Canoe Lake member participates in U.N. convention on biodiversity in Egypt

By Tyler Marr
December 20, 2018 - 5:00pm

The first United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) held in the Middle East took place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for the 14th annual Conference of the Parties (COP14).

Launched in 1992 as part of the Rio Earth Summit, the UNCBD is a global agreement that was signed by 196 nations — Canada being the first developed country to ink the document — to represent a growing commitment to the conversation of biodiversity and its sustainable use.

Among the delegation from Canada was Joseph Tootoosis, a member of the Canoe Lake Cree First Nation with family ties to Flying Dust First Nation. 

The 29-year-old worked for Flying Dust from 2015 to January 2018 in the land resource department and moved to Ottawa earlier this year to start a role with the Assembly of First Nations in the environment sector as a policy analyst.

Tootoosis told battlefordsNOW his interest in the filed grew, in part, from his late father who was a lawyer and executive director of governance with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

“I always had the upbringing of the importance of our land and First Nations peoples ties to the land,” he said. 

Tootoosis spent three weeks in November partaking in intersectional meetings where a multitude of topics relating to biodiversity and the role Indigenous people can play in its preservation were discussed. His first taste of international diplomacy came in July when he attended UNCBD meetings in Montreal before he was selected to head to the Middle East with the Canadain delegation, where decisions made by the consensus of 196 countries get carried over into international law.

Topping talks were the post-2020 framework on how the convention targets will culminate that year and establishing a framework for beyond.

“There are massive implications for people on the planet and all the issues were facing in climate change and climate changes effect on the loss of biodiversity and loss of species and loss of habitats and the loss of ecosystem services to humans,” he said.

This was the first gathering to explicitly mention Indigenous people from around the globe and their role and knowledge within the realms of biodiversity and biosecurity. He said 80 per cent of the biodiversity hotspots around the globe are within traditional territories of Indigenous people.

“The sustainable practices of Indigenous people for thousands of years has been the biggest part of their culture and their sustainable practices are the reason for why biodiversity exists within the areas where they are situated,” he said.

The standout from the talks, Tootoosis said, was conversing with Indigenous communities from Africa to Asia, the Arctic and Latin America and understanding how parallel values run among them all.

“We really care about this planet and our role as being stewards,” he said, adding how it was eye-opening to see people in countries around the world who face ample amounts of adversity compared to Canada stand up for their beliefs.

“In other places, there are people who are risking their lives just to protect the environment,” he said. “But it strengthens your resolve a little bit when you see other people digging in to make sure that they are standing up for their beliefs and values and traditional territories and their people.”

Having the opportunity to bring the voice of Indigenous people from not only Saskatchewan but across Canada to an international stage, Tootoosis said was “nothing short of a dream come true.”

“I didn’t think I would make it this far in terms of education or career, even 10 years ago. I am living my dream right now to partake in this kind of work,” he added.

He recalled his late father telling him when the United Nations Declaration of Rights for Indigenous People (UNDRIP) was established, “This is going to be one of the ways that Indigenous people and First Nations people get our rights back.”

For youth from Canoe, Flying Dust and other Indigenous communities across the nation, Tootoosis hopes to see him take their voice to an international audience inspires them to know the sky is the limit.

“Every year I have people ask what my five-year plan is, what do I see myself doing,” he explained. “I have tried to plan my life around that for some years and it never works out the way you think it does and it is always for the better. That is why I have always said not to put a ceiling on yourself and on your possibilities for what you can achieve.”

On Twitter: @JournoMarr

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