Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation speaks during the declaration of a climate emergency in Old Crow on May 19. (Malkolm Boothroyd/Yukon News)

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation officially declares climate emergency

The declaration was signed during Caribou Days on May 19

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has officially declared a state of emergency, signalling that the effects of climate change in the North are indeed here and need to be tempered, immediately.

“The community hall was packed on Caribou Days and we used that moment to just take an existential threat such as anthropogenic climate change and use it to empower our citizens,” said Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm.

“Gwich’in wealth is measured in our rivers, in our animals and in our lands being healthy.”

These are in jeopardy now, he said.

The declaration, which was signed on May 19, will inform the work of the First Nation from here on out, Tizya-Tramm said.

“It strengthens our movement forward, beyond accessing emergency funds, which the declaration is not doing. This is the kind of document that spreads right across the country.”

It’s a Gwich’in-centric declaration, one that’s responsible, not alarmist, Tizya-Tramm said. It’s in response to impacts seen in plain sight, he added.

“We’re seeing it in the priming of furs, in the emptying of lakes, in the return of animals, such as, this year, the geese coming before the black ducks, which we hadn’t seen before. It’s about bringing that to the rest of the community, nationally.”

The declaration states that Indigenous people’s voices aren’t being heard and that governments “around the world are not sufficiently responsive to the dire circumstances already being directly experienced and the implications for the health of animal populations, food security, as well as our communities’ emotional, cultural, and physical well-being.”

It calls on all levels of government to respect the traditional knowledge of Indigenous people, science and “utilize all available powers, resources and abilities to coordinate and mobilize efforts” to prevent temperatures from rising further.

The North is a bellwether for changes to the climate.

A report released on April 1 called Canada’s Changing Climate Report says the North is warming faster than the rest of the country.

While Canada’s average annual temperature has risen by 1.7 C between 1948 and 2016 (two times the global average), it’s higher in the North: the territories have seen a 2.3 C increase — three times the global average — during the same timeframe, according to the report.

“We are seeing the effects and they’re accelerating,” Tizya-Tramm said, “so this is part of the experience, about superseding the science, which can just be compartmentalized. It’s happening now, and we are at the frontlines of this. It’s coming for all of Canada and all of the Arctic, and we have a very real stake in the international community and our voices need to be heard, that this is not just an inconvenience to your bottom-line, to economies. This is a climate crisis.”

There’s a component to the declaration that could help lay the groundwork for an accord with Indigenous nations around the world. Together, Tizya-Tramm said, they would coordinate efforts to ensure global temperatures don’t rise above 1.5 degrees, as recommended by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“This way we can issue the declaration from Gwich’in point-of-view but make it universal enough to put the world on notice of what our intentions are,” he said.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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