Gwich’in youth from across Canada flew into Inuvik for a three-day session this week. Their mission: bring climate change leadership back to their home communities.

Angela Koe and Elder Mary Teya discuss engaging their communities on climate change at the Youth Centre on Friday. Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

FutureXChange, which kicked off Thursday and wraps later today, is the result of a partnership between Gwich’in Tribal Council and the Youth Climate Lab.

It’s taking place at the Youth Centre.

The participants received community engagement training grounded in traditional knowledge. The idea is youth will return home to facilitate climate action, and continue to participate with upcoming phases of the project that further include southern youth trained in climate policy.

The overall project aims to gather eight Gwich’in and eight southern youth, aged 18 to 30 years old, “to directly engage over 280 people and reach more than 150,000 people in climate awareness and capacity-building activities.”

Dakota Norris says the discussions at the Youth Centre from Thursday to Saturday were “action-oriented.”
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

“This is a very action-oriented event,” project manager Dakota Norris explained. “We really hope that not only during (their time in Inuvik) but during the remainder of this project they will continue to carry that action forward.”

Elder Mary Teya joined the youth and shared her own knowledge and experience with climate change, before the youth split into smaller groups. In these splinter discussions, they wrote about how climate change affects their lives and how they see it in their communities.

Norris said they wrote about the economic and social dynamics that come with the impacts of a changing climate. Day two focused on mitigating those impacts, and day three saw the teens develop strategies to help adapt.

The hope was to impart traditional knowledge in a northern and Gwich’in context, he said.

Melding communication, traditional knowledge, and policy skills, he said the overall hope of the project is the youth become “climate change ambassadors in their communities.” That could take the shape of anything from forming a youth council to organizing events in the community.

“There are a lot of youth in all of our communities who are really motivated to take action on climate change. And they’re motivated to learn, take time out of their schedules and lives to do so. I just really look forward to seeing where they go in the future. I hope their communities listen to what they have to say.”

For one of these participants, Rayna Vittrekwa, early planning for her community engagement was more “word vomit” but she said “was really excited and had a lot of ideas” to bring back to her community. That includes facilitating a panel discussion with local leaders, and hosting workshops that raise environmental consciousness.

Participant Rayna Vittrekwa. Behind her, some of her goals related to leading climate change adaptation in her community.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

She said this engagement creates “a ripple effect. Especially when you’re dealing with people, they could (share it) with their community or their friends. When you educate people about these issues they want to make a difference too.”

“They know the climate is changing, and global warming and everything, but they don’t know the specifics,” she said.

Nicole Lawson and Angela Koe’s group proposed incorporating elders and leaders in the process would help, while consulting with the wider communities.

“You could do that through like having tea and bannock with them, hosting something at Town Hall, making sure the community is involved,” Koe said.

Teya was glad to be guiding the youth through the conversation. She said the issue was wide-ranging, and youth involvement could encourage larger community action. As they do so, with the process set in place by the FutureXChange program, they absorb traditional knowledge.

She said it’s important to get through to people on the community level.

“It’s a concern, and it’s going to affect all of us, so we all need to be part of talking about it and what we can do.”


Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...

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