Northern Alberta, home to snow-tipped mountains, lush boreal forests, sweeping prairie land and seemingly never-ending waterways, but amongst all this exuberant natural beauty lies a dark and dirty entity blighting the land; the Athabasca oil sands.
These vast deposits of bitumen, a tar-like substance, are extracted by developers and turned into oil through complex and energy-intensive processes, causing widespread environmental damage such as: deforestation, river and air pollution, the conversion of farmland to wasteland, and are said to be the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.
But there’s a glimmer of hope glinting through the smog-cloaked horizon – Indigenous Climate Action (ICA), formed in 2015 by four Indigenous women from communities impacted by the tar sands development.
“We came together with the realisation that we need to increase knowledge and awareness of the impacts of climate change and how massive fossil fuel extraction projects, like Alberta’s Tar Sands are complicit in rising greenhouse emissions and impacts how many of our communities are feeling,” says Eriel Deranger, founder and director of the volunteer-led action group.
“There are communities slipping into the ocean in the Arctic, and there are houses literally sinking into the permafrost and it feels like the only people who are being like ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, what are you doing?’ have been Indigenous communities, calling for an end to these things. We need to stop what we’ve been doing and do something new. That’s where this idea of Indigenous Climate Action came from, this idea that Indigenous peoples aren’t the first to be impacted, but can be the first to provide solutions that are grounded in more than just economic solutions. We can’t just be addressing climate change from a science perspective. We have to be addressing it from a human rights perspective and an Indigenous rights perspective. Indigenous Climate Action and other indigenous led initiatives are going to be critical in making that happen in the most effective way.”
Currently ICA is the only Indigenous-led climate justice organization in Canada that is prioritizing Indigenous peoples and communities as agents of change, and has hosted webinars and in-person meetings in communities up and down the country.
“ICA knows that strength lies not only in our words, but also in our actions,” Eriel reveals. “Since its creation, ICA has built a network of Indigenous people who are all facing the impacts of fossil fuel extraction, and climate change. Our hope is that we can continue to raise awareness and build the tools and resources that Indigenous peoples need in order to understand not just the impacts of climate change but how rights and Indigenous knowledge plays into the strategies that are going to build climate strategies for the future.”
As one of three organisations to win the Lush Spring Prize Young Projects Award, ICA has received £25,000 to continue its noble endeavours.
“The Lush Spring Prize is going to mean a lot to Indigenous Climate Action,” Eriel beams. “It’s going to help us move from a volunteer-led organisation to having the ability to have more structure, hire some staff, and have the toolkit and resources that we want to in order to expand our reach to communities across the country.
“I just want to thank Lush for recognising the hard work of so many Indigenous peoples and the knowledge our people hold in building the solutions for the future. With this grant from Lush we will be able to uphold the voices of Indigenous people in our country in a much more powerful way. Thank you Lush!”
Follow the ICA’s fight for change at www.indigenousclimateaction.com