Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus says Canada has to be a leader as he attends the United Nations’ climate change conference in Paris.
More than 100 heads of government and 40,000 other attendees will be in the French capital Monday for the launch of what will be a historic two-week meeting.
Many expect the gathering to yield the most significant international agreement yet to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and slow the effect of climate change.
Erasmus and other Dene leaders will join Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde in Paris, where Erasmus says Canada has to emerge as a player.
“Canada has to be a leader because in the past decade they’ve denied that climate change really exists.
“People want to see change, a future and a relationship between themselves and the land.”
Erasmus says the adverse effects of climate change are especially noticeable in Northern Canada, and is even responsible for the displacement of numerous animals, birds and fish.
“I don’t go out much more to hunt, trap or fish but as an example, last winter I drove on the ice road from Yellowknife to Deline and you see huge changes,” he said.
“The formation of the snow is different, the water levels have changed, the ice is not as thick and it doesn’t get as cold as it used to.
“We need to have less pollution, we need to have less CO2 emissions and we need to come forward with a plan that can rely more on diversifying the economy.”
Because of climate change, Erasmus says animals like wolves and foxes are migrating towards larger urban centres as their habitats change.
With a whole new batch of MLAs being elected in the NWT last week, the Chief of the Dene Nation says it’s time to move away from big development projects and find new ways to stimulate the economy.
“We need to focus more on tourism and encourage more people to come up here who really want to be here.
“We can’t be thinking of oil and gas and big development. We can’t put all our eggs in one basket.
“Hunting, trapping and fishing has sustained us for hundreds of years. They are all viable economies depending on how you go about it and we need to invest in that.”
Erasmus says the territory will also do itself a favour by investing in its youth.
“I think if we ask young people what they want, very few of them are going to say they want to work on a pipeline and very few are going to say they want to work at a diamond mine.
“If you ask them … they want to go into all the fields that are out there and that should be the case. We should be encouraging them.
“If they want to leave the North, let them go and when they come back, they’ll come back with skills. We need to invest in our young people.”
Erasmus’ comments come just days after NWT residents sent a strong message for change to its leaders.
Of the 16 incumbents who ran for re-election in the territory’s general election last Monday, only eight emerged victorious (unless three judicial recounts Monday and Tuesday contradict unofficial results).
But perhaps more notable, two ministers and long-time members in Dave Ramsay and Michael Miltenberger lost their seats to political newcomers.
Now, members of the 18th legislative assembly will have to take on several important portfolios for the first time, including the titles of industry, justice, finance and environment minister.
Combined, Ramsay and Miltenberger served eight terms in the legislature, holding important portfolios over those years.
With climate change and the economy at the forefront in the NWT, both men will be on the outside looking in.
Yellowknife marches for action on climate change
Meanwhile, residents in Yellowknife will march for action on climate change Monday.
The walk is meant to coincide with the conference in Paris, and will get underway at noon in front of Northern United Place. It will finish at City Hall.
Hundreds of thousands of people in cities around the world are taking parts in similar events.
“I think there’s a lot of awareness of climate change and some of its effects it has had in the North already,” said Pamela Murray, who’s organizing Monday’s march in Yellowknife.
“We want our government leaders to understand that people really are concerned about this.”