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COP21 Will Not Save our Lands and Territories

COP21 Will Not Save our Lands and Territories
by Andrea Landry

The twenty-first session of the global climate conference is currently underway in Paris, France. The mandate is for world leaders, primarily colonial leaders, to establish a new global model of growth which will be safe and durable to the planet. Parties to the convention and kyoto protocol, observer states, intergovernmental organizations, UN and specialized agencies, non-governmental organizations, and ad-hoc working groups are the mandatory participants integrated in the process. Indigenous peoples are the key experts in the realm of land preservation and territorial protection, yet it had to be noted through the UNDP on the importance of Indigenous peoples participating in COP21. It was through documentation and processes such as this where the voice of Indigenous peoples was incorporated onto the UN tables for COP21.

#Canoes2Paris action on the Bassion la Villette canal in Paris
#Canoes2Paris action on the Bassion la Villette canal in Paris. Photo by Allan Lissner

The representatives of our people that are in attendance are doing the best they can with the space they are given at this globally significant conference. With Indigenous voices advocating for Indigenous homelands in a colonial based setting there comes a situation when one may begin to question if the conversation on the tables of the white-man will establish solutions on the lands of our peoples.

And the direct answer to this is a blunt, yet honest, no. The truth is that UN conferences have never created progressive or real spaces for our home fires- they were never intended to create progressive or real spaces for our home fires.

The spaces that the UN creates for our peoples are spaces that the Canadian government creates for AFN national chiefs and Indian Act chiefs across the nations – a colonially fabricated position void of any real long-term outcomes for the people and filled with outcomes meant to further impoverish us.

These conferences. similarly, are intended to create a false sense of hope for the people whereas we believe that all the outcomes we desire will occur – yet the reality is that the only outcomes we will see is our words imprisoned on documents for decades, as we continue to praise a system that shows no commitment or action for the voices of those who completed the same work generations ago.

Yet we ask the same things from UN bodies, UN states, intergovernmental organizations, sometimes NGOs and very rarely our own communities for change- and 20 years later we are asking for the same things from the same UN bodies, UN states, intergovernmental organizations, sometimes NGOs, and very rarely our own communities.

La Via Campesina March, COP16 Cancun. Photo by Allan Lissner
La Via Campesina March, COP16 Cancun. Photo by Allan Lissner

Political systems like the UN create an atmosphere whereas individuals are attempting to find routes for their people to survive- yet they’re attempting to survive in a system which only creates more poverty and crisis. The key crisis that COP21 will never dissolve is the corruption and greed that is expanding and growing in our own homelands as quickly as cancer cells are expanding and growing in our people’s bodies.

If we want to make a substantial impact in the realm of climate justice- our own leaders need to completely and utterly disagree with land desecration projects which will ultimately lead to the lands, and our own, demise. If we claim to be land-based people, as Indigenous peoples, why do we continuously follow man-made systems rather than the land-based laws? What is unfolding as we attend and believe in the “power” of UN conferences is that our organic systems are now completely overtaken by man-made systems. We are no longer believing that the land, and our relationship to the land, will be the ultimate solution to ending the land-based genocide. And this comes from the notion that we have falsely adapted to a way of life for survival so deeply that we have forgotten who we were prior to that adaptation. We have forgotten the idea of community and focus instead on the standardized concept of how an assimilated person operates in an Indigenous community.

COP21, a space created only for colonial entities with secondary space set aside for Indigenous peoples, is a dominant centre for networking, building relationships with other organizations passionate about the work that one does, understanding the structure of UN meetings, and a chance to show the often hidden face of the Indigenous revolutionary. Yet, as UN systems continue to maintain the privilege that colonial systems have established, the belief that human life is more important than the life of the land will begin to be believed by our own people.

First Nations Action March. Photo by Allan Lissner.
First Nations Action March. Photo by Allan Lissner.

The land will revolutionize long before our people do if we continue maintaining a colonially justified system which is hiding the fact that it is responsible in part for preserving poverty and the starvation of peoples globally. The land will revolutionize and will never allow the rape of hills, valleys, and prairies to be an acceptable form of a land-based practice. The land will revolutionize to the extent that the UN systems and UN conferences will be an irrelevant means to liberate the peoples and the territories.

The land will revolutionize only if the people do not revolutionize first. The transformation of how we protect the lands and territories in which we live, play, and love on will only be influential if we recognize where the change has to come from in order to end land desecration projects and environmental violence. It will come from the primary keepers of the land through means of finding community solutions to end the greed, the corruption, and the colonial thinking. It will come from land-based practices being the only way we can have a relationship with the land. It will come from listening to the words the old people speak, and never again neglecting our true roles, never again breaking the sanctity and prayers that generations before spoke. We must be true to the prayers of those before us, and again not look to colonial meetings for Indigenous solutions.

We are the solution.



Andrea Landry has her Masters in Communications and Social Justice at the University of Windsor. She has previously sat on the United Nations Global Indigenous Youth Caucus for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and been involved in UN politics for a span of four years. She formerly worked as the Governance Development Officer for her home community of Pays Plat First Nation. She currently works on Thunderchild First Nation as a youth therapist and teaches at the University of Saskatchewan in the areas of Indigenous Studies and Political Science. She also practices community-based solution building through working with communities one on one in the areas of grief and recovery, community crisis, and with young people building self-empowerment and self-esteem.