One of the four people who attended the COP26 climate conference on behalf of the Northwest Territories says the lack of Indigenous representation in the group was an embarrassment.
Katrina Nokleby, the Great Slave MLA, made the remark at a Wednesday news conference called by the territorial government to discuss the NWT’s participation at COP26, the recently concluded United Nations-backed climate summit in Glasgow.
There was no Indigenous representation in the NWT’s four-person delegation, which was led by environment minister Shane Thompson.
“I don’t think it was ideal,” Nokleby told reporters. “It’s embarrassing, frankly, to be a territory that speaks about Indigenous involvement and not have any Indigenous people in our delegation.
“However, it’s just what ended up happening this time. I think it’s a big lesson that I’m sure the department and EIA is taking back for the next one.”
EIA stands for Executive and Indigenous Affairs, the NWT government branch that oversees relations with Indigenous governments.
Nokleby said she had been approached to join the delegation by Jackie Jacobson, the Nunakput MLA, who chairs the NWT legislature’s committee on economic development and environment, as her engineering career gave her “a lot of the technical background.”
The NWT’s consensus form of government means Nokleby, who is not part of cabinet, was able to accompany Thompson, the minister, in the same delegation.
Declining to directly answer one reporter’s question about whether Indigenous people felt suitably represented at the conference, Nokleby said: “It’s not lost on me, the irony of being a white woman sitting here telling you if Indigenous people felt they were heard at COP.”
Thompson said his government “will support youth and Indigenous voices to be at the forefront of climate change action” even though the delegation did not reflect that.
He said his government had spoken with Indigenous counterparts in the NWT before he travelled to Glasgow, had met with youth activists, and “we were able to get their voices and their concerns addressed.”
The minister said the NWT’s place as part of a larger Canadian contingent had placed constraints on who could make the trip.
“It would have been nicer for us to have more Indigenous people from the Northwest Territories, but I think the messaging we were able to share didn’t do a disservice,” Thompson said.
A regional conversation
Asked if anything specifically would change about the NWT’s approach to the climate crisis following COP26, the territorial government continued to stress its reliance on federal help.
Minister Thompson said the GNWT would keep following its existing plans and strategies and would work with the climate change council it has established with Indigenous governments. A youth advisory group for that council is being created, and the council’s overall aim is to inform GNWT policy with local, Indigenous knowledge.
Thompson did, however, say he had been impressed by the regional approaches adopted in some parts of the globe and wondered whether those could be replicated in the circumpolar North.
“Why aren’t we doing a regional approach to it? I’m talking about the NWT, Nunavut, and Yukon, but also Alaska, Greenland, and Iceland,” he said.
“Some of them have some very unique ways of addressing energy. Why reinvent the wheel? It’s starting the process, it’s having those conversations.
“Are we there yet? No. I’d be lying to you if I said we had 100-percent solutions. But I think we are very much on the right path.”
Cory Doll, the NWT Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ manager of climate change and air quality, said the territory was studying some lessons that could be learned from COP26 and meetings with various governments and agencies.
Nokleby said she had spent time with a Conservative Party representative at COP26, adding there was no reason why the NWT could not “leverage the Opposition in a federal arena” as well as leaning on the government in power.
“One of the biggest things I took was networking with other countries or businesses,” said Nokleby, citing a conversation with representatives of Panasonic about green hydrogen cells and suggesting partnerships between Indigenous organizations and businesses were a way forward.
“Maybe the federal government doesn’t need to be part of that conversation,” she said, “and we can be empowering Indigenous people and employing them in their own companies to address climate change.”
Editor’s note: More detailed coverage of the Indigenous voices that were represented at COP26, including some views from the Northwest Territories, follows later this week.