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© Lora Denis
Despite the physical barriers presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Youth Circle for Mother Earth (YCME)’s Coordinating Circle continues to engage with one another, learning together about cross-cultural literacy and working to bridge the gap between Western science and Indigenous knowledge systems. For instance, in March we organized a virtual retreat series that replaced the in-person retreats of past years. We have also collaborated with environmental youth organizations from across the country through a working group, allowing us to lend our efforts to amplify the voice of youth in the conservation conversation.
The online retreat series began with a Storytelling Circle with Elder Marilyn Capreol, Ojibwe Grandmother. Elder Marilyn shared stories regarding the sacredness of water, reminding us of our own sacredness as members of the Earth, as well as the Ojibwe Creation story. Participating members were also able to share stories from their respective cultures and life experiences as the feather was passed around the virtual circle. The following retreat session, led by YCME member Corbin Jacobs, was centered around his love for and experience with lacrosse. Participating members were able to learn about the Indigenous origin story, and the session wrapped up with a discussion about what leadership meant to each member.
Following this session, YCME member Kylee Smith led a Medicine Wheel Bracelet Making workshop. As participating members created their own personal medicine wheel bracelets, Kylee shared lessons shared with her by her community regarding the meaning and significance of each section of the medicine wheel, as represented by a different coloured bead. YCME member Holly Caruana commented, “The YCME retreat’s medicine wheel bracelet making workshop was a much-needed opportunity for the Coordinating Circle to create, de-stress and connect with one another while learning medicine wheel teachings. Even though participants of the workshop were situated across Ontario, making our bracelets together step by step made it feel as though we were all within the same room!” The retreat series closed with a Positionality and Leadership workshop led by Maggie Cummings and Elder Larry McDermott, encouraging members to examine how they formed their worldview.
In early February, as part of our work within the working group, the YCME discussed the importance of youth involvement in addressing biodiversity and climate crises during a series of dialogues with representatives from 13 environmental youth organizations from across Canada. There was broad recognition of the need for action to protect biodiversity and stabilize our climate.
The opportunity to work with young leaders was very valuable for YCME members participating in the working group. YCME member Catherine Langille commented, “My experience participating in the working group has been eye-opening, to say the least! I’ve gotten the chance to come together with like-minded peers and discuss things that are important to all of us. It feels good coming together to focus on a positive green future and supporting collaborative conversations across incredible leaders!”
Recognizing a need for collaboration between many of our groups that share similar goals, we began by writing a letter addressed to Jonathan Wilkinson, the federal minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada, co-signed by 16 other organizations and 150 youth. Timed in response to the federal budget announcement and publicly released on Earth Day, we reiterated youth support for ambitious climate action, which builds a nature-positive, equitable and carbon-neutral future. Upon release of the letter, we started an online petition to allow more opportunities for other youth to help amplify our message and a commitment to collaboration moving forward.
Moving into the summer, the Coordinating Circle welcomed new members and are looking into organizing exciting initiatives, including a BioBlitz! Follow us on Instagram at @youthcircleformotherearth for future updates.
Nominations for youth aged 15–27 to join the Youth Circle for Mother Earth’s Coordinating Circle are always welcome. Watch our Welcome to the Youth Circle for Mother Earth video below to hear from some of our members.
The Youth Circle for Mother Earth is a project led by the Indigenous Environmental Institute at Trent University, Ontario Nature, Plenty Canada, and Walpole Island Land Trust. The project would not be possible without the contributions from the Government of Canada, TD Ready Commitment and Ontario Power Generation.
Trevor Fung is a settler living on the Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and Huron-Wendat, or so-called Markham. He is a second-generation Chinese-Canadian, with maternal and paternal ancestral roots in Hong Kong. Trevor is a member the Youth Circle for Mother Earth’s Coordinating Circle, and is an alumnus of the Ontario Nature Youth Council. He is currently studying Environmental Studies and Environmental Ethics at the University of Toronto. Trevor enjoys running and public speaking, and spends most of his free time tending for his many houseplants.
Emma Kirke was born, raised and currently resides in the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg Nation or so-called Ottawa, and has ancestral roots in Québec, Germany, Denmark and the British Isles. She is a member of the Youth Circle for Mother Earth’s Coordinating Circle, an alumna of the Ontario Nature Youth Council, and currently working for Nature Canada. Emma is a Bachelor of Environmental Studies student in Environment, Resource and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo. In her spare time, you can find her outside exploring by bike, kayaking, or simply getting lost hiking in our wild spaces.
Honour and strength to all of you. Since I began working on environmental issues about 25 years ago, I’ve been led in every way by indigenous people who were experts at this for thousands of years.