Superheroines and Superheroes Bringing Us Closer to Nature
Q&A’s with Chúk Odenigbo
Where are you from?
I am from the city of Calgary, Alberta.
Which community(ies) are you part of?
I am part of the Franco-Albertan community, a small pluralist community with a plethora of accents, cultures, and ways of being but united by a language and a strong sense of activism. According to the results of the 2016 census, Alberta’s native French-speaking population figure among the fastest-growing Francophone populations in the country. Between 2006 and 2016, this population increased by about 27%. Excluding Quebec, Alberta’s Francophone minority population ranks third after Ontario and New Brunswick in terms of numbers.
What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies?
I am passionate about the connections between nature, health, and culture. I am absolutely fascinated by how everything is connected. I fondly remember the hours spent reading quietly under a tree or contemplating the clouds during my early childhood. Being in my backyard enjoying the sky without limits has always brought me back into my element. However, because of the dehumanization of Black people, there was (and still is) a strong tendency for Black people to be highly urbanized in Canada to show that we are civilized. Therefore, I was never fully introduced to nature as a white child might be. Moreover, even after earning a degree in environmental science and finding a job in the environmental sector, my race often played a role in my ability to do my job and be outdoors. I even remember the occasions when my language acted as a barrier in my efforts to combat environmental degradation. In short, from a young age, I realized that factors related to my identity impacted my ability to be in nature, which made nature bring a different meaning to me than my peers in class/work.
Tell us about the project
“Les Force de la Nature” (The Forces of Nature) is an illustrated story about a group of superheroines and superheroes who have been chosen by the personification of Canadian nature to save Canada from the bad people who keep Canadians from enjoying the outdoors. This story was written for teenagers and young adults to address the challenges that this age group is facing by trying to approach blue and green spaces. This story uses its various characters to address the need for representation in the outdoors, allowing readers to see themselves in nature through these superheroines and those superheroes who resemble them.
The story also aims to achieve Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals: To enable all people to live in good health and promote the well-being of all at all ages. Contact with Nature is shown to be statistically a source of happiness and well-being. Spending time in nature has many beneficial effects on physical and mental health. The latter not only promotes physical activity, but also the reduction of stress, the improvement of blood pressure and the functioning of the immune system.
Conversely, studies show that bringing people closer to nature sparks a desire to protect and conserve nature and biodiversity.
To create this allegory, I teamed up with a group of young Canadians from across the country. Everyone, under the age of 30, worked hard to create this work: artist Andie Lafrentz of Edmonton, Alberta; graphic designer Sara Qarizada from Toronto, Ontario; English-speaking editor Samantha Matters from Edmonton, Alberta; Francophone editor Vickie Arsenault from Lorraine, Quebec; Zico He from Toronto, Ontario, who is the voice of the English version of the audiobook; and Gabriel Tougas from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who is the voice of the French version of the audiobook.
“Les Force de la Nature” (The Forces of Nature) is now available for free on the following platforms:
How did you come up with the idea for this project?
In 2015, I joined a team of citizen ecologists put together by the Canadian Parks Council. The question we are asked: How do we reconnect Canadians with nature? Together, across the country, we worked on solutions that resulted in “Sortons jouer dans la nature” (Let’s Go Out play in Nature), a playbook aimed at inspiring the whole Canadian population to act to bring the new generation into contact with nature. This publication became Canada’s official submission to the World Parks Congress by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Hawaii in 2016, and an international version was made under the name “Le livre de jeu #NaturePourTous” (The #NatureForAll Playbook).
While working on “Sortons jouer dans la nature” (Let’s Go Out Play in Nature), I realized how much my experiences are shared by many people and that the root of my experiences: the fact that in the most multicultural country in the world, we have given a face to nature. I therefore felt the need to continue the momentum of this action plan to strengthen the link between the young people and the environment and to continue their efforts to redefine nature as for all.
The idea for the book came to her one evening in the summer of 2017, when Hollywood superhero movies were ubiquitous. It was midnight and I was walking in a park when, suddenly, I had this vision, I saw the characters, a vague story idea came to me and I called Samantha Matters, a mixed-race friend, around 3 a.m., trying to explain it all to her. She joined right away! Samantha Matters’ personal commitment can be explained by her own experience. Having had to move to the city, she became aware of the ease and speed of detachment from nature that distance brings.
What was your motivation behind this project?
“Les Force de la Nature” (The Forces of Nature) refers to a set of thirteen superheroines and superheroes consciously chosen to illustrate national ethnic diversity in an inclusive way. Each protagonist personifies Canadian nature in their own way. None of them wear costumes or magic accessories so that the reader can identify themselves de facto. In the same vein, superpowers are organic, derived from nature, and used against anti-heroes who prevent citizens from enjoying the outdoors. Through the pages, we clearly feel the authors’ desire to encourage young people to discover the closeness of nature that corresponds to them intrinsically through the wanderings of Kyle, Guylaine, and their cronies. They engage in lesser-known but worthwhile activities, such as collecting garbage on beaches or those more “relaxing” and accessible that are the simple fact of admiring the Milky Way or visiting an aquarium. Our book aims not only to show the diversity of thoughts, personalities, and approaches of practices in the natural environment, but also to show that all are equal. There is no single one or one that would be more valuable than the others.
