Matthew Wesley, left, painting with Heidi Marion at a climate change workshop. (Submitted)

Climate change training teaches youth

A four-day workshop takes place in Whitehorse this month

Before she knew much about climate change, Jasmine Gatensby was seeing its effects in Carcross, where she lives.

First, there were the caribou. They used to be the main food source in the area, but then the Alaska Highway came through, and the animals changed their migration patterns. Then there were the fires that burned for two months in the summer of 2018. That doesn’t usually happen there, she said. This winter, even though it’s mid-January, the ice on Bennett Lake still hasn’t frozen over.

“And that’s just in Carcross,” said Gatensby, 23.

She’s heard of all kinds of other, different issues from youth elsewhere in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, as part of the climate change training she’s doing since 2017.

“Every time we have discussions with our people at ground level at home and in the communities, the elders are always telling us all the time, you have to pass this message on and teach the young people. Make sure that they’re aware of changes that are going to come,” said Norma Kassi, with the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research (AICBR) — a non-profit that works with Indigenous communities, NGOs, governments, academics and more to look at partner-identified issues including food security, mental health, and climate change adaptation.

“Taking it from there, we decided we would access funding to begin educating youth throughout the Yukon and Northwest Territories,” Kassi said.

The youth participating have all been identified by their communities as people who have an interest in the environment, traditional knowledge, and being a voice in some area of their lives.

Gatensby got involved in the workshops in 2017, after working a summer job with the Carcross Tagish First Nation, and its department of heritage lands and natural resources, where she’s now a heritage technician.

“I had always kind of been interested in the environmental aspect of the department that I worked in so that really intrigued me,” she told the News over the phone. “I didn’t really know much about climate change and how it was affecting us in the North.”

She said it was disconcerting to see the noticeable day-to-day impact on her community, but it was also unsettling to think that most of the country might not have that same perspective, because they’re not living in a place where it’s as obvious.

“I don’t think it’s clicked in their mind,” she said. “You can’t see the effects of it when you’re in the city … that kind of caught me off guard a little bit how it’s all of this pollution and all of these aspects contributing to climate change and the effects aren’t being seen in the southern areas of Canada. It’s all in the north area.”

“We are doing a lot of the mitigation and adaption strategies.”

Youth will learn more about those strategies from Jan. 21 to 24. That will be the third workshop for the climate change training program, said Kassi.

Participants will hear from elders and scientists, including Ian Mosby, writer and historian of food, health and colonialism, Annita McPhee, former three-time president of the Tahltan Nation, and Be’sha Blondin, a First Nations Elder from the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories. Kassi said this is important because elders have knowledge of conservation that academics don’t. Both perspectives on the issue are valuable, she said.

“We don’t have to have scientific information about (animals). We have our own Indigenous scientific information about these things … we need to bring in Indigenous knowledge to begin conserving what’s left.”

She said she has seen science take a turn, in recent years, towards engaging and partnering more often with Indigenous people across Canada and in Nordic nations. It’s important, she said, to access that local knowledge in order to address the global issue.

One of the local issues that’s common to many communities in the North is fire.

“The whole Yukon is of concern,” sais Kassi. “We have a lot of very dry land. We need to plan and are quite concerned about those kinds of issues. What are the safety measures for the communities? What are the governments thinking and what are the plans?”

After January’s workshop, Kassi said AICBR will speak with the youth who have taken part so far and find out what they want to see next.

“The youth are driving the agenda,” she said. “We want them to be spokespeople and further their own education in this field.”

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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