Saving nature, saving ourselves: Learning from religious environmentalism and Indigenous climate justice activism in Alberta

Project by Chrislain Eric Kenfack

Chrislain's research is situated at the intersection of political science (especially political ecology) and peace studies. This research in Alberta aims at further developing the concept of Social Cohesion Environmentalism (SCE) as a tool that analyses how divergent social movements may go beyond their differences to build more effective and influential alliances. Chrislain studies the role and deployment of indigenous climate activism on the one hand, and faith-inspired climate justice on the other hand, and analyzes how their shared concerns for the protection of the environment and for climate justice might catalyze social reconciliation and a better Indigenous-Settler relationship. In other words, Indigenous-Settler relationships in Canada have historically been tarnished by land expropriations, forced resettlement in reserves, attempted cultural assimilation through residential schools, missing or murdered indigenous women, and Indigenous-church relations are still bearing the stigmas of residential school experiences. Following that, it is important today, more than ever, to capitalize on every opportunity that can bring Indigenous and Settler populations closer in order to build a better social contract and living together in line with the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is in this line that the shared ecological concerns of those two important components of the Canadian society can appropriately be used as a pillar of social reconciliation.

Considering the limited publicization of research on Indigenous environmental actions in the post-Paris context, and the lack of evaluative research on the gap between religious leaders’ environmental calls and their translation into social lifestyles, Chrislain's project will investigate the adaptive and influential measures that faith-inspired and Indigenous-driven environmental movements are putting in place to foster ecological transition and ecological Rematriation. For that, he will concentrate on two case studies: (1) Indigenous resistance and climate justice activism in the province, and (2) religious environmentalism in the province (with a focus on ecumenical movements concerned with social justice, environmentalism, and reconciliation with First Nations and Métis).

Indigenous movements are important in this research because of their affinity with the concept of integral ecology, the possibilities the environmental worldviews they defend offer for an effective “essential recovery,” and the fact that they are among the minorities who disproportionally bear climate/environmental injustices in the province, in Canada and around the world. On the other hand, the focus on religious environmentalism is to assess the efficacy of religious leaders’ calls for climate engagement, with a focus on Pope Francis’ calls for “ecological conversion, and the revitalization of the environmental spirituality in Christian traditions and in Christians’ social engagements (as demanded by the churches’ social doctrine). Moreover, the focus on collaborative actions between the two movements (and possibly with other movements such as, among others, the regional trade unions increasingly asking for the creation of climate jobs that respect both the environment and social justice) will be instrumental in further developing and operationalizing the concept of SCE.