Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty linked land rights and climate change during a speech to the United Nations advisory session on Indigenous rights. Gull-Masty asked the committee to study resource restitution, using an environmental context.
“We know that Indigenous people’s lands and territories are at the heart of our survival, especially in the face of the climate catastrophe,” she told the assembly, gathered in Geneva, Switzerland.
During the July 17-21 session, Gull-Masty also discussed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration promises to combat the injustices of dispossession and displacement. In her speech, she noted that climate change worsens both.
The Grand Chief argued that few effective measures for land redress and restitution exist in Canada.
“Some mechanisms provide ineffective redress in forms of monetary compensation,” she explained. “Others offer the return of lands, territories and resources, but are frustrated by delays, resources, and privilege of third parties.”
Gull-Masty’s campaign to become the first female Grand Chief of the Cree Nation prioritized land protection. Since her election, she claims to have secured 20% of the Cree’s traditional territory as intact forest. In December, she told the UN Convention on Biological Diversity that the Cree Nation intends to protect 50% of Eeyou Istchee by 2035.
That very territory has since been ravaged by this summer’s wildfires. The environmental disaster also resulted in mass displacement, she noted.
“As we speak, eight out of nine of my communities have been evacuated in the last few weeks because of forest fires,” Gull-Masty said. “Two million hectares of forest and cultural infrastructure have been lost by the Cree Nation alone.”
Climate change has intensified the wildfires and made them more frequent. By upending traditions based on fishing and hunting, the inferno has harmed Indigenous culture. In Northern Quebec, members of the Cree Nation found themselves driven from their homes multiple times. Gull-Masty described this period as “apocalyptic,” calling her people “refugees of climate.”
Gull-Masty proposed a research project, with a coalition of academics, activists and organizations. The project would study the implementation of Indigenous land rights. Environmentalism would be key to this undertaking.
The enforcement and study of UNDRIP was a central theme of the Geneva meetings. Besides land rights, the discussion covered topics such as fishing practices, LGBTQIA+ concerns, and language preservation.