September is always an exciting time at Ontario Nature. It is when our Youth Council shines as they bring to fruition months of planning and organizing to host the annual Youth Summit. The Youth Summit is a weekend-long gathering with over one hundred youth (ages 14–20) from across the province. It is a highlight of the year for many participants and helps to shape the hearts and minds of the next generation of environmental leaders.
This year is the first time that Ontario Nature’s Youth Council and leaders from the Youth Circle for Mother Earth joined together to host the Youth Summit for Mother Earth, an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth to come together to develop leadership skills, connect with like-minded peers across cultures and build momentum for youth action. It was shaping up to be an exciting and one-of-a-kind event!
When the pandemic hit, we knew that a gathering of 100+ individuals would not be possible, especially for participants coming from communities where they live in close contact with Elders and vulnerable community members.
And so came into being the Virtual Youth Summit for Mother Earth – a re-imagined gathering held as a series of livestreams over four Saturday afternoons from August 22 to September 19, 2020, with optional activities throughout the weeks.
Over the five-week summit, 92 young leaders and 12 youth mentors came together. They represented over 55 communities across Ontario as far as Windsor, Cornwall Island and Kenora, with youth identifying from Indigenous communities across Turtle Island and cultures around the world. For 71 of the youth participants, this was their first time attending the Youth Summit.
The summit series included engaging online workshops with Indigenous Knowledge Holders, Elders, environmental leaders and experts, on topics such as water and interconnectedness, biocultural diversity and taking action. Youth across the province also gained environmental and cross-cultural knowledge through participation in youth-led activities and challenges that gave them a chance to get out into nature and connect with one another meaningfully. Youth shared nature photos, art pieces, videos and exciting ideas to stay engaged in their communities.
A highlight of the event for many participants was the wild rice/manoomin (man-oh-min) workshop. Led by Knowledge-Holders Jeff Beaver and Elder Larry McDermott from Plenty Canada, manoomin is a sacred food that is part of the Anishnabe migration story, and continues to be cared for as part of the local Indigenous food system. One of our participants shared what they learned during the workshop: “I learned about the beautiful ways in which manoomin are harvested and prepared, and the community and ritual that it provides. I also became hopeful about mother nature’s resilience and the resilience of the manoomin tradition even as we are disturbing the ecosystems.”
While this year was challenging for many, the commitment to nature displayed by these young folks is an inspiration. We can’t wait to see what they will accomplish in the coming years!
This is the final installment of our blog series highlighting the projects made possible thanks to the generous support of TD FEF.
Christine started volunteering for Ontario Nature in spring 2015, then joined the administration team that fall. In her current role, she oversees the Nature Guardians youth program and various conservation projects. Christine grew up with a love of the outdoors and nature, which eventually led her to take a B.Sc. in earth sciences from University of Waterloo. She has extensive experience working with youth at summer camp and volunteering with other environmental non-profits. In her free time, Christine is a part-time video game brand ambassador and promoter who also enjoys exploring the outdoors and learning new technology.