Kevin Schofield is no stranger to Parliament Hill. He visited the seat of the Canadian government 10 years ago as part of the Idle No More movement that challenged Ottawa’s erosion of Indigenous rights.
Now, Schofield, who is a musician working under the moniker Tennessee Cree, is on the Hill to perform in front of crowds of climate activists participating in the Global Fight to End Fossil Fuel rallies taking place in at least 60 countries.
The climate rallies are demanding an end to fossil fuels and greenwashing as well as more international co-operation and accountability for major polluters.
For Schofield, Indigenous rights must be front and centre in conversations about climate change because those rights are interdependent with the health of the environment.
“Indigenous rights are ecological rights,” he said.
“You give us our land back, or we take our land back, you start seeing less of our land being sold to companies and the water being sold to companies because they are protected for all future generations.”
Research has shown 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity is on lands inhabited by Indigenous Peoples, who make up only five per cent of the global population.
First Nations youth like Sunshine Dunstan and Waabshkigan (Shane Monague) are at the climate strikes drawing attention to how colonialism and the climate crisis are intertwined.
‘It can be lonely to be a warrior for the Earth’. Strong Indigenous turnout at #Ottawa climate march.
“I don’t think that’s really acknowledged, or if it is, it’s not loud enough” she said.
For Ma Myrah Peace, the feeling is mutual. Peace puts the braided crises of colonialism and capitalism in the crosshairs as the main drivers of the climate crisis.
“We have been land stewards for thousands and thousands and thousands of years, since time immemorial, where we didn’t drive ourselves into an ecological collapse,” she said.
“In my eyes, it is because of colonialism and greed, corporate greed, capitalism, so I’m here today to be inspired because it can be lonely to be a warrior for the Earth,” Peace added.
Peace attributes her loneliness to the individualism of a society built on the American Dream, with its white picket fences that separate one neighbour from another. She believes we must return to a more community-oriented way of living. She advocates for a society where people help feed the elders in the community, and where adults are the aunties and uncles of all the children in the community as well.
For David Finkle, an Ottawa-based musician from Tyendinaga, it is vital to centre Indigenous voices in the climate crisis because they are most impacted by the harm caused to their territories and food systems.
Finkle points to threats to Indigenous food security, especially in remote regions where food costs are more than triple what non-Indigenous Canadians pay in supermarkets.
For example, he points to the impact of tailings ponds, like the the tailings leak in Northern Alberta that polluted the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s harvest this year while the nation went uninformed for months.
“I know that the general Joe Blow Canadian probably thinks: ‘Oh, [Indigenous Peoples] just want to be in touch with their culture and their hunting because it’s a decision that they’ve made that’s philosophical. No — they just want to eat food!” he said.
There are more than 50 cities across Canada taking part in the Global Fight to End Fossil Fuels rallies. On Twitter, Steven Guilbeault acknowledged the rallies taking place while slamming Opposition Leader Pierre Poillievre for leading an “axe the carbon tax” rally in the Yukon.
Matteo Cimellaro / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer