‘No climate justice without Indigenous sovereignty,' scholars say at Climate Solutions Showcase panel

Listening, donating and staying educated are key when addressing both climate justice and Indigenous land sovereignty, forestry scholars argued at a panel on November 20.

The discussion, “Indigenous Land Sovereignty and Climate Justice” featured speakers Arial Eatherton, research assistant in a lab at the Faculty of Forestry and Julie Nielsen, a registered professional biologist specializing in forest ecology and PhD candidate at SFU.

The online event was organized by UBC Climate Hub in collaboration with the Indigenous Committee, under the Climate Solutions Showcase, a year-long event series on a variety of topics centered around climate change, race and intersectionality.

“There’s no climate justice without Indigenous sovereignty,” said Adriana Laurent, co-founder of the Climate Hub and alumna of the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at UBC, who expressed how important it is to co-create an event with Indigenous peoples and Indigenous communities.

“Our position is to help amplify and uplift the work that is already happening and to be able to give this platform to people who wouldn't usually have a platform within academic spaces.”

Eatherton is a 2020 graduate of the faculty of forestry and a Two-Spirit Chinook, Kalapuya and South Salish person from the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. Eatherton discussed the continuing efforts and activism on dam removal and watershed restoration on the Klamath and Columbia rivers, as an example of work done by Indigenous activists to reclaim tribal sovereignty over food, water and land systems.

“Dam breaching is not only a return of sovereignty over traditional river systems and our traditional passageways on river systems, but also, our food sources and food sovereignty,” they said.

They added that dams are colonial landscapes and impact the species that live in the rivers.

Nielsen also shared her research that discusses the importance and conservation of old growth cedar and old growth forest and how it relates to climate goals, Indigenous land sovereignty and self determination in the forest sector, adding that challenges remain in addressing colonial forest management policies.

“True collaboration requires a major shift in thinking on part of colonial policymakers,” she said, adding that the Indigenous worldview and belief systems hold “the most promise” for providing climate solutions.

Within the university, both the Climate Hub and the Indigenous Committee are working to ensure that the commitments made by the university are funded, supported and centred in justice.

“We aim to amplify Indigenous voices at UBC, and represent them within the AMS student government, and try to instill our own knowledge systems, our own systems of governance,” said Ceilidh Smith, co-president of the Indigenous Committee.

Laurent said they wish to work on policies moving towards a climate resilient future and to ensure Indigenous sovereignty and Black liberation within what we now know as Canada.

“Climate justice is racial justice, you cannot separate the two, and you can't look at them as separate issues,” she said.