The impacts of Climate Change are vast and far reaching. Many of these impacts are being disproportionately felt by small coastal native communities. Carrie Sykes of the Sustainable Southeast Partnership and Organized Village of Kasaan and Tlingit Juneau high school student Sierra Ezrré joined Alaska Natives, Native Americans and Native Hawaiians at the Inter-Tribal Youth Climate Leaders Congress (Native CCC) this summer to discuss these impacts. The Native CCC brings together high school students from across the country for a week of peer-to-peer training and education about the impacts of climate change on tribal communities. The U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Environmental Protection Agency partnered to host the Inter-Tribal Youth Climate Leaders Congress (Native CCC) in Shepherdstown, West Virginia the week of June 28 – July 3, 2015.
The Native CCC was an outcome of the President’s Priority Agenda – Enhancing Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources and Generation Indigenous initiative. The participants produced an eight minute video on the impacts of climate change on their traditional lands (see below).
The students’ stories are profound revealing how climate induced changes are impacting the land, the water, the wildlife, and traditional cultures. The parting message is hopeful as one hears the voices of the students assert, “…education is the seed for planting a brighter future … the more you know, the more you grow.”
The Alaska Region of the Forest Service sponsored two participants Ezrré and Sykes and both contributed greatly to the Congress. Over the next several months they will be sharing their experiences with the Alaska Tribal Leaders Committee and with Forest Service employees in the Regional Office.
Reflections from Sierra Ezreé, Tlingit High School Student
I just wanted to give thanks for this amazing opportunity to travel to Shepherdstown, WV and attend the Inter-Tribal Youth Climate Change Leadership Congress (Native CCC). The week I spent back east was by far, the best week of my entire life. It was so amazing to be around people who thought the same way that I do – – about how important the land is and how important it is to take care of the land.
It was great to be around people who were raised and taught similarly to how I was. The land has always provided for us, but we are now neglecting our way of life and harming the land.
For example, as a kid I went to gatherings after a single seal was killed to thank the seal for what it would be providing. Now we are harming the land in such a way that soon it will not be able to provide us with certain things that are vital.
It was thought-provoking to see that climate change was affecting every represented Tribe at the Native CCC. Every single place had an issue due to climate change. It was sad to see that people on some reservations do not even have clean drinking water because the water has been contaminated by oil companies. Native people, to try to stop further contamination, sat along the road to stop the trucks from going by. The power of the people with their caring for the land could stop big industry. This is amazing.
Everyone had so much faith in each other. I felt so empowered when we all came together. I felt that we could all change the world because we were all so motivated to do so. We know how our traditional ways are being affected due to climate change. We all want to keep our traditional ways and this can only happen if we come together for this common cause. The future belongs to us and we are the ones who can change what is happening.
Growing up, the number one rule I was taught was respect. It seemed that all of the other Tribes had similar values. Everyone was respectful to the land, one another, and all of the adults. Like me, the 100 or so students at the Native CCC were able to listen and respect when a person was talking and sharing ideas. Students maintained silence and were attentive. I wish this level of respect was practiced everywhere. If this could happen, the world would be a better place.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to have people around me who thought the same way that I did and wanted to do similar things in the world. The experience I had will help me to spread my new knowledge about climate change to my community so people can become more aware of how much climate affects everyone and how we affect the climate. Gunalchéesh.
Reflections from Carrie Sykes, Haida Culture Bearer
I was very honored to be selected as a Haida culture bearer to escort Sierra Ezrré to Shepardstown, WV to participate in the first Inter-Tribal Youth Climate Leadership Congress. It was a fantastic opportunity to gather together with the 100 Tribal youth from more than 20 Tribes that were present from all over the United States to talk about climate change. In addition, there was a lot to be learned from the many indigenous federal government personnel and Tribal chaperones that joined in the conversation.
The first day was spent utilizing an “Open Space Meeting Process,” during which students were asked the question, “As a youth leader, how can you help your school and community meet the challenges of climate change?” Gathered outside in the Commons Area, all were provided index cards and encouraged to get on the stage and share their ideas with the Congress. The students then categorized their ideas into ten areas, which were used to set the Congress topics. It was a great way to assure that the ideas developed were from the students. During the week, the students each selected a topic and were asked to work together to come up with a climate change project, which would be presented at the end of the week. The student’s interaction with each other and brainstorming about solutions was impressive.
The objectives set for the students were far exceeded. By the end of the week, they were able to identify at least three major climate-related issues facing their specific communities, the United States and the world. They heard fantastic speakers from various agencies and knowledgeable Tribal members, many of which have made the care of Mother Earth their focus through research/restoration projects, indigenous stewardship and traditional ecological knowledge. They actively participated in the larger network of like-minded people addressing the issues. In addition to all the information about climate change, they were also exposed to researching, developing a presentation and presenting it to a large group. All of which, provided them with the knowledge to make specific recommendations for actions that the federal government and tribal communities can take to address climate change and its impacts.
Through their presentations, they demonstrated leadership and showed that they have the communications skills to engage with their peers and others about climate change and natural resource conservation in their home communities. They did a great job, especially since most of them had not previously had experience with public speaking.
There were also many fun events that provided an opportunity for the students to get to know each other, such as the community service work done on a campus trail and removing invasive plants, and the river trip where they were able to experience the great outdoors and develop and demonstrate teamwork. And there was the wonderful musical performance by Frank Waln and the Sampson Brothers, who through their music left a great impression on the students about what they can do to make a difference in the world. And the Pow Wow at the end of the week was also a fantastic opportunity for all to share about their traditional culture.
Háw’aa (thank you) to all the agencies that made the Congress possible and to those that provided for the representatives from southeast Alaska to attend. We were both very impressed by the event and we were able to network with people with whom we can continue to work on climate change. I look forward to working further with the U.S. Forest Service, the Pacific Northwest Research Station and others on these resource management issues to ensure we have a sustainable environment and world for future generations.