Kalle Benallie
Indian Country Today 

When Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, executive director of Indigenous Climate Action, noticed a lack of participation and leadership from Indigenous people at the Canadian Society of Ecological Economics conference, she spoke up about her concerns. 

“Deranger found this troubling as many of the presenters were taking from Indigenous knowledge systems and repackaging what Indigenous peoples have been doing for thousands of years as a new discipline,” the Indigenous Climate Action wrote on their website.

In result, the Canadian Society of Ecological Economics partnered with the Indigenous Climate Action to create the Indigenous Economics: Reclaiming the Sacred conference that took place from June 10 to June 12.

Workshops, panels and working groups were set up to engage participants in learning about “ecological economics,” which is the study of relationships and interactions between the economies and ecosystems.

“We decided to recenter what it means to talk about ecological economics from an Indigenous voice and Indigenous perspective,” Deranger, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, said.

And to explore the ecological history of Indigenous people and how that can help today.

“Our communities had thriving ecological systems for thousands of years before colonization. And those ecosystems and ecological trade routes that existed across the Americas were built out of our connections to the land, from our languages to our identities,” Deranger added.

Four panels took place over the three-day conference which were The Red Deal, The Ransom Economy, Healing Justice and Nation-based & Place-based Economies. Here is a rundown of two of them.

What happened: The Red Deal panel

Speakers Ananda Lee Tan, Rebecca Sinclair and Jen Gobby spoke on June 10 about the issues the Green New Deal has for Indigenous people, and how the Red Deal, proposed by the Red Nation, is much more inclusive.

“The Red Deal is not a counter program to the [Green New Deal]. It’s a call for action beyond the scope of the U.S. colonial state,” the Red Nation states. “It’s a program for Indigenous liberation, life, and land—an affirmation that colonialism and capitalism must be overturned for this planet to be habitable for human and non-human relatives to live dignified lives.”

It was discussed how the Green New Deal and modern-day green initiatives exclude Black and Indigenous communities. And how non-profit organizations and environmentalists can fall into solutions that rely on carbon trading and market-based mechanisms.

Tan said rather, “economies should follow our knowledge of economy.”

Sinclair and Gobby introduced a research project they worked on called Decolonizing Climate Policy in Canada. They analyzed policy and how they are in the process of creating policy and plans that are Indigenous-led.

Sinclair, nêhiyaw-iskwêw and a citizen of Little Saskatchewan First Nation, mentioned how some climate solutions like reducing carbon emissions by taking public transportation are not inclusive of Indigenous people because they don’t have public transportation in their area. As well as what she found the most relevant to her.

“Informed consent is the biggest one in my books because often we go into community and consult with community, where nonprofit organizations, government or proponents bring in a lot of their expert knowledge and their western way of thinking and don’t incorporate Indigenous worldviewer,” Sinclair said.

Gobby introduced 10 guidelines for climate policy in Canada like implementing Indigenous decision makers from Indigenous nations and communities, rather than advocates, to help create policies; for policies to raise the leadership of Indigenous women and LGBTQIA+; having climate policies that don't disproportionately impact Indigenous people by utilizing carbon pricing, hydroelectricity and natural gas.

Sinclair and Gobby hope to have an Indigenous-led advisory council that represents all genders, ages and locations across Canada, who will direct their efforts towards the ten guidelines.

“It’s really like flipping the script here. What more do you need from Indigenous people? Not what are we taking, how much more money do we need as Indigenous people, but what more do you need from us,” Sinclair said. “You literally stripped us from everything and you still require more.”

You can watch the entire panel here.

What happened: The Ransom Economy panel

Speakers Abiodun Afolabi, Larry Innes and Eriel Deranger led a discussion about the Ransom Economy on June 11.

"Indigenous lands and territories are being held ransom. All the resource ‘development’ is happening in Indigenous communities while systematically pushing away Indigenous economies - land, language, culture, who we are, is what wealth is for us,” Skyler Williams said.

Afolabi focused on how the climate crisis has affected Indigenous people of Africa, which occupy 50 percent of the African population. Some problems communities have faced are Indigenous knowledge being threatened, an inequitable distribution of wealth and forced adaptation.

Specifically, Afolabi explained how a famine can negatively impact African farmers to move from their Indigenous homelands to look to the city for work.

“Climate change is colonialism's natural conclusion,” he said.

Afolabi also stressed the importance the conference has for making these issues widely known.

“More than ever, Indigenous people have a voice that can reach far and wide. And true platforms like this are permitting these voices to the places and the people that need to hear them,” Afolabi said. “We are making the invisible visible.”

Deragner discussed how .2 percent of Canada is First Nation Lands and there are still some lands that remain untreatied.

She explained since tribes are not given control of the lands, they cannot influence the economy. Yet, Deranger said tribal communities like hers at the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation are reluctant participants in the economy.

She said her tribe’s business group called ACDEN was established because one of the tribal members first started cleaning the waste around a site.

“It’s not because we support them, it’s because we’re doing what’s best to protect and safeguard our lands, our territories, our cultures and our identities from these things,” she said.

Innes talked one significant way to undo the systems of ransom economies is respecting Indigenous law, which has been oppressed for the last 150 years, which defies treaty agreements.

“Until Canadians stop saying sorry and actually act on the facts of the history to make the changes that are necessary, these tragedies will continue and we can’t allow that,” Innes said.

You can watch the entire panel of Day 2 here and Day 3’s panel here and here

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