to our values, on the ground. More and more technical science and numbers at a global, UN level has limited effect on the elephant in the room, which is about what it means. Our values and what science does is important: we need more meaningful and contextualized sciences.  Thinking about carbon emissions is only one way of thinking about the problems. This needs to be linked to ways of life. For example, Pope’s recent Encyclical calls on all people to think about how our social relations, economic and social systems, the environment are connected ways of life require serious change.

We know that the meaning of our stories connects these global patterns to life on our traditional territory (Keyoh). The plants and all the animals, they are connected. The rules are that you cannot take more than you need and that you need to respect the land. If you do this, the land will provide for you. Our values and rights are equally important and the laws of nature. The scientists, us and all people, need to work together to find new ways of thinking about connecting global patterns and each person’s lands and waters. Importantly, such a task requires taking account of political histories. Our land is part of this overall change.

We are interested in a collective debate, negotiation and response in order to action long-term global environmental change, with all people. This will not be easy, but we are already thinking about, planning, and actioning, different options, through our various socio-environmental research projects.

The resistance to the Northern Gateway Pipeline, by many Canadians, became an important election platform for Justin Trudeau, as did First Nations issues. Yet the Liberal government still largely lacks any concrete direction on long term strategies of energy production and legislation reform.  While only early days, it is the links and connections to more contextualized frames of meaning, beyond the science, that are missing. We need help from all Canadians to move to a debate about the premises of socio-environmental inequities, and to the questions of rights, title, and unceded territories.

Together, we need to take account of global environmental change by connecting scientific projects and plans directly to our values, both in their means and ends.  Because we are all connected, we need to have a debate about what we would like our futures to look like. The need for a rethinking of our future, and a future that is bright for our children, is required for all of us.

For further information contact:
Jim Munroe, President Maiyoo Keyoh Society
Cell 250 305-7092

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