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COP26 was ‘the most colonialist space’ says Carcross/Tagish attendee

“Real change will happen in communities with real people who care about the environment.”
Jewel Davis photographed at COP26 in Glasgow. (submitted/Yukon News)

Jewel Davies, a Carcross/Tagish citizen of the Dakl’awedi clan, whose Tlingit names are Yekhunashin and Khatuku, went to Glasgow for COP26 without expectations.

“I like to go in, just keep an open mind and see what goes from there,” she said.

COP26, a climate change conference hosted by the United Nations, took place in Scotland from Oct. 31 to Nov. 13. An estimated 25,000 delegates from about 200 countries attended to discuss the goals laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Davies, 21, is a fourth-year student in the Indigenous Governance program at Yukon University. She told the News she was taken aback by the conference’s arrangement.

“I was very surprised about how colonialist the space was — it was very paternalistic – the time structure and schedules were very rigid,” Davis said.

“It was very much set up like a stage and an audience, like a lecturer, who was telling people something — not interacting, not inviting conversations.

“Even in some Indigenous meetings I attended, we weren’t able to do a proper opening or closing. And people weren’t able to say what they were wanting to say, because of the time restrictions.”

Jewel Davis attending a session at COP26 titled Annual Gathering of Indigenous Knowledge Holders, Part 1b. (Submitted/Yukon News)
Jewel Davis attending a session at COP26 titled Annual Gathering of Indigenous Knowledge Holders, Part 1b. (Submitted/Yukon News)

For someone like Davies, steeped in Indigenous ways which depend upon conversations, listening and shared experience, she could not ignore the underpinnings of the worldview COP was founded on and precipitating.

Outside the conference, Davies said she had more opportunity to speak with Indigenous knowledge holders from around the world.

“They spoke to the fact that all the quote-unquote ‘climate solutions’ that corporations and countries were proposing are all solutions that were based on market or market-based solutions, or carbon markets and carbon trading laws,” Davies said.

“It’s still supporting the same economy, the same government, in the same worldview that is the direct cause of climate change.”

She said she realized that real change does not come from big conferences. It will happen in communities, where conversations can take place and people can share and listen and learn from one another.

“We need to learn how to create a reciprocal, and balanced relationships with mother earth again,” Davies said.

Davies is a fellow with the Yukon First Nations Climate Action Fellowship program. She is also working with ‘How we Walk with the Land and the Water’ as a youth climate ambassador. ‘How we Walk’ is a three nation (Kwanlin Dün, Carcross/Tagish and Ta’an Kwach’an) initiative to compile the Indigenous values of community members to inform their processes to create an Indigenous-based land relationship planning process in anticipation of when First Nations decide they want to go into land use planning.

Understanding the interconnectedness of land, water and human beings is critical, Davis explained.

“Our whole worldview is centered and based around relationships. This is why we need to reclaim and reconnect with this relationship with nature — this holistic, balanced relationship with nature and realize that, we’re intrinsically interconnected,” she said.

“We cannot survive without it.”

Davies is well-supported by her Indigenous climate change connections and different global organizations. She is grateful to the Northern Council for Global Cooperation (NCDC) for supporting her trip to COP26. Daqualama Jocelyn Joe-Strack, the Research Chair of Indigenous Knowledge at Yukon University oversees the Yukon First Nations Climate Action Fellowship with Jodi Gustafson, who co-leads a global NGO out of New Zealand, RIVER, whose goals include bringing awareness to different worldviews. They are all connected in a strong growing circle that supports Indigenous knowledge sharing.

Davies travelled to Glasgow for the full two weeks with the executive director of NCDC, Tracey Wallace.

Davies described multiple lines of police every day, revolving metal gates, packed crowds of people flowing down streets and security checks just to get into a conference room.

“No one was obviously six feet apart. But everybody was wearing a mask.” Organizers distributed COVID-19 tests to everyone. Davies had a cold on her return, but a few days later was back to normal.

Reflecting on her trip she talked about the things she realized.

“I would say it’s like the most colonialist space I’ve ever been, in my whole entire life. The individualism at the conference seemed stark.”

Davies’ favorite part “was just listening to Indigenous peoples’ experiences from around the world—and just, the unity in our knowledge and our issues that we’re facing against colonialism.”

Contact Lawrie Crawford at