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|Climate change is already having a
devastating effect in Canada's North. Is this the biggest challenge
humanity has faced?
This week, 60 heads of state and 15,000 people
and youths like myself from 170 countries are meeting in Copenhagen
to discuss the urgent need for a new UN climate agreement.
Climate change is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced, yet
for most Canadians the current and potential impacts feel far away.
We commonly associate the impacts of climate change with the
decreasing polar bear numbers, an iceless Arctic, or ravaging storms
and floods in southern regions. What many Canadians don't realize is
that climate change is having a large impact in Canada right now.
I am a Dene youth from the small town of Fort Good Hope, N.W.T. I am
attending the UN Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen to
communicate the concerns that confront my family, my people, and my
culture every day.
Climate change is the largest threat Dene culture has ever faced. We
are experiencing impacts that are threatening not only our culture,
but our survival. Hunting is sacred in Dene culture, yet our caribou
herds are declining. Water levels are unpredictable. Ice is thin and
unsafe for travel. And these are just some of the current effects.
In the future, our land will be completely changed, and may be so
contaminated we are unable to eat even the invasive species that
will eventually replace our caribou.
The reality is that climate change is having tangible and
devastating consequences in a part of Canada that few people
experience or see. We are experiencing the impacts now, and they are
getting worse every year.
And Dene people are not alone.
I never fully understood the word "solidarity" until I learned about
the climate-related plights of other indigenous and impoverished
Billions of people on this planet are affected by climate change.
Droughts, hurricanes, and rising sea levels are examples of the
life-destroying impacts faced by billions of people throughout the
next century. We must make a choice to help these people or let them
die. Just as we must choose to either help my people, or let our
culture die. I join the chorus of the world's most marginalized and
vulnerable people, all faced with the prospect of loss of home and
loss of culture.
Traditional Dene skills are passed down from father to son, mother
to daughter, from generation to generation. Hunting is so important
to us that my great-grandfather Chief T'selehye and others signed
treaties to protect our rights to hunt.
Along with a whole generation of Dene youth, I am now tasked with
preserving and passing on our hunting culture. This is great deal of
responsibility. For years we have struggled to preserve our culture
while modern influences try to slap it out of our hands. Television,
Internet, drugs and alcohol, wage economies, mandatory education, I
can't say all these are bad, but they represent a massive shift in
lifestyle that Dene people have experienced, and holding on to our
culture through these tumultuous times has been difficult.
But in spite of all those things I used to think the fate of the
culture of the Dene people was in our hands to save. Today, most of
us participate in the wage economy and yes, most Dene people are now
Roman Catholic. But no, our culture is not lost yet and its
preservation is not a lost cause. The deck has been stacked against
us in the past, but all these obstacles to cultural preservation and
proliferation are within our control to conquer.
Well, that is how I used to think, when it seemed our cultural fate
was still in our hands.
Climate change is a problem the Dene cannot solve on our own. We
need the help of Canada and the world. Despite federal
foot-dragging, I am a hopeful that the UN summit in Copenhagen this
week provides the opportunity for dialogue, for the exchange of our
stories and personal experiences, so that we as a nation can begin
to walk the talk and close the gap between rhetoric and action. The
solutions are clear and science-based -we need pollution reduction
targets in place immediately. The economic analysis is equally as
clear; Canada can take the necessary action on climate change while
growing its economy.
I hope this is not where my story ends. A proud Dene man on a
mission to share the stories of climate change impacts with an
Canada can take action, and whether we do or not is a moral
Daniel T'Seleie is a Dene, originally from Fort Good Hope, now
living in Yellowknife NWT. He is on the Canadian Youth Delegation
participating in the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen.