When the youth carry the weight of the world

These young activists have proven to their communities and the world that there is
no time like the present to make a change.

STELLA BOWLES

At 11 years old, all Stella Bowles wanted to do was swim in the river near her home in Bridgewater, N.S. To her surprise, Bowles discovered that LaHave River and four more bodies of water in her town had been illegally contaminated with fecal bacteria. Bowles came to this discovery after testing the water for a Grade 6 science project.

With help from the environmental organization Coastal Actions and scientist Dr. David Maxwell, Bowles found that the rivers were contaminated to the point of being hazardous to human skin. 

Unaware of her discovery, residents continued to swim in these waters. Bowles and her mother Andrea Conrad tried to warn others by placing a sign in front of the river that read ‘This river is contaminated with fecal bacteria.’ The sign attracted national media attention, and as residents learned more about her water testing, public outrage urged local politicians to clean up the river.
Because of how young she was, many people tried to discredit Bowles’ findings. She says it was important to have a support system like she did with her parents, Coastal Actions and her mentor, Dr. Maxwell. “I covered all my bases so people couldn’t say ‘well, you’re just a child, you don’t know what you’re doing.’ They tried, but Dr. Maxwell or other people on my Facebook page would comment back at them,” says Bowles.
After a couple months of long council meetings, Bridgewater officials announced they would be funding $15.7-million to clean the rivers and remove the 600 straight pipes that were contaminating the waters. Straight piping leads directly from a resident’s toilet to the river with no filtration. “It felt really empowering to have the adults and politicians coming and asking me what should happen next,” says Bowles.
Now at the age of 15, Bowles has travelled the world sharing her water testing systems, publishing her own book and speaking at a TEDx talk, all while living the life of an average teenager. Bowles suggests that teens who want to become more involved with climate activism should use social media to spread their message.
When you’re living behind the trans-mountain pipeline, it can be difficult to ignore the signs of climate change. This was the case for Emma-Jane Burian. Born in Burnaby, B.C., now living in the city of Victoria, Burian participates in climate justice strikes. With the help of the organization Fridays for Future, Burian, alongside other youth activists, plans strikes on the first Friday of every month.
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If you're passionate about something, once you find your voice don't be afraid to use it.

EMMA-JANE BURIAN

On Sept. 27, 2019, protesters took to the streets in support of climate justice during one of the biggest global climate strikes ever. Burian helped organize the strike in Victoria that gathered over 20,000 people. She is also part of the hundreds of teens across Canada who pledged not to have children in protest of the Canadian government’s lack of action towards climate change.
Burian has faced the challenge of organizing strikes and events with hundreds of people across the country. Her priority is raising awareness specifically about how climate change is affecting minority groups. “What is really important when we talk about climate change and what is happening to the planet, is that we talk about climate justice and I think that encompasses indigenous rights, black rights and worker’s rights,” says Burian.
She is constantly finding new ways to become more involved and wants to encourage other youth groups to be more active in the pursuit of climate justice. “When we’re protesting these things, we’re not just protesting the fact that climate change is happening but we’re protesting the fact that climate change is happening and no one is taking action on it,” says Burian. Now in her final year of high school, Burian hopes to become a human rights lawyer and work directly to push political leaders towards policy changes.

MAKAŚA LOOKING HORSE

Known as a water protector, Makaśa Looking Horse prefers to be seen as a proud indigenous woman dedicated to preserving her culture. From the Mohawk wolf clan and Lakota from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, Ont., Looking Horse has been fighting for water conservation rights for her community alongside the Ohneganos water conservation group.

Multinational corporation Nestlé has been using water from lakes within Six Nations
communities. When Looking Horse began to do research on Nestlé’s water consumption, she found out that the food and beverage giant was taking 3.6-million litres of water out of Six Nations’ reserve per day. Neither Looking Horse, nor anyone in the community, knew about this.

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“It enraged me to know that only nine per cent of the community has clean drinking water.”

Ever since, Looking Horse has been organizing protests across Canada and the United States to advocate for clean drinking water. She is currently in the process of working with lawyers to come up with a legal plan for the reserve. “We’re in the middle of cities where everybody has access to clean drinking water, but my community goes without clean drinking water,” she says. “I don’t think people realize how having no water impacts your day.”

Climate change is also gravely impacting her community’s ability to maintain cultural traditions. Deforestation and pollution mean animals that community members normally hunt, like deer, are being chased off. Without the animals, people can’t pass down their hunting practices and teach their children how to make garments, such as traditional moccasins. “It’s really about survival or your entire people will be wiped out,” explains Looking Horse.

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““We have to survive or our whole lineage, our whole nation, is going to be gone.”

Alongside the discussion for climate change, she also stresses the importance of listening to indigenous voices as much as other activists. In the summer of 2019 she attended the UN climate summit in New York City where she was invited to make an opening speech and was asked to join a discussion group with other indigenous leaders. While this was taking
place, a larger group, that included activist Greta Thunberg, was in a separate room with more political world leaders. “It spoke volumes of the disconnect between the two when indigenous people should be at the forefront of climate action,” she says.

With the rise in global protesting and youth activism, although it may be a long road to government changes, Looking Horse remains hopeful for this new decade.

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“The power is with the people no matter who the politicians are, that’s how it’s supposed to be, we’re supposed to have democracy and the leaders are supposed to be working for us, and that’s not how it’s working.”