Land Dispossession, Indigenous Sovereignty and Climate change

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“Climate change will affect all Canadians, but the distribution of these impacts and related health risks are not equal.”


By Cecilia Kibe, Admin Director

Indigenous sovereignty refers to the right of indigenous communities to govern themselves. It is not just limited to political independence, it encompasses cultural, spiritual, and economic autonomy which are all threatened by climate change. This right to self-govern has continually been eroded by centuries of colonization and capitalism, which has meant dispossession of land by “development” projects that prioritize profit over people and the environment. Indigenous people are disproportionately suffering the consequences of climate change and environmental degradation due to these structures of domination. 

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2022 report, climate change is associated with adverse mental health impacts, including trauma from extreme weather events and loss of livelihood and cultures. Indigenous people are more at risk of mental health issues because “climate change threatens the cultural dimensions of Indigenous Peoples’ lives and livelihoods that are central to identity, community cohesion, and a sense of place and belonging” (National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health). 

At Peak Resilience, we aim to decrease suffering and address the underlying root causes of human mental and emotional distress: the helplessness and hopelessness humans feel when we participate in the destruction of ourselves and our planet through capitalism, colonialism, supremacy culture, and patriarchy.

It is impossible to talk about indigenous sovereignty or climate change without talking about land, specifically the  dispossession of land that continues to take place in Canada. This is where it all begins. 

Indigenous people have lived in harmony with the land for thousands of years and their knowledge and practices have enabled them to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Land for indigenous people means home, quality food, economic sustenance and cultural heritage. Climate change impacts, such as deforestation and desertification have meant that indigenous people are sometimes displaced from their lands, or their autonomy is challenged because they can no longer rely on land for self-sustenance.

Dispossession of indigenous lands often paves the way for the expansion of extractive industries, such as mining, logging, and fossil fuel extraction. These activities contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, methane, and other pollutants that drive climate change. 

Dispossession of land takes many forms: 

  • First Nations Reserves make up about 0.02% of Canada, and yet, the Trans-Mountain pipeline managed to cross over 15 First Nations Reserves in BC alone.
  • Other than the glaring colonial dispossession that is taking place here,  there is the risk of oil leaks, which threaten clean water supplies and marine life for indigenous peoples who rely on Marine Biodiversity for sustenance. 
  • The pipeline also emits Greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change, which means other adverse effects that we have possibly not uncovered. This is just one recent example of a long history of dispossession in BC

Land dispossession exacerbates the effects of climate change on indigenous communities. The land that most indigenous people live on is already vulnerable to climate change effects and stressors such as oil leaks, water pollution, and  ecosystem imbalances. A study done by Yale School of the Environment found that “historical land dispossession was associated with current and future climate risks as Indigenous peoples were forced to lands that are more exposed to a range of climate change risks and hazards.” 

Denial of sovereignty restricts indigenous peoples’ decision-making power and autonomy, limiting their capacity to address climate change in ways that align with their values, knowledge systems, and development aspirations. Indigenous communities possess ecological knowledge that can contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Granting indigenous communities sovereignty over their territories allows them to exercise their environmental stewardship, protect biodiversity, and implement sustainable practices that benefit both their communities and the planet which can be effective for combating climate change.

Indigenous sovereignty is essential to the protection and conservation of the environment. When indigenous communities have control over their lands and resources, they are better able to protect and manage them sustainably. Indigenous knowledge and practices can inform and guide sustainable environmental practices that benefit both people and the planet.

To learn more about climate change, the environment and indigenous resilience, visit the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN). IEN was “formed by grassroots Indigenous peoples and individuals to address environmental and economic justice issues. IEN’s activities include building the capacity of Indigenous communities and tribal governments to develop mechanisms to protect our sacred sites, land, water, air, natural resources, health of both our people and all living things, and to build economically sustainable communities.”



Chapter 1: Dispossession and Resistance in British Columbia Dispossession and Resistance in British Columbia. (n.d.).


Climate Change And Indigenous Peoples’ Health In Canada Healthy Land, Healthy People. (n.d.).


Indigenous Peoples. (2012).

IPCC. (2022). Working Group II contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Jonasson, M. E., Spiegel, S. J., Thomas, S., Yassi, A., Wittman, H., Takaro, T., Afshari, R., Markwick, M., & Spiegel, J. M. (2019). Oil pipelines and food sovereignty: threat to health equity for Indigenous communities. Journal of Public Health Policy, 40(4), 504–517.

Land Back. (2019).

Walsh, D. (2021, October 28). Near Total Loss of Historical Lands Leaves Indigenous Nations in the U.S. More Vulnerable to Climate Change. Yale School of the Environment.

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