How has your community responded to your project? Were they encouraged to get involved in other ways?
It was very well received! I was invited to talk about it on ICI Radio-Canada in Alberta and the book was mentioned by several French-language newspapers across the country such as La Source from British Columbia. It felt so good to be celebrated by the Greater French-Canadian community.
In retrospect, what was the impact of your project?
45 physical copies of the book were printed. 5 are with MEC to distribute as they please, 5 are with Ocean Wise to distribute as they please, 1 is with the Honourable Minister McKenna, Canada’s former Minister of Environment and Climate Change, 1 is with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 1 copy is in the library of the School of Public Health at the Université de Montréal, 1 copy is with the administration of the MIL alternative campus of the Université de Montréal, 1 copy is with the University of Alberta Graduate Students’ Association, 1 is in the library of the Salzburg Global Seminar, Salzburg, Austria (a gathering place for decision-makers from all over the world to discuss methods to change the world), 1 was given free of charge in a contest by Starfish, a non-profit organization aiming to create a network of young environmentalists across Canada, 4 were distributed as prizes at the two launch parties in Edmonton and Montreal, and 2 were the prizes for various events as part of Oceans Week in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
We also received media support from:
What impact has the project had on your daily life?
I grew up watching Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, fight against apartheid and racism, while trying to maintain peace between different ethnic groups; Michaëlle Jean, the former Governor General of Canada and the first Black woman to be head of state of a Western country, devote herself to the defence of the Francophonie, women’s rights, and the rights of ethnic minorities among other causes; and Christiane Taubira, the former Keeper of the Seals and Minister of Justice of France, to carry out the law to the recognition of the slave trade and slavery as a crime against humanity, in addition to being a great defender of rights of the LGBTQ community.
So, I wondered what my contribution to society would be? With all these leaders who have changed the world so that people like me can thrive, what can I do to make this planet am even better place for the generation? Here are the questions that followed me.
While working on “Les Force de la Nature: L’Enfant de Gaïa” (The Forces of Nature: Gaia’s Child), I did a lot of research on the importance of nature to human health. I learned that there is a dearth of published studies on the impacts of static nature (nature itself) on health. Most studies looked at outdoor movement or ecosystem services, but the benefits that nature brings to a human being sitting on a bench in a park remain largely unknown. This reignited my thirst for research, and I made the decision to go back to school to continue my studies and contribute to this lack of knowledge. I am currently a PhD student in Medical Geography at the Laboratory for Health and Environmental Analysis, a laboratory that “supports interdisciplinary research by examining the relationships between human health and factors environmental, social, health care, and geographic to inform public health policies and strategies.” Medical geography is a highly multidisciplinary discipline that considers the environmental implications, human behaviour, and culture of a society as well as other factors in the creation of public policies.
I aim to be an engaged leader and scholar; which to me means being an agent of change. I am also the founding director of Future Ancestors Services. Along with Larissa Crawford (Founder) and Samantha Matters (Founding Director), we started a Canadian start-up led by an Indigenous and Black team that offers community services, specialized training in public speaking and research. Our goal is to address systemic issues in our societies that disadvantage some people; harm our connection with nature; and, have a negative impact on the well-being of the environment. These services aim to help people facing disproportionate barriers in all areas by raising their visions, voices, and services contractual; all this while strengthening the capacity of non-profit organizations, both private and public, to engage with diverse people in meaningful and appropriate ways.
Were there any obstacles on the road or things you could do differently in the future?
It’s very difficult to find a good talented and committed team. This takes time and I learned the importance of not forcing a dynamic that doesn’t work.
What would you say to a young person who is considering a project #RisingYouth?
“[Young people] are determined more by the beautiful side of an action than by its usefulness. They are lead more according to their moral character than according to calculation; but the calculation is about interest, and virtue is about what is beautiful. They have a taste for friendship and camaraderie more than other ages, because they enjoy living together and nothing is yet appreciated by them from the point of view of interest; therefore, neither do their friends. Their faults always come from what they do more and more vehemently than is appropriate, despite the precept of Chilon, because they exaggerate everything, friendship as hatred, and all other feelings as well. They believe they know everything and decide on all things.” — Aristotle
Be fully yourself. By recognizing your identity as a young person, and all that it entails, infuse it into the work you want to do. Make it unique for you.
Be confident in who you are, but also be aware of where you need to evolve.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
In light of the recognition of the Anthropocene, an era where human beings are the greatest force for change on planet Earth, a few environmentalists advocate for a healthy, diverse, and abundant nature through post-natural conservation. The post-natural conservation puts forward the idea that there is no such thing as a virgin nature and that it is no longer possible to dissociate human activity from nature. Therefore, we need to rethink our understanding nature and how to act to save it. Instead of referring to the past with nostalgia, or the present with despair, Erle C. Ellis, for example, says that “the only limitation in creating a planet that future generations will be proud of is our imagination and social systems. As we move towards a better Anthropocene, the environment will be what we get out of it.”