On May 31st 2023 the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (EUC), the Environmental Studies Association of Canada (ESAC) and the Centre for Climate Justice (UBC) hosted an Indigenous Knowing and Climate Futures panel as part of Congress 2023 at York University.
The keynote panel (now available on YouTube) featured Candis Callison, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in the Indigenous Journalism, Media and Public Discourse at the University of British Columbia; Deborah McGregor, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Environmental Justice at EUC and Osgoode Hall Law School; and Naomi Klein, Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Centre for Climate Justice at the University of British Columbia.
Dean Alice Hovorka opened the event noting that the theme for Congress 2023 was "reckonings and re-imaginings," reflecting the importance of understanding the path people choose to take in relation to climate change and its effect on the planet.
"The Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (EUC) was established in 2020, shortly after climate emergency was declared by many in the world. Since then, we have been wanting to address environmental degradation, tackle the issues around intensive urbanization where humans and their habitat tend to be located, as well as researching the social dynamics that shape these large processes. We are committed to producing and mobilizing knowledge for a just and sustainable world," noted Dean Hovorka.
Associate Professor and Panel Moderator Carlota McAllister acknowledged the importance of academic institutions' involvement in conversations about climate change and introduced the panel speakers. She also noted that this panel was the inaugural event in a Climate Seminar Series at EUC in the coming year.
Candis Callison discussed the detrimental effects of climate change in relation to Indigenous communities, explaining that the work she has been most passionate about concerns narratives on both climate change and Indigenous people in the context of crisis and emergency. She noted the importance of re-evaluating and questioning those narratives in the context of ethical relations, hence her research focus on media coverage of climate change around the world.
The conversation continued with Callison emphasizing the relations of humans to each other as well as to the non-human elements of nature in the context of a climate catastrophe that continues to unfold. "We are talking about emergency and crisis which causes people to want to move to action. This often happens without thinking about how we got to where we got to when it comes to crisis. We want to build new systems in order to respond to crisis and calls of emergency, but often we do so without thinking about the legacy of empire in building new systems" Callison explained.
During her research in the Arctic tundra of Alaska, Callison was given the opportunity to see the effects of climate change by elders of Indigenous communities who showed her the dryness of soil in the area. These effects of climate change can negatively impact the caregiving process for caribou whose diet relies on Arctic vegetation, thereby amplifying the negative effects it can have on the lives of the Arctic Indigenous peoples.
Callison presented examples of media coverage of the Arctic, most of which have misrepresented it as unpopulated, or omitted the Arctic from coverage of climate change entirely. As an environmental journalist and media communicator, she provided some hopeful alternatives in the form of emerging self-representation through internet-based media as well as active collaboration with Indigenous peoples to better understand climate change in the Arctic.
Deborah McGregor began her presentation by sharing her understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing, which she has acquired while living and working on Anishinabek territories. McGregor explained that there have always been laws, governance and knowledge systems that were established by Indigenous peoples to create sustainable relationships with all of Creation. These structures were created to deal with challenges imposed by consequences of long-term environmental change.
Complementing Callison's analysis of media reporting on climate change, McGregor noted that the transformations needed have not been initiated. "Things seem to be getting worse and not better. This is not the legacy I want to leave for my children, future generations and the planet. I believe that there is guidance for what this transformation can look like from the Indigenous peoples' knowledge," McGregor stated.
As a champion of Indigenous knowledge systems (IKS), McGregor emphasizes that Indigenous knowledge is not just “knowledge” but a way of life, something that must be “lived” in order to be understood. Appropriate and effective inclusion of Indigenous knowledge requires recognition of the systems that support it, which in turn necessitates support for Indigenous self-determination.
Observing that while international declarations and organizations (such COP and IPCC) have begun to recognize the potential of IKS to help alleviate climate and environmental crises, Indigenous peoples must be enabled to undergo decolonization processes to revitalize Indigenous ways of relating to the Earth in mutually beneficial ways.
She concluded her talk noting that Indigenous communities are committed to reconnecting with the Earth in times of crisis as well as leaving the Earth in a better state for future generations.
Naomi Klein responded by emphasising the challenge of determining the temporality of the emergency. Klein explained that this can alter the way society evaluates transformational initiatives to counteract the crisis. She stated that climate emergencies tend to intersect with political emergencies which is further complicated by the rise of authoritarianism domestically and globally. Accordingly, this can alter the ways climate change summits are conducted, including the Conferences of the Parties ("COPs") of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Klein explained that in recent years there have been incidents that interfered with having a productive and meaningful conversations about climate change at such events, including placement of malevolent spyware in rooms where such discussions are held. "COPs themselves are becoming more repressive. It is much harder to have a protest. This kind of change is mirroring the way our current system, which is capitalist, colonialist and patriarchal, responds to the unravelling of the natural world," Klein observed.
She supported the statements made by Callison and McGregor by sharing her experience of having conversations with well-respected scientists who proposed implementing environmentally damaging projects in Arctic regions because of "absence" of human populations in those areas. Klein pointed out that the "unseen people" mentality is replicated in the formulation process for climate crisis solutions, creating a hierarchy of the "real people" and the "less real people".
Klein concluded her discussion by noting that "the academy is a pretty disciplined place. You often get pretty far in it by being disciplined. But our moment calls for us to be undisciplined and to be willing to follow our research wherever it leads us even if that is to very radical places."
The keynote event was followed by Q&As and an open reception at the Tribute Communities Recital Hall.