Climate Change Drives First Nations to Demand Justice as Food Security Threatens
By Kelly Anne Smith
ANISHINABEK NATION TERRITORY—The Westaway Law Group challenges government policy that threatens First Nations food security.
Details were outlined in the virtual presentation Climate Change and Food Security: A Multi-Regional Vulnerability Assessment for Adaptation and Building Resilience Using Traditional Knowledge at the 6th Annual Virtual Forum on Land, Resources and the economic development of the Anishinabek Nation: Kina-Gego-Naabadosin—Everything is connected on February 16.
Westaway Law Group attorney Brett Campeau advised that interviews were held with knowledge holders who are elders from Biigtigong Nishnaabeg in the North Superior region and Garden River First Nation and First Nation Wahnapitae in the Lake Huron region.
Campeau says that in recent decades there has been an increase in temperatures with more pronounced warming in the northernmost regions of the country.
“Climate change is already having significant impacts on lands and waters across Canada. This has important implications for food security. We also know that these impacts of climate change will combine with those of other human activities, such as resource development, including forestry and mining, hydroelectric development, and oil and gas development.
Campeau advises that there are cumulative effects on plants and wildlife, which impede the ability of First Nations peoples to harvest wild foods, which in turn impacts food security. The predictability of weather and environment impedes the ability to hunt and engage in traditional activities on the land.
Cynthia Westaway, Director of the Westaway Law Group, spoke about focusing on getting governments, the Crown in Ontario and Canada, and the courts to understand cumulative impacts.
“If you’re going to do a lawsuit on the impact of a tailings pond or a separate lawsuit on the impact of clearcut mining or logging, impacts on waters of herbicide spraying – each of those cases is very costly, and of course First Nations live in that environment and are impacted by all of that,” she says. “So how do we change the law and change Crown policy to better recognize that they must have tools to look at it more holistically and the impact across the region?”
The Westaway Law Group is currently working with Chapleau Cree First Nation, Missanabie Cree First Nation and Brunswick House First Nation on the cumulative impacts of forestry in a Treaty 9 case. Westaway says the treaty provides for the well- be and that the Crown must have a plan to assess cumulative impacts.
“They just can’t have laws and regulations that don’t protect lands and waters,” she says. “The good news is this case, Blueberry River, which came out of British Columbia, Yahey v. British Columbia…The court found (in June 2021) that the province breached its Treaty 8 obligations and the rights of the First Nation because the cumulative impact had diminished their ability to exercise their rights…We finally a court telling the Crown that they need to pay attention to these impacts throughout the region because they have a significant impact to a greater extent on First Nations.
British Columbia has set aside $65 million to fund land healing, support First Nations stewardship and protect Indigenous ways of life.
“You’re going to see a lot of action like this across Canada now,” Westaway said. “Clearly this needs to happen in Ontario…Clearly treaty nations need to be respected and heard about things like herbicide spraying and cumulative impacts.
During the presentation, Brett Campeau spoke about Elders from the North Superior region observing the impacts of climate change.
A Biigtigong Nishnaabeg elder said, “[We] cannot follow our teachings and use the whole animal because the organs seem to be contaminated.
A Fort William First Nation elder exclaimed:[Climate change] makes the earth sick and us sick.
In the southeast region, Curve Lake First Nation has noticed a loss of ice fishing and ice roads with warmer temperatures, while the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation has noticed streams have dried up, that there are fewer cold-water fish and that the timing of the seasons is changed.
The South West Region is exposed to significant industrial activity. Nobody eats the fish and there are fears of eating rabbits because of industrial pollution.
Westaway says environmental monitoring and floodplain mapping are strategies to build food security as well as adapt and build resilience through community gardens, greenhouse projects, butchers and community freezers , as well as sharing traditional knowledge and developing skills on land and on water and ice. .
She calls on the government to work with various officials to recognize regional cumulative impacts.
“First Nations leadership is doing much, much better – always with interdependence in mind. When we try to go talk to the Crown, they say, “That’s not my mandate. We need to call eight more people. And they (the government) don’t even know who the other eight people are to call. So we started pushing that there are high-level relationship tables that will come together and that you bring to us, the eight different people that you think have the expertise to add. In the meantime, consider reorganizing your entire structure to focus on interdependence.