• Jocelyn Joe-Strack, a geographer and scientist from the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations

    Jocelyn Joe-Strack’s tour of Canadian embassies in Europe begins Feb. 12. (Photo: Allistair Maitland)

Jocelyn Joe-Strack has a message about how to mitigate climate change: take a lesson from Indigenous Peoples. The scientist and geographer from the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations in Yukon and northern British Columbia is embarking on a four-week tour of Canadian embassies in Europe to share her nation’s perspective on healing people, fostering greater connections with the land and valuing the Earth over financial gain. Here, she discusses her message, why numbers don’t tell the whole story and how Indigenous Peoples can lead climate discussions.

On bringing her message to Europe

I think people are expecting me to discuss how the climate is changing in the north and how it’s impacting our way of life, which is true. As a girl growing up in Whitehorse, I never used to go running in the rain, and our animals are certainly in decline or shifting. But my message is actually derived more from my nation’s vision for prosperity and leadership. We have always worked hard to ensure that the land is available for generations to come, and that’s a central part of our culture now. We are a people overcoming oppression and colonization, and we’ve evolved into a culture of healing and wellbeing. The best way to heal is to strengthen our connection with our language, our land and our culture. And as we do that, we increase our sense of community. We’ve become so dependent on the culture of consumerism, convenience and entitlement, that it’s crippling us, and society as a whole. If people around the world are strong in their integrity and have a good sense of right and wrong, I argue that will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, on consumerism — the drivers of climate change. This is not something I am presenting as a solution; it is something that I’m taking to Europe to explore. This is a message I have come to understand from working with my community to develop a land use plan, from my experience as a hydrologist and microbiologist, and from being raised by leaders. Humanity is the caretaker of the Earth, but we all know that to be a strong caretaker, you must be well yourself. And right now, humanity is not well.

On placing too much value on numbers

Today, my nation has a disagreement with the Aishihik hydro facility on our traditional territory. One of the key points that divides Yukon Energy from my people is whether or not the lake is healthy. Numerically, in the eyes of Yukon Energy, the lake is very healthy. They say that the fish population is in a stable place. But to us, the original inherent caretakers of that lake, we see that it is suffering and incredibly unwell. My people are willing to pay more for energy to safeguard our lake. It comes back to that notion of doing things right, instead of doing things quick, which is what my leaders talked about. They negotiated, and placed value not just on money, but on the land.

In today‘s world we are so reliant on numbers. In my culture, we traditionally only counted up to 10, and then there was ‘a lot’ or ‘many.’ And I think that numbers have provided us with a false sense of security that enables us to make decisions that are inherently, soulfully wrong. I don’t discount the advancements that numbers have allowed us, especially in fields such as medicine. But it’s just to say that we need to bring back some of our integrity and self and spirit, because numbers are flat, but the Earth is dynamic and ever-moving, and people are dynamic and ever-changing.

On showing leadership through healing

I’ve been thinking a lot about where to start creating wellness. The Indigenous Peoples of the world were strong, wise, and intimately connected to the land. Then they suffered trauma and abuse, and now they’ve evolved into a culture of healing, reclaiming their identity and moving towards self-determination, empowerment and leadership. I think every Indigenous nation is somewhere along that track, globally. I just happen to be from one the nations who are at the forefront of that journey, and we are focusing very strongly on the wellness of our people and their connection to the land. I think the world can turn to and rely on Indigenous Peoples for leadership. The other part too is that youth are a part of Indigenous culture. We have always upheld and honoured our youth, and the youth today are screaming. They’re so loud and they have a vision that speaks to a better life than what the current generation is offering.