Celeste Smith wears many hats.
She runs a small seed company. She is starting a teaching farm where Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQI+ people can (re)learn ancestral agricultural methods lost to colonization. She is chair of Peel Food Action Council and gives workshops at universities. She is constantly on the go.
Celeste is also chair of the International Program Committee of the National Farmers Union (NFU), a role that took her to Egypt in November 2022 for the United Nations climate change conference commonly called COP27.
“Me, I’m Indigenous, so I show up in these spaces where I’m not supposed to be. I have to,” says Celeste, who is Oneida. Policy discussions – from municipal to international – do not have a long history of allowing Indigenous voices at the table, she points out.
“We’ve been shut out for so long from these conversations. Just being in the room and being Indigenous is a huge thing.”
Through the NFU, an Inter Pares counterpart, we supported Celeste’s travel to COP27. There, she joined an international delegation from La Via Campesina, a global movement of more than 200 million peasants and small-scale farmers, as their North American representative. Together, these farmers from 11 countries advocated for climate solutions rooted in justice, food sovereignty and agroecology – agriculture that works with nature to produce food in Earth-friendly ways. They were also vocal opponents of corporate-backed climate “solutions” like geoengineering and carbon markets.
Inter Pares supported Celeste's (far left) travel to COP27 to advocate for climate solutions rooted in justice, food sovereignty and agroecology.(Photo: La Via Campesina)
“We were trying to counter the corporate presence at COP and big agriculture destroying – and then saying that they can provide the solution.”
When a bottle of Nestle water was plunked down in front of her at a COP27 event, Celeste took a moment to call it out.
“This is greenwashing,” she said. While the company provided water at the global climate conference, it extracted 3.6 million litres of water a day out of Celeste’s own community, Six Nations in Ontario – even as much of the community did not (and still doesn’t) have access to clean drinking water.
Ultimately, for Celeste, COP27 was about solidarity.
“Some people thought that COP was a waste of time … because big corporations dominate the space. I kept saying ‘there is a reason I am here,’” she says. “I believe that everything is about relationship building.”
As an organization that is all about building relationships of solidarity, we’re proud to support Celeste’s international policy work. Plus, organizations like Inter Pares have an important role to play in economic reconciliation, Celeste says.
“Thoughts and feelings only go so far. Unfortunately, it takes money to do the work that we’re doing. Economic reconciliation is backing up those feelings.”
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Thoughts and feelings only go so far. Unfortunately, it takes money to do the work that we’re doing. Economic reconciliation is backing up those feelings.