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unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

Arctic Athabaskans Urge Black Carbon Reductions to Protect Homelands

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View Grand Chief Ruth Massie's blog posts
24 April 2013, 7:34 AM
Grand Chief Ruth Massie shares eyewitness account of climate change
"We are witnessing the strangest of weather patterns." Chukchi Sea, Alaska. (Florian Schulz /

Our homelands—the Arctic wildlife and ecosystems that are the foundation of our culture and traditional ways of life—are fast changing. Arctic warming has made the weather, the condition of the ice, and the behaviors and location of fish and wildlife so unpredictable that our Elders no longer feel confident teaching younger people traditional ways. If we cannot effectively pass on our traditional ways to the younger generations, we fear for what will happen to our culture.

We know that a significant cause of these changes is black carbon, or soot, a short-lived climate pollutant which contributes significantly to the rapid warming and melting across northern Canada—our homelands. Black carbon pollution is also a health issue; soot emissions degrade the air quality in the North. Scientists believe reducing these emissions one of the best ways to slow warming and melting in the Arctic in the coming decades.

That’s why the Arctic Athabaskan Council is taking action today by filing a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

We are witnessing the strangest of weather patterns, especially in the winter months. We have experienced rain in December which never happened when I was a child. The late rains are causing flooding and eroding our river banks. Our permafrost is melting as well as our glaciers. One day you have snow and the next you have rain and in recent years, we now get huge wind storms in the winter. We don’t get the same reliable cold freezes as before so it is no longer safe for our people to travel on the land in the winter. The ice is not safe.

And we notice the depletion of animals more and more. These species are critical for our Athabaskan peoples’ culture and subsistence diet. Our trees are diseased and dying because it’s no longer cold enough in winter to kill the insect infestations.

As Grand Chief of the Council for Yukon First Nations and a leader of the Arctic Athabaskan Council it is my responsibility to share our stories and observations. But more than that, we cannot stand idly by as climate warming devastates our homelands, and the world in which we all live. The changes caused by rapid Arctic warming and melting are undermining our peoples' rights to our culture, our land, property, health and subsistence foods—all of which are guaranteed in the 1948 Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man which has been signed by the Government of Canada.

We are asking the Commission to declare that Canada is infringing on the human rights of Athabaskan peoples by inadequately regulating emissions of black carbon. We have requested the commission to recommend to the Government of Canada that it ensure emissions of black carbon climate pollution are comprehensively reduced—soon. This will require action by Canada's national, provincial and territorial governments. The Arctic Athabaskan Council is represented by Erika Rosenthal of Earthjustice and Hugh Wilkins of Ecojustice. I represent Athabaskan peoples here in the north but we mount this petition in the spirit of cooperation, for we are all in this together. Our petition is for all citizens of Canada and other countries who share in our vision and commitment to protect Mother Earth.

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