Clayton Thomas-Müller is a senior campaign specialist at 350.org and a member of Pukatawagan Cree Nation.
When Justin Trudeau first became Prime Minister six years ago, he made some big promises to Indigenous Peoples. He pledged to end boil-water advisory circumstances on over one hundred First Nations, to act on the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls crisis, and to implement all the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But while he has made some progress, it’s been too little and too slow.
The same is true for the commitment to tackle the climate crisis. When Mr. Trudeau travelled to the Paris climate talks and declared boldly that Canada was back, he committed us to do our part to limit global temperature rise to 1.5ºC. But his climate plan has been deemed “highly insufficient” by global experts, putting us on the way to 4ºC of warming. In the midst of this climate emergency, he bought the Trans Mountain pipeline, sent the RCMP into Wet’suwet’en lands to build the Coastal Gaslink project and increased fossil fuel subsidies to $18-billion in 2020.
It’s these decisions that, throughout Trudeau’s time in office, have led to countless scenes of violence and criminalization of Indigenous Peoples. And, whether by resource extraction companies, security or police, these actions against peaceful land defenders are met with silence by the same political leaders who, on September 30′s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, are asking Canadians to ponder Canada’s colonial history.
If Canada is to do what it takes to tackle both the violence of colonization against Indigenous Peoples along with the climate emergency, we need to fundamentally change our economy. And there is some good news on this front.
Before the election, and thanks to pressure from people-powered movements, Trudeau was forced to call for a federal consultation process on the content of a Just Transition Act ‒ which would move Canada away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy in a way that does not leave impacted workers or communities behind. Now, with that consultation under way, it’s up to us to ensure that this is not an empty shell, but the kind of legislation that it needs to be ‒ especially for Indigenous peoples.
There are three aspects to a Just Transition. First, it means guaranteeing good, green, union jobs. It needs to be a fundamental principle that anyone who is facing job loss because of this transition is guaranteed a good, green, unionized job. Putting a jobs guarantee at the centre of Just Transition will help ensure this program can retool our economy at the scale the climate-crisis demands.
Just Transition also means putting people first. It can’t be another excuse to hand billions of dollars over to Big Oil and other corporations. These companies should pay to clean up their own messes, and whatever support we develop for a Just Transition should go directly to the people and communities who need them. We also know that both climate change and the transition will disproportionately impact Indigenous, rural and northern communities. Those most impacted are going to need the most support ‒ and it’s up to our government to make sure that happens.
Most importantly, my spirit, as with most Indigenous Peoples, tells me to take care of the earth and her climate for future generations – given our shared connection to the sacredness of our land and our responsibilities. We must align with climate science including Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge in all our collective actions. We need this transition to move at the pace and scale the climate emergency demands. That means that a Just Transition needs to line up with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change science.
We need the rest of Canada to use the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and take a deep dive into a real healing process with Indigenous Peoples that is rooted in the idea of Land Back – returning land to Indigenous Peoples’ control – and the implementation of the 94 TRC recommendations, if we are going to achieve climate justice, peace and healing.
A good start is a Just Transition Act that leaves no worker, First Nation or rural community behind. We need Trudeau and this government to hear us, work with us and act in a way this moment demands. We must learn from our past and prepare in the present to break the cycle and defend our collective future.