LIVE FROM COP26: Green Colonialism Threatening Life of the Arctic and the Livelihood of Indigenous Peoples

Photo Credit to Svetlana Romanova

By Student Delegate Mackenzie Bindas

COP26 provided a narrow opportunity for diverse communities to show how climate change impacts their livelihoods directly and the urgent need for climate action. Media used to convey these climate messages include films, music, artwork, and others.

The Sámi Indigenous peoples also shared their climate message at the COP26, Need to Be Cold panel, emphasizing the threats impacting their livelihoods within the Arctic and Boreal regions. The panel focused on the Sámi, a group of Indigenous people located in the Sápmi region, stretching to parts of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the Kola peninsula in Russia. Panelists included: Pirita Näkkäläjärv, Svetlana Romanova, Tuomas Aslak Juuso, Tero Mustonen, and Magnus Davidson.

The Sámi peoples fight to have their rights linked to climate change. For Indigenous people like the Sámi, climate change and its harmful impacts are a daily menace. Sámi people are strongly connected with nature, so much so that climate change threatens their economy, society, culture, and health.

The Arctic is currently undergoing a significant change affecting its environment and communities. The Arctic is warming three times faster than average temperatures in the world, which causes sea ice to disappear. Sea ice provides vital habitats for many species like polar bears, seals, whales, and fish stocks. Without sea ice, species may migrate or not survive, which impedes traditional harvesting practices.

Panelist Svetlana Romanova shared a video essay illuminating climate impacts on two local Indigenous groups she belongs to in Russia: Evenk and Sakha. The film demonstrates how her Indigenous family has adapted over the years to the climate impacts. Reindeer migration patterns also have changed, wildfires occur more frequently, and inconsistent seasonal resources make food security an issue. Many Indigenous people in the Nordic area depend on reindeer herding and hunting. Without these animals, the Indigenous people lose their primary source of protein, economic tools, and clothing.

One study shows that wildfires have played a beneficial role in Sámi land management and Native American history. A routine burning can help create clear roads, drive prey out, clear underbrush, and provide new pastures. However, wildfires are occurring more frequently because of climate change. The frequency of these wildfires affects the seasonal resources of Indigenous people because the land’s vegetation is delayed, which reduces its suitability for reindeer grazing and creates inconsistency in resources.

As the Arctic continues to warm, some natural resources are increasingly accessible. The Arctic is home to vast deposits of minerals like phosphate, diamonds, and gold. These minerals are exceptionally economically valuable; companies and countries race to obtain these resources. However, this extraction race frequently and unjustly does not include the input from Indigenous people, leading to the growing conversation about “green colonialism” and centering human rights while addressing climate change.

Green colonialism” occurs when a developed country, company, or organization achieves green benefits by exploiting developing countries’ health, labor, and land or climate-sensitive communities. In turn, communities become increasingly climate-sensitive as their livelihoods depend on those resources. The Arctic warming and subsequent opening trigger cascading impacts for Indigenous people who seek to reconcile their livelihoods in a changing climate without sacrificing fundamental human rights. To address “green colonialism,” it must first be acknowledged.

At COP26, Indigenous people are jointly working with organizations and countries to implement mitigation and adaptation efforts that recognize indigenous knowledge and rights.

On November 11th in the Green Zone, Dr. Martin Lee Mueller hosted Being Salmon, Being Human, which dived into the relationship of humans and their wild and domesticated animal companions. And on November 12th, Minga Indígena will be featuring thirteen elders and protectors to share wisdom on the need to mitigate the effects of climate change. At the end of this event, Minga Indígena Declaration Letter for COP26 Leaders, Indigenous youth will read a letter to the IPCC and COP26 Presidency to request their inclusion in climate negotiations.



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