Confronting “Green Colonialism”: Professors Wallet Aboubakrine and Thériault explore Indigenous-led climate solutions

Faculty of Law - Civil Law Section
Research and innovation
Indigenous rights
Climate change

By Civil law

Communication, Faculty of law

Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine & Sophie Theriault
Across the globe, climate change and the shift towards decarbonization are having an intense impact on Indigenous Peoples and vulnerable local communities. Frequently it is women and individuals with physical disabilities who bear the brunt of these effects. Indigenous leaders have coined this pattern as “green colonialism”.

Adjunct Professor Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine is a co-principal investigator of a new $1.5 million project entitled “Confronting 'Green Colonialism' – Indigenous and Local Community led Action and Solutions for Food-Water-Land Security”. This project is funded through the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) as part of a special international initiative designed to advance research into climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Professor Wallet Aboubakrine shares the leadership of this project with Professor Brenda Parlee of the University of Alberta, who serves as the lead principal investigator for the project. Joining them as co-leads are Alejandro Argumedo of the ANDES Association, Peru; Mateus Batistella of the State University of Campinas, Brazil; Vanessa Boanada Fuchs of the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland; Emilio Moran of Michigan State University; Herbert Nakimayak of the University of Alberta; Jurgen Runge of Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany; and Prasert Trakansuphakon of the Pgakenyaw Association for Sustainable Development, Thailand. The Civil Law Section’s Sophie Thériault is also participating in the project as a co-researcher.

The team aims to document practices that contribute to green colonialism, while also exploring how Indigenous knowledge can contribute to innovations for a more equitable energy transition. Practices like lithium mining to supply batteries for electric vehicles, or flooding and resettling land to create hydroelectric dams are having a significant and disproportionate impact on Indigenous communities. And while these communities are bearing the brunt of such green initiatives, the knowledge held by many of these same communities has been the foundation of food-water-land security and innovation for centuries if not thousands of years. The team will collaborate with local communities to document patterns of climate stress and ‘green colonialism’ in eight biocultural regions around the world. This will inform an interdisciplinary vision on how Indigenous communities across the globe are coping with climate change through mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The strength of Indigenous stewardship of the environment is already recognized in biodiversity conservation studies globally. Over 80% of the world’s biodiversity is reported as located in the territories of Indigenous Peoples who make up less than 5% of the world’s population. While Indigenous populations are made vulnerable, their proven capacity for innovation and adaptation could be of benefit to the entire world. The team will ultimately seek to understand how this knowledge can inform decision-makers about urgent actions that can be taken to fight climate change in more equitable and responsible ways.

This project is complementary to another NFRF-funded project that Professor Wallet Aboubakrine also leads alongside Professor Parlee, the multidisciplinary Ărramăt Project. Ărramăt also seeks to amplify the voices of Indigenous knowledge holders to advance impactful strategies for protecting the environment and improving health and well-being around the world. As a former President of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and with her considerable experience in a variety of other impactful positions related to advocacy for the global health of Indigenous Peoples, Professor Wallet Aboubakrine will play an important role in this new project’s focus on policy impact, while also leading the project’s work in the Sahel region of Africa, one of the eight biocultural regions targeted by the researchers. For her part, Professor Thériault will leverage her expertise and experience on Indigenous peoples’ rights in the context of natural resources extraction in Canada and globally to conduct coordinated legal and policy analysis.

Led by Canada, the 2023 International Joint Initiative for Research in Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation supports a broad range of projects involving researchers from 45 different countries and international funding partners from around the world. The announcement was made by the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of National Revenue, on behalf of the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Mark Holland, Minister of Health on June 3.

In addition to the NFRF funding, “Confronting Green Colonialism” will also receive funding from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Sao Paulo Research Foundation of Brazil and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Congratulations to Professor Wallet Aboubakrine, Professor Thériault and all of their partners on this important initiative!