The opening ceremonies of a U.N. conference on biodiversity included an Indigenous welcome, Indigenous performances — and Indigenous objections.
The conference, the 15th meeting of what is the Conference of the Parties also known as COP15, is seeking to develop a global plan to prevent and reverse the steep decline of biodiversity across the globe.
Leaders are hoping countries will commit to “30 by 30”— designating 30 per cent of the Earth’s waters and lands being protected areas by 2030. The U.N.’s scientific body has also recognized that Indigenous Peoples have been by and large the protectors of biodiversity over the past decades.
Tadodaho Sid Hill, traditional chief of the Onondaga Nation opened the ceremony with an address known to Mohawks as “the words that come before all else,” delivered in Kanienke’haka.
“Now then, this many of us people are gathered here this place. We put our minds together as one, we greet one another and give thanks. Let it be that way in our minds,” said Hill in his address.
He was followed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, then the secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, and Quebec Premier Francois Legault, among others.
The opening remarks were followed by performances by Inuit throat-singing group Silla, Cree and Potawatomi hoop dancer Theland Kicknosway and Métis Strings, a Métis music and jigging group.
“Every day we work hard to be an example of openness and diversity,” said Trudeau in his opening remarks. “When people think of Canada around the world, they think of our landscapes and the richness and wealth of our nature.
“Canada, that’s Atlantic and the Saint Laurence Valley. Canada is the Rockies to the west, with their magnificent snowcaps. Canada is vast, and filled with unexpected life.”
As Trudeau was touting the beauty of the Canadian landscape, growing sounds of drumming and singing filled the air until they overpowered him. A group of about 10 First Nations land defenders gathered in the middle of the room, five of them unfurling a banner that said “Indigenous genocide = Ecocide, To save biodiversity stop invading our lands,” while a few others drummed and sang “Canada is on Native land” and “Trudeau is a colonizer.”
Trudeau stood silently as this was unfolding for almost three minutes as the demonstrators — mostly young women — eventually filed out of the room, still drumming and singing. When he resumed his speech, the prime minister said, “As you can also see Canada is a place of free expression, where individuals and communities are free to express themselves openly, and strongly, and we thank them for sharing their perspectives.”
Two of the demonstrators, Ta’Kaiya Blaney of the Tla’amin First Nation and Ace Harry of the Xwe’malhkwu Nation, a sister nation to Tla’min spoke with APTN News prior to the opening ceremonies. They said they are attending to address the industrial extraction happening on their territories in western British Colombia, where forestry and hydro dams have damaged their lands.
“A hundred years ago [the Tis’kwat River] was dammed by Catalyst Paper, and now that mill is shut down and on the market and our generation is trying to mobilize and take this opportunity to push for dam removal and for the restoration of that river to bring back the salmon,” said Blaney.
“I’m not here to fight for recognition, I’m here to fight for sovereignty, and that is different. I’m not asking the United Nations or Canada to recognize our nation as, in all of our belonging and our rights, I’m asking them to stop invading us.
“What we are interested in is the return of our salmon, food security for our people, and historically, ever since settlers arrived on our lands, they have not taken care of us. We have not been a priority. And so really the only path forward in our eyes is taking care of our people ourselves, and what that looks like is the return of our lands, and control of our rivers,” said Harry.
What’s been promised so far
Over the past year, Guterres has been sending out his own warnings about the warming planet. The U.N. has issued a number of reports warning that the chance of turning back the climate crisis is closing.
“We are waging war with our planet,” Guterres told the conference and added that the post-2020 biodiversity framework must, among other things, address “the root causes of this destruction — harmful subsidies, misdirected investment, unsustainable food systems, and wider patterns of consumption and production.”
He also stated that governments must develop “plans that recognize and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities, who have always been the most effective guardians of biodiversity.”
Trudeau said that Canada is committing $350 million towards international biodiversity adding on to Canada’s existing 2021 climate finance commitment of $5.3 billion over 5 years.
“By 2030 we must halt and reverse biodiversity loss,” said Trudeau.
This is coming in the wake of Trudeau’s purchase of the multi-billion dollar Transmountain pipeline to ship tarsands oil overseas, which was widely opposed by Indigenous leaders and environmental activists.
The province of Quebec also has a history of pushing for environmentally disruptive projects, like lithium mining and hydro dams.
To help counter these projects the province is investing an additional $650 million into the province’s new seven-year environmental initiative called Plan Nature 2030.
Legault said the plan’s three prongs were creating more biodiverse protected areas, protecting endangered species and supporting Indigenous leadership in biodiversity conservation.
“We will support the creation of new protected areas initiated by Indigenous Peoples and we will also make us of the expertise of Indigenous Peoples in order to preserve biodiversity,” said Legault.
Legault also announced the government plans to create a new “blue fund” to protect Quebec’s freshwater, which makes up 3% of the freshwater on the globe.
His government is also pushing open pit mining in the province.
The conference will continue to take place Dec. 7-19 in Montreal.