In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Climate Change and the Aboriginal North

Posted 6/18/2008 by Grant Mitchell


Even as we are apologizing for one unspeakable tragedy that we visited upon the aboriginal peoples of Canada, there may be another unfolding on aboriginal people in the North.

Climate change is a crisis and nowhere is it more evident than in the North. I was just in the NWT and the Yukon with the Senate Committee on Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources to study climate change. If you are a denier of it, just spend an hour in the North. The temperature in Inuvik has increased by 2 to 3 degrees in the past 20 years. It is occurring and it is having a huge and tragic impact on aboriginal communities and their way of life:

The Bluenose Caribou herd in the Inuvik and Tuktoyuktuk area has dropped form 160,000 to 40,000 in 5 years, and aboriginal peoples depend upon this animal as a significant source of food.

Migration patterns of white geese, another important source of food for aboriginals, have changed dramatically.

Mule deer are migrating north potentially bringing with them parasites and viruses that can kill species native to the north and critical to aboriginal peoples’ food supply.

The permafrost is melting and this is disastrous. It means that heavy metals such as mercury are leeching into water tables and rivers. It means that roads and buildings are sinking. It also means that the permafrost that holds 30% of the GHG’s in the world will be releasing them as it melts contributing an accelerating warming.

Not only is this a tragedy in the making of aboriginal peoples, it is also the proverbial canary in the mine for the rest of us. It is a tragedy for the North which has had very little to do with emitting the GHGs that are causing it. Let’s do whatever it takes to deal with this crisis, so that among many other reasons, we will not find ourselves years from now having to apologize to aboriginal peoples for yet another tragedy of our making.

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