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Smudging in Sharm El-Sheikh: Experiences of Indigenous Peoples at COP 27

Smudging in Sharm El-Sheikh: Experiences of Indigenous Peoples at COP 27

Written by Nathalie Elizabeth LaCoste Ling

In November 2022, the twenty seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 27) to the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change, was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The aim of this annual event was to bring countries together to take action towards climate goals established under the Paris Agreement and the wider Convention. Both Drs. Angele Alook and Graeme Reed travelled to Egypt to participate.

In the event hosted by the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Languages on March 9, 2023, Drs. Alook and Reed shared their experiences attending COP 27 as Indigenous Peoples. The conversation was moderated by Dr. Sean Hillier, Interim director of CIKL. 

Both seasoned attendees of COP, Alook and Reed reflected on the changes they have observed and experienced over the different conferences they attended. Dr. Alook, Assistant Professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Health at YorkU and a member of Bigstone Cree Nation in Treaty 8 territory, had previously travelled to COP 25 as part of the RINGO (Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organizations) delegation sent by York University and as part of the Indigenous caucus at COP 26. This year, she travelled as a researcher with the primary aim of conducting interviews with Indigenous climate leaders and activists as part of her research project, Indigenous Climate Leadership and Self-Determined Futures.  

Dr. Reed has been participating in the UN Framework Convention on climate change for 5 1/2 years. He has been to five COP meetings to date. Most recently, he attended as part of his work with the AFN (Assembly of First Nations) and the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on CLimate Change, the Indigenous Peoples Caucus. He has played an integral role in establishing Indigenous spaces at COP. As a postdoctoral fellow at YorkU, Dr. Reed worked with Dr. Alook in conducting interviews which coincides with his ongoing research that investigates the intersection of Indigenous governance, environmental governance, and the climate crisis. 

COP27 marked the first time there was a dedicated space for ceremony and an self-funded Indigenous Peoples Pavilion, supported by NDN Collective. All events at the pavilion were live-streamed, and the space included a media zone and an Elders lounge. Dr. Reed emphasized that in addition to increases in the amount of physical space for Indigenous Peoples, there were also more Indigenous participants than past years, over 270 in total. He also noted the number of knowledge keepers in attendance, hosted by the Facilitative Working Group as part of the workplan of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform. 

The importance of community was raised by Dr. Alook. She explained how Indigenous Peoples “have to act as a community when we are there.” She shared how intimidating the conference can be for many Indigenous Peoples. Some have never travelled such a long distance before. Some have faced incredible challenges in sharing their stores. Some continued to face discrimination at COP despite being invited guests.  

While positive changes were identified at COP27, the impact of Indigenous voices were not always captured in larger policy negotiations, according to Reed and Alook. The institutionalization of how the climate problem is articulated was raised by Dr. Reed. He emphasized that while representation of Indigenous Peoples has grown, decision texts that refer to Indigenous Peoples has declined since COP26. He suggested that more work needed to be done to examine the federal and international institutional structures that limit the inclusion of Indigenous voices, calling for decolonized climate policy. 

Despite laying out the critical work that needs to be done and the challenges of dismantling a deeply colonial system, the event ended on some positive words. Two key pieces of advice were shared (1) Get involved in local organizations. Several exist at YorkU, to advocate for decolonial approaches to climate change. (2) Learn more. Dr. Alook shared her new book, The End of This World, which goes more in-depth on howe we can make radical social changes.  

Both Alook and Reed intend on travelling to COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in November.