We’re All in the Same Canoe

Barbara Wilson and me
COP21 delegates (L to R): Kii’iljus (Barbara) and Mardi.

It has been an honour to work along side of Kii’iljus (Barbara J. Wilson) at COP21 this week. As Chairperson of the United Church’s Indigenous Justice and Residential Schools Advisory Committee, Barbara is a weaver extraordinaire, bringing together threads of her Haida wisdom and her care about how our church lives into our apologies, and our commitments to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It’s a beautiful tapestry.

Barbara has also helped to guide Canada’s negotiators in these climate talks. Yesterday, for example, she reminded Canada’s Deputy Chief Negotiator France Jacovella that we’re all in the same canoe and need to paddle together.

The global network of indigenous peoples has brought their strong voices to every part of these negotiations. They are propelled by compassion for the most vulnerable peoples of the world, who too often include their own communities, and their conviction about the importance of recognizing traditional indigenous knowledge in addition to scientific data in the agreement. The fact that there are countries that have blocked this recognition speaks, I think, to how powerful their knowledge is seen to be.

Alongside of our ecumenical partners we have advanced wording about indigenous rights, and have argued that this should be included in the operative agreement.

Participants in Future of Life in the Arctic, a conference  held earlier this year in Storforsen, Sweden, provided us with excellent wording. Dr. Wilton Littlechild, Truth & Reconciliation Commissioner and International Chief for Treaty 6, 7 and 8, alongside of Canadian and international church leaders and other indigenous leaders, worked together on this language:

All Parties shall, in all climate change related actions, respect, protect, and fulfill human rights for all, including the rights of indigenous peoples, gender equality and the full and equal participation of women, food security and intergenerational equity as well as a just transition of the work force that creates decent work and quality jobs and upholds the integrity and resilience of natural ecosystems.

It’s been heartening to witness Canada strenuously supporting the inclusion of this language in the operative section of the COP21 agreement. Regardless of whether or not it ends up in the international agreement, we in the United Church will be along those Canadians prepared to work with government to bring these words to life at home. Canada’s negotiators have seen in our persistent presence here that it matters to all of us.

The government will need our help, and I’m heartened by an email exchange this morning with the Chief of Staff to Minister McKenna. I expect that we will have such an opportunity back home, and that the government’s transparency and willingness to partner on this and other concerns about climate change, expressed here in Paris, will continue in Canada in the months to come.



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