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'It's now or never': Youth speak up on climate change in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.

Youth in Inuvik and Tuktoykatuk, N.W.T., want the next federal government to focus on fixing climate change.

Young people want the next federal government to focus on climate change

Darryl Tedjuk, left, Eriel Lugt, Carmen Kuptana, and Nathan Kuptana in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. This will be the first federal election that Nathan is eligible to vote in, and climate change is top of mind for him and others. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

It's a big year for 19-year-old Nathan Kuptana — it's the first time he will vote in a federal election. 

The Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., resident and his friends have one dominant priority in mind, regardless of which party forms the next federal government.

"Hopefully whoever gets elected focuses on climate change," Kuptana said.

He is part of a video production collective called Tuk TV. He's their oldest member, and the only one eligible to vote in the coming federal election.

The other students involved in Tuk TV range in age from 13 to 17. They recently made a documentary that focuses on climate change in Tuktoyaktuk called Happening to Us. The students will be showing that documentary at a climate change conference in Chile in December, and they're currently fundraising for the trip.

Kuptana says he might be young, but even he has noticed differences in the community in his lifetime — climate change is accelerating, he says, and water levels are rising.

Coastal erosion in Tuktoyaktuk is a major threat for the community. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

"The land's eroding — like the Point [the shoreline], it used to be further out … where the land is, it used to be two metres out from there," Kuptana said.

He hopes the federal and territorial governments understand how serious the issue of climate change is.

"Hopefully we get the funding to protect our land."

Eriel Lugt, 17, is part of Tuk TV with Kuptana. She shares his concerns.

"It's our culture that's being affected most by climate change," Lugt said.

Coastal erosion at the Point might be the most visible sign of climate change in Tuktoyaktuk.

Eriel Lugt, 17, is part of the Tuk TV collective. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Tourists flock there because it's the most northern part of town, and they want to dip their toes in the Arctic Ocean. 

But some homeowners are being forced to move away from their homes in the area due to coastal erosion.

Lugt said the community is used to adapting, but she's worried that her community will eventually be moved south.

"They are planning on moving Tuk, they say [because] of all of the erosion and the permafrost melting," Lugt said. "That's a lot of work. That's sacrificing a lot.

"We are going to have to actually move our town." 

Not just the youth, not just Tuk

It's not just teenagers in Tuktoyaktuk who are saying more needs to be done.

Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Merven Gruben said shoreline erosion is one of the biggest problems the hamlet is facing. 

Gruben said they are working on a potential $100-million project to build up and protect the shoreline, but the community will need federal funding to do so.

He said they need "to start building up our shoreline from the Point, all the way down to the cemetery, because the cemetery … is the one piece of infrastructure that we can't afford to lose and we aren't going to lose."

About 150 kilometres south of Tuktoyaktuk, some students in Inuvik, N.W.T., have also been trying to raise awareness about climate change, hoping that leaders will listen.

Inuvik student Tessa Jenks says it's 'now or never' for leaders to act on climate change. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Tessa Jenks, 12, is part of Climate Action Inuvik, a group of students who have been marching every Friday since March, while school was in session. They carry signs and chant, "We are unstoppable, another world is possible." 

"It's now or never," Jenks said. "This Earth is the only one we have, so we better make good decisions or it's just going to get demolished."

Jenks said it's important for governments to focus on renewable energy. 

She added that world leaders are starting to listen and take the climate crisis more seriously, thanks to teenage activist Greta Thunburg.

Jenks said she hopes federal leaders in Canada are realizing what's happening in places like Inuvik, where residents are seeing the impacts of climate change first-hand.

"Permafrost … it's holding our buildings up," she said. "If that melts, then everything starts sinking and falling, which is not what we want."

Youth march in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

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