December 7, 2008
Indigenous Tribes Say Climate Change Harming Way of Life
Bill Erasmus, chief of the Dene nation located in northern Canada, issued a grave warning targeting the climate crisis: The once plentiful herds of caribou are declining, rivers are smaller and the ice is too thin to hunt upon safely.
Erasmus brought his worries to the sidelines of a U.N. climate conference, looking to guarantee that North America's indigenous peoples are not forgotten in the global warming negotiations.
Erasmus, the elected organizer of 30,000 native Americans in Canada, visited with the U.N.'s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, and has petitioned national delegations to identify them as an "expert group" that must contribute to the talks like other nongovernmental associations.
"We bring our traditional knowledge to the table that other people don't have," he stated.
Approximately 11,000 national and environmental delegates from 190 countries are hammering out a treaty to substitute the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which controls emissions of carbon dioxide, that scientists fault for the majority of global warming. The treaty concludes in 2012.
De Boer announced that he counseled the alliance to create a proposal and gather support between the national delegations to have their assembly accepted by the countries caught up in the talks.
"To give indigenous people and local communities a voice in these discussions is very important," said Kim Carstensen, the climate change director for WWF International.
Erasmus, who hails from the Yellow Knife in Canada's Northwest Territories, brings his personal accounts of seeing the climate changes.
The caribou, or reindeer, herds are on their way out in both North America and northern Europe, he noted.
"We can't hunt because the ice is not frozen yet. Our hunters are falling through the ice, and lives are being lost," Erasmus stated to The Associated Press.
This year's winter, the usually arid area has been blanketed by deep, damp snow, further obstructing hunting, he said.
Petroleum extraction from the Canadian tar sands is depleting the underground water table and prohibiting the stream of the rivers northward, with the consequences being sensed hundreds of miles away, he added.
Erasmus is troubled that the warmer winters will result in the quality of the muskrat and beaver pelts that his people sell.
About 40 years ago, he added, tribal elders observed alterations in the yearly migrations of animals. The weather, which they used to be able to predict three weeks in advance from animal conduct and the sunsets, is now erratic.
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