By Maia Wikler, Freelance Writer with Teen Vogue & Powershift attendee
In Ottawa, Canada — unsurrendered lands of the Algonquin Anishnabe, water protectors and land defenders from across the country gathered on February 14–18th for the mass youth climate convergence, Powershift: Young and Rising, organized by 20 youth. Young and Rising came at a critical time in Canada, falling months after the worst wildfire season on record in the country and reports that glaciers are melting much faster than expected in the North.
Even with the latest UN report stating we have less than 12 years to radically transition off of fossil fuels to prevent the worst possible climate crisis, the Canadian government continues to invest in the oil industry at the cost of Indigenous rights and a liveable planet, while promoting a public image of reconciliation and climate leadership.
Within the past year, the Canadian government purchased an oil pipeline for $4 billion taxpayer dollars, and forcefully removed the Wet’suwet’en Nation from their unsurrendered lands (which they had already proven title to in the Supreme Court) for the Coastal Gas Link pipeline. Kanahus Manuel, Secwepemc Tiny House Warrior, aptly dubbed pipelines in Canada as “transportation corridors that are taking stolen resources off of Indigenous territories,” in her keynote at Young and Rising.
“We are told that we have 12 years to act before irreversible catastrophe yet the urgency of the crisis is flatly denied or met with false solutions. We must build mass power capable of actually reversing this trajectory,” Nayeli Jimenez, Powershift Organizer told me.
Nayeli affirmed that the real solutions are being championed at the grassroots level, “Indigenous communities are standing on the frontlines against resource extraction and fossil fuel infrastructure across Turtle Island.”
In recognizing the ongoing impacts of colonialism and climate change, organizers of Young and Rising dedicated financial support for Indigenous and frontline youth to attend. Youth and frontline leaders from Wet’suwet’en — Unist’ot’en, Gitimden, Mi’kmaq Territory, Tiny House Warrior Camp in Blue River, Cold Lake First Nations, Siksika First Nations, the Line 3 resistance, Metlakatla First Nation, and across Algonquin Anishnabe Territory, joined the mass convergence.
“From coast to coast, land defenders and water protectors are present here. The fight is common and unites us,” said Jennifer Wickham at the Land Defense panel, who traveled from Wet’suwet’en territories.
Speakers, frontline leaders, youth and elders came bearing stories of shared struggles to protect their communities and lands from the ongoing impacts of rampant resource extraction, climate change, and colonial violence. From mining impacts and pipelines, to uranium-contaminated water.
In the opening keynote, elder Shelley Chabot, Turtle Clan from Kitigan Zibi, spoke out about toxic waters in her territory. “When I was a little girl, I used to draw water with my mom from the spring, today I can’t do that.” In tears, Shelly told the audience, “the water is alive! If you sing to the water, it will dance for you. I’m crying because Mother Earth is crying to protect her and we need to give her strength so that we can stay alive. If the government doesn’t provide safe water for any living being, that is not a government for me. When I got that little bucket of water when I was a child, it was sparkling. Today it’s not, it’s dead water. Water is our source of life, we are water.”
With a sense of urgency and collective power, Young and Rising focused on training young people to reclaim political power through building community and knowledge. “We aren’t able to build movements with heroes and celebrity worship, but by being in community together,” Sean Devlin, Filipino-Canadian comedian, filmmaker, and activist, told attendees during his keynote speech.
The four-day convergence organized by youth and for youth, shared tactics of civil disobedience, frontline land defence, and prepared youth to deploy direct actions like blockades and climbing. The climate convergence emphasized an understanding of anti-capitalism, colonialism and Indigenous solidarity — the critical connections that are rarely made in mainstream coverage of climate change, yet necessary for long-term solutions. “Tackling and understanding these root issues allows us to shift away from false solutions,” said Harsha Walia, keynote speaker and co-founder of No One Is Illegal.
“Colonized countries are not a coincidence, it’s a consequence. When you continue to take and take for centuries then experience a disaster of course they don’t have the means to recover,” said Sean Devlin of the countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts, including his homelands in the Philippines.
The climate convergence was packed with trainings and actions. On the premise that electoral politics cannot be dismissed, as the most marginalized communities suffer the impacts of abandoned elections, youth led workshops on how to run for office and took to the frozen Rideau Canal for skate-canvassing to rally support in demand of a Green New Deal in Canada.
On February 18th, the youth took to the streets of Ottawa, demanding urgent climate action. “Today we come together in defiance of environmental racism, colonization, capitalism, fascism and injustice! We need open borders for all those fleeing Canadian mining, genocide, climate disaster, imperialism and war. Nobody can be illegal on stolen lands!” Maya Menezes, Powershift Organizer and member of No One Is Illegal, declared in a resounding call to action on the steps of Parliament.
Tina Oh, an organizer of the march shared, “Young people are here to let this and future governments know that the time for change has come and we will not back down.” Youth marched with banners and flags of resistance art that stated, “water is life, protect the sacred,” “no one is illegal,” and “separate oil and state.” Ojibwe artist, Isaac Murdoch Bomgiizhik who led the art action at Young and Rising said, “art is our way of showcasing the spirit of the land.” Christi Belcourt, Michif Metis artist who collaborated with Murdoch added, “the role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.”
The march culminated in a rally of support for the Indigenous-led occupation of the oil lobby group, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) headquarters to demonstrate that the government’s relationship to oil lobbyists is not reconciliation. Frontline Indigenous youth shared their experiences resisting fossil fuel companies, which CAPP represents.
Shannon Chief, an Anishinabe mother, Member of the Wolf Clan and Powershift organizer addressed the crowd outside the CAPP offices, “My people had a prophecy about this moment, when people of many colours would come together to protect Mother Earth — the Rainbow prophecy it’s called. We are her children she has been waiting for.”
Young and Rising was a testament to the power of uniting in resistance for climate justice. Shortly after this convergence took place, a small group of attendees confronted NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in Toronto and successfully urged him to support a Green New Deal for Canada. Then on March 15th, over 1 million children and teenagers from all across the world participated in a global school strike calling on adults to stand for bold climate action. Young people are rising in 2019 — we can expect they will continue to make waves of mobilization around the globe.