KNBA - KBC

More work still needs to be done, young climate advocates say

Jan 9, 2020

Nanieezh Peter, 15, reads a resolution written during the 2019 Elders and Youth Conference on Saturday, October 19, 2019, during the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention at the Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska. The resolution called for the AFN delegation to declare a climate emergency and to form a climate action task force. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KNBA)

One of the biggest stories of 2019 was the display of passion that two young Indigenous women had for their environment.

“It’s our life. It’s our future.” said Quannah Chasing Horse – she’s a Lakota Sioux and Hans Gwich’in from Fairbanks. She’s also 17. “It is not just about us either. It’s about the world. The Arctic is feeling twice as much as the entire world. We are thawing twice as fast as anywhere else in the world. And it is right now.”

In October, during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks – Chasing Horse and her best friend – 15-year-old Nanieezh Peter (Neetsaii Gwich’in and Diné) stood up and debated with their adult peers on a resolution written at Elders and Youth.

Their resolution called for the delegation to declare a climate emergency – and for AFN to form a climate action task force.

During an interview at AFN, Chasing Horse spoke to why it was important for the young women to speak up.

“I think it made people realize this is really an issue," she said. "We want to be able to elevate youth voices but also keep everyone aware and keep everyone educated. We really encourage the youth to get involved.”

Many voices echoing similar concerns are increasingly Indigenous and -- younger. In Alaska, that’s almost by design.

The Elder’s and Youth conference happens every year in the week of -- and preceding AFN. Workshops help teach young people how to write resolutions – and many times those resolutions will go before AFN.

'Wáahlaal Gidáak Barbara Blake (Haida/Tlingit/Ahtna Athabascan) is director of the Alaska Native Policy Center with First Alaskans Institute, the organizations that sponsors Elders and Youth.

“It was a beautiful moment for all of Alaska to see that our youth are in a place where they can speak to and speak in such  grace, speak so eloquently to things that they're passionate about and things that they find important in their lives,” Blake said.

Blake also said that Alaska Natives founded the concept of being good stewards of the land. And now its incorporated into their value systems and representation.

Ruth Miller is Dena’ina Athabasacan. The Brown University graduate is focusing on climate justice and in December --  was at the 2019 U.N. Climate Change Conference – also known as COP 25 -- in Madrid, Spain.

“For me, climate justice wasn't so much something cool and interesting, I'd like to get involved in. It's a matter of how could we all not be deeply engaged in these dialogues and conversations about what we are doing to our Earth?” Miller said in an interview in November.

The Alaska Federation of Natives delegation voted and passed the resolution – which could now go on to inform future legislation and policies.

During an interview after the AFN delegation gaveled out of the resolutions, Peter said there’s more work to be done.

“I think this resolution is just the first step -- or maybe it’s the 10th step because there’s been so much gone on before," she said. "This is a really big moment but we’re going to have to keep pushing.”