Bellegarde, who will join Canadian premiers attending COP21 in the French capital, says discussions at the conference will be critical for First Nations.
"We pretty much have to be there, because as indigenous peoples, we are really the first to experience the impacts of climate change,'' Bellegarde said in an interview.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde at a news conference in Ottawa. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/CP)
"Our people still are of the land and of the water ... we still hunt, we still fish, we still trap, we still gather medicines ... so, when climate change is being talked about, the indigenous peoples, we say we have rights ... but we also have responsibilities as protectors and stewards of the land and water.''
Bellegarde, who was invited to the conference by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, said the new Liberal government is working to build a more respectful relationship with First Nations.
"It's a whole new shift,'' Bellegarde said. "So we want to build upon the positive energy that exists so that indigenous peoples are involved in every shape and form when any policy and-or legislation is being developed that impacts on our people and impacts on our rights.''
"As indigenous peoples, we are really the first to experience the impacts of climate change.''
The national chief says it is important to press Canada for full inclusion.
"We've got to push nation states for recognition of rights and title,'' he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who will also attend the conference, has promised to formulate a national climate change strategy within 90 days of the meeting.
Bellegarde said he has not received an invitation to the followup meeting but he plans on asking for one.
"I think that would send a strong message to the world, to other nation states, when they see Canada fully involving indigenous peoples, jointly developing strategies and plans and programs going forward, jointly working on the appropriate target, '' Bellegarde said.
"If other countries of the world can see that in Canada, Canada will rebuild its status worldwide as a country that is respectful of diversity and respectful of rights.''
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