West Coast chiefs gather in effort to address climate change

Among those participating in this week
Among those participating in this week's climate conference in Duncan were (from left) Squamish ambassador Chief Gibby Jacob, Brian Cladoosby of the Swinomish, Cowichan Chief Harvey Alphonse, Chief Ed John of the Tl'azt'en Nation, National Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo and Squamish Hereditary Chief Ian Campbell.
— image credit: Celina Albany

Dozens of West Coast chiefs and Native leaders representing 66 tribes met with scientists in Duncan this week in an effort to find new approaches to climate change.

A few hundred participants took part in a three-day Coast Salish gathering at the Qu'wutsun' Cultural Centre to discuss what most agreed was a  critical period for both the ecology and the economy.

"There's no profit in truth," said North West Indian Fisheries Commission member Darrell Phare of Washington state's Lummi Nation said.

"Nature only deals in truths. We can ignore its signs, but it will come back to us...those people in government are totally afraid of the truth. It all goes back to making money."

Scientists expect dramatic temperature changes by 2050, which will heavily effect areas like the Cowichan Valley, where communities have thrived off the river's extensive ecosystem.

Climate change, glacier retreat, hydrological boundaries, greenhouse gases, global warming and rising water levels were up for discussion and frustration about how little is being done in response.

"When is the future worth more than the dollar? Not yet," said Director of the Washington State Department of Ecology, Ted Sturdevant.

The idea that Native science may be the next proactive step in saving the Salish Sea was presented by American scientists who said individual solutions don't work; but community solutions do.

"This is a dream of our elders and teachers for us to be working together like this, not letting political boundaries get in our way as we manage our resources here in the Salish Sea and surrounding ecosystems," said Cowichan Tribes Lands and Government Fisheries Department employee, Matthew Louie.

"This is another demonstration of spirituality and culture are used to manage our fires. It's important to have youth and elders connected when talking about taking care of Mother Earth because there a lot we can learn from each other."

National Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo coined the term "environmental climate change refugees" in sharing a story of Aboriginal peoples who lost their livelihood in the face of climate change.

Atleo noted before afternoon break on Monday that water is sacred to everyone, and not just to First Nations people.

It was unanimous among leaders and scientists that more discussion and training need to be offered before it is too late.

Studying the negative effects modern society has on geomorphology and hydrology are vital to the survival low-lying coastal communities regardless of cost.

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