Why we need to address the colonial dimension of climate migration

We are more and more warned against climate migration in Canada. And these warnings serve as a critical reminder of the fragile state of the Earth and our relationship with it.



Read more: Forest fires and floods cause ‘climate migration’ in Canada


But climatic and weather events have already had a disproportionate impact on Indigenous communities in colonizing states like Canada. Such disparities are the calling card of colonialism.

Forced displacement of indigenous peoples

The Internal displacement monitoring center defines internal displacement as “the forced movement of people within the country in which they live”. He acknowledges that those affected include “indigenous communities forced to leave their ancestral lands to make way for the construction of dams and other infrastructure projects.”

In Canada, however, it is not only development that has uprooted Indigenous peoples.

Drafting of treaties started the process of stealing land, resulting in the forced resettlement of indigenous communities. The abduction of Indigenous children by Colonial “education” and child protection systems were other devastating trips.

The Inuit movements in the High Arctic moved the Inuit peoples of northern Quebec and Qikiqtaaluk to islands further north, in part to “establish canadian sovereignty. “

In short, the internal displacement of Indigenous peoples in Canada is not new.

The role of climate change

In addition to the historic displacement of indigenous peoples to advance colonial policies, the forced relocation of communities due to climatic and meteorological events is a contemporary Canadian reality.

Displaced from their traditional territories, many First Nations now reside in a fraction of their original territory. In some cases, these areas are prone to seasonal events, such as melting ice and melting snow, which require residents to move to safer spaces.

Kashechewan First Nation in Northern Ontario regularly evacuates its limbs each spring when the Albany rivers swell its banks. In 2016, over 75% of community members were temporarily relocated to Kapuskasing and Thunder Bay.

The Canadian Disaster Database tells the stories of many other affected Indigenous communities. These forced migrations prompted indigenous peoples to call on the government to permanently relocate their communities to safer places.

Kashechewan Chief Leo Friday joins other members of the Kashechewan First Nation in a rally demanding community relocation outside Queen’s Park in Toronto in 2019.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Christopher Katsarov

When wildfires swept across British Columbia in the summer of 2021, Indigenous communities felt the impact. The village of Lytton, British Columbia, was destroyed by fire in June – Indigenous people make up more than a third of its population. And the White Rock Lake fire that happened in August claimed 10 properties on the Okanagan Indian Band Reserve.

Space, mobility and privilege

Discussions around move for climate change raise important questions about space, mobility and privileges. Canada’s historic concern with containing Indigenous peoples through the reserve system means fewer resettlement options for communities today. And authorized relocations are often hampered by bureaucratic delay and oversight.

Climate change is also an urgent problem for residents of the Arctic – the Earth is heating up faster at the poles. In his book The right to be cold, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, former International President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and Nobel Peace Prize candidate, describes the impact of climate change on the North.



Read more: Warming oceans are changing the relationship coastal communities have with the ocean


Rising sea levels and shrinking land and ice have affected traditional hunting grounds. The homes and habitats of riparian animals were destroyed. The gradual disappearance of permafrost has impacted the built environment. And the higher temperatures make it harder to store food.

All of this had a significant impact on Inuit cultural practices. Watt-Cloutier argues that climate change must be tackled in order to maintain traditional Inuit lifestyles. Indigenous communities in the north, in other words, have a “right to be cold”.

Adaptation and resettlement can be seen as potential solutions to these challenges, but such initiatives must be Indigenous-led. Historically, the specter of assimilation haunted indigenous displacement. We must do better.

The impact of disproportionate displacement

We should all be concerned about the impact of rising global temperatures. But we must recognize that in the immediate future, some communities will be more vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change than others. Not all displaced people in Canada have or will experience the same degree of privilege when it comes to reconfiguring their lives in response to climate change.

If we are serious about redressing Canada’s colonial history and repairing damaged relationships with Indigenous peoples, the disproportionate ways in which we experience our shared territory – and the threats to it – cannot be ruled out. the equation.


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