Nova Scotia

Cape Breton youth conference tackles sustainability, entrepreneurship

A Cape Breton conference is challenging young people to think about sustainable development, and its efforts appear to be paying off.

'The future of any area is in the youth,' says Annie Johnson

Josh Stewart and Kieran Johnson say they hope to stay in Cape Breton once their studies are done. (Holly Conners/CBC)

A Cape Breton conference is challenging young people to think about sustainable development, and its efforts appear to be paying off.

More than a hundred young people from around Cape Breton, including First Nations communities, are taking part in the conference Friday and Saturday at the Nova Scotia Community College's Strait Area campus.

During one session, Josh Stