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Dene leader takes message to UN

Herb Mathisen
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 22, 2008

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - The Dene National chief is tired of the federal government's failure to represent aboriginal people on issues of climate change.

Arctic regions are more sensitive to the affects of global warming than other regions was the message Bill Erasmus brought to Poznan, Poland. He attended a United Nations climate change conference there earlier this month to speak about climate shift and what it means for the North's indigenous peoples.

He also criticized the Canadian government for not adequately representing aboriginal people when it comes to the issue.

"The way the United Nations works is only nation-states have a say at the table," said Erasmus.

"So indigenous peoples there didn't have an equal opportunity to say the things they wanted to, to fully participate."

Erasmus represented the Arctic Athabaskan Council - with members from Alaska, the Yukon and NWT - at the negotiations and said because the Canadian government has not lived up to its obligations under the Kyoto protocol, Canada's delegation United Nations conferences do not speak for indigenous people or many people in Canada.

"We have to have the right to speak for ourselves," he said. "The federal government does not represent our people at the table."

Erasmus pointed to Canada's refusal to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was brought up at the negotiations. Erasmus said he was disappointed federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice chose not to support the issue when it came up.

"Canada has to wake up to the fact that they're not working in conjunction to where the people in the country are at," he said.

At an event on Dec. 8, the Inuvik Declaration on Arctic Climate Change and Global Action was launched to focus on the importance of limiting the impacts of climate change action in the Arctic.

Drafted in the North, the document highlights how the Northern environment, wildlife and people are being adversely affected by global warming and it calls on action from the federal government.

"The far North is warming at two to three times the world average and we are calling on the Government of Canada to do its fair share to keep average warming as far below 2 C as possible so that Northern ecosystems and ways of life are not irreversibly damaged," said Bridget Larocque, executive director of the Gwich'in International Council - a member group of the declaration - in a press release.

Erasmus said the document was well-received in Poland.

"It was to bring environmental people and indigenous people together to again demonstrate that allies need to work together to get this initiative in place," he said.

Climate Action Network Canada, a group committed to limiting human interference in the global climate, was another partner in the Inuvik Declaration. Graham Saul, executive director of the network, said Arctic groups were in Poland to make "the case that Canada needs to move faster and do more than it is currently doing on climate change at the negotiations."

The action network is asking Canada to acknowledge and show leadership in climate change by instituting science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 per cent under 1990-levels by 2020. The group also wants the country to declare the global situation as "dangerous climate change" and to provide resources to reduce Canadian emissions and support impoverished nations to deal with global warming problems widely created by developed countries.

Erasmus was joined by fellow NWT resident Heather Sayine-Crawford, who travelled to Poland as part of the Canadian youth delegation.

The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 and the negotiations in Poland were held to attempt to get a second Kyoto phase in place by December 2009.