Beyond that, it’s a reminder of the responsibility we have as stewards of the earth. Appreciating the beauty of the planet is a powerful feeling, especially paired with the knowledge of the destruction of the planet – mass deforestation, carbon emissions, plastics filling our oceans. The way in which things are currently going, we’re on track for a two degree increase in global temperatures, which will mean sea levels rise, more forest fires, increased occurrence of extreme weather events, drought, flooding…it’s not looking too good.
While this reality is certainly alarming, there is still hope. One especially hopeful place to look is to the many Indigenous youth activists who have devoted time and energy to raising awareness and taking proactive steps to combat the climate crisis.
In fact, there’s a lot that environmental conservation and sustainability movements can learn from traditional methods of Indigenous land stewardship. Indigenous communities protect 80% of the earth’s resources that they have stewarded since time immemorial. Yet, Indigenous communities have routinely been denied access to their traditional lands and ways of land management and are disproportionately harmed by climate change.
This Earth Day, let’s celebrate the achievements of young Indigenous environmental activists who are doing a lot to promote a healthy planet.
Autumn is a 17 year-old water rights activist from the Anishinaabe First Nation. Since she was eight years old, she has advocated for access to clean drinking water in Indigenous communities across the nation. She was inspired by the work of her mother and aunt, who are also water rights activists, and learned that 73% of Indigenous peoples across Canada lacked adequate access to clean drinking water.
She has led dozens of protests, spoken at events, and met with world leaders. When she was 13, she addressed the United Nations about the importance of clean drinking water. At 14, she was named the Chief Water Protector of the Anishinaabe Nation. She also had a meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, where she told him he was not doing enough to address water access issues in Canada. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, she was nominated for the Children’s International Peace Prize.
Ta’Kaiya is from the Tla’Amin First Nation. By the age of 16, she had spoken at the United Nations and sang at the Paris climate conference. She also participated in Occupy Wall Street and Idle No More Vancouver. As a United Nations representative for youth in Canada, she addressed the UN in New York at the age of 13. As a musician, she has often used music as a form of activism, as her music focuses on Indigenous rights and environmental issues.
Her work raises awareness of the disproportionate impact of climate change on Indigenous communities. She is calling for a worldwide full implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and for the adoption and implementation of the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.
Ta’Kaiya has worked with the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary to create a marine centre based on traditional methods of conservation. She advocates for communities to take grassroots action and unify to create change, instead of depending on the government to be the main driver of change.
“[Indigenous] communities are kind of ground zero for climate change because the extractive industry takes place on these territories and also the impact of climate change is very profoundly felt in these communities,” she said. “The environmental imbalance really impacts our traditional resources and basic existence.”
Miyawata Dion Stout
Miyawata is a Plains Cree member, activist, and fancy shawl dancer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At the age of 12, she and her friends initiated some of the very first student strikes in Winnipeg history. Her activism, which is rooted in intersectionality, focuses on environmental and Indigenous rights.
“My two fights are climate justice and racial justice. Very quickly, I started to realize that they’re the same thing, climate change will and is playing on the structures of racism and discrimination that we’ve already set up.”
Both of Stout’s grandmothers were residential school survivors who went on to become strong advocates for Indigenous rights. She proudly advocates for Indigenous land stewardship and self-governance rights.
“As climate change progresses we see how Indigenous knowledge across this continent can be used to fight it. I think that is one of my major goals, using Indigenous traditional knowledge as a way to fight against climate change, using other communities’ knowledge as a way to shield ourselves from a lot of this violence and racism.”