Indigenous people see signs global
Indigenous people, including Canadian Inuit and Indian
leaders, are emerging as some of the top stars of the Bali climate-change
From the Arctic to the South Pacific islands, indigenous people
said they are among the first to suffer the worst effects of global
They drew connections between the planet's north and south, describing
how the melting glaciers in the Arctic are jeopardizing the existence
of small island states in the Pacific, and how severe ocean storms
are imperilling people in both regions.
When the indigenous leaders spoke at a side event at the Bali
conference this week, the room was packed with a standing-room-only
audience of environmentalists and others. The leaders also spoke
at other conference events, giving accounts of how global warming
is threatening their traditional ways of life.
Arctic aboriginal villages are facing erosion, fragile ice is
endangering their hunters, caribou herds are at risk from shifting
weather and severe storms are becoming more frequent in the north
and the south, they said.
"Some Inuit have already made changes to the traditional
times of the year which they travel on the land," said Violet
Ford, a Canadian Inuit leader from northern Labrador and a vice-president
of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.
"Some find themselves
collecting their winter wood and other supplies in the spring
when they only used to do so in the fall.
Why? Because the fall freeze-up is later and more dangerous."
The shifting climate
is interfering with ancient hunting patterns, Ms. Ford said in
an interview. "We can't predict the weather
any more, so it's very difficult to plan our hunting. It puts a
lot of stress and fear into our communities."
Similar threats are
faced by the aboriginal people of the Western Arctic, who depend
on caribou as their main source of food. "Over
the last few years, the caribou have been very unpredictable," said
Cindy Dickson, a member of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in
a remote corner of the Yukon.
"Their migration routes are all over the map," she said. "It
has led our people to go up river, down river, sometimes hundreds
of miles, to look for the increasingly elusive herd."
Aboriginal leaders were not consulted when the Kyoto treaty was
negotiated in 1997, but they are insisting that they must be consulted
in future negotiations on how to cope with global warming.
"We bring a unique knowledge to these discussions," said
Patricia Cochran, an Alaskan Inuit who is chairwoman of the Inuit
Circumpolar Council. "We have to make sure that our voice
Because of global warming, Inuit people no longer feel safe travelling
on ice where they travelled for centuries, and some Inuit communities
are sliding into the sea, forcing their relocation to new sites,
Ms. Cochran said.
"It's a very frightening
thing for all of us. It's the loss of our culture and livelihood.
How can we remain intact as aboriginal
Dave Porter, a Kaska Dene leader from northern British Columbia,
came to Bali to tell delegates that his people are under massive
pressure from a climate-induced infestation of the mountain pine
"We are faced with our greatest threat ever," he said
in a speech to a conference side event. "The area of dead
trees in British Columbia is the size of Portugal or South Korea.
It rivals the destruction of the Amazon and Indonesian rain forests.
More than 100 First Nations communities are directly impacted.
If the epidemic eats its way across Canada, the impacted communities
could be in the thousands."
Because winters are not cold enough to kill the beetle infestation,
millions of hectares of pine trees have died, Mr. Porter said.
"It dwarfs any
other insect epidemic ever seen before in Canada. The interior
of British Columbia is now filled with immense
regions of dead and dying forests, creating a massive tinderbox
just waiting for a spark to literally set it ablaze. Left unchecked,
this devastation could spread through Canada's boreal forests from
coast to coast, a distance of nearly 9,000 kilometres."
For centuries, aboriginal
people were able to adapt to the environment, he said. But they
have never faced anything like the current threat. "Now
in a very short period of time, the industrial society has put
us at risk."
Globe and Mail