By Jack Graham
TORONTO, Oct 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — A lack of action on climate change by Canada's government is endangering Indigenous people in the far north, putting them at risk of food shortages and dangerously poor nutrition, a leading human rights group said on Wednesday.
Climate change's impacts like habitat loss and extreme weather are depleting First Nations' traditional food sources and making nutritious imported foods too expensive, Human Rights Watch said in a report on three remote communities in Yukon, British Columbia, and northern Ontario.
"They are on the front lines of climate change," Katharina Rall, senior researcher at the humanitarian group, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The Trudeau government has committed to being a leader on climate and promised to realize Indigenous people's rights, but Canada is not on track to meet its own emissions reduction targets," she said.
Northern Canada is warming at three times the global rate, and Canada's per capita emissions are three to four times the global average, the 120-page report said.
One of the affected communities is Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, reachable only by air in the Arctic Circle in northwest Yukon, which declared a state of emergency over climate change in May 2019.
They have long relied on local porcupine caribou herds and salmon, and traditional harvesting has been made harder by melting ice, draining lakes, and changing migratory behaviours due to the warming climate.
"Climate change has a real, serious impact on our traditional and cultural way of life here in north Yukon," said Lorraine Netro, one of less than 300 Vuntut Gwitchin members. "You're seeing the landscape changing right in front of your eyes," she said.
The report said governments at all levels in Canada are not doing enough to fight climate change and help Indigenous communities adapt.
Since 2011, the federal government's Nutrition North Canada food subsidy program has tried to make perishable, nutritious foods transported to the north more affordable.
However, the report said it has failed to significantly reduce prices and, despite changes to the program in recent years, there remains a lack of transparency around how retailers pass on the subsidy to communities.
"The horrible irony is that we have contributed very little to climate change but are facing the biggest impacts," said Vern Cheechoo, director of lands and resources at Mushkegowuk Council, which represents seven Cree First Nations in northern Ontario, at a virtual news conference.
Human Rights Watch called upon the Canadian government to strengthen policies to meet emissions reductions targets, including transitioning to clean energy.
In Yukon, for example, the Vuntut Gwitchin has been moving to solar energy to reduce reliance on diesel, which has to be flown in at great financial and environmental cost.
The organization recommended that governments also provide First Nations with financial and technical resources such as the capacity to collect data on issues like ice thickness.
"Unless there's action taken by the government on adaptation, but also on mitigating climate change, it will be harder and harder for them to sustain their livelihoods," Rall said.
(Reporting by Jack Graham, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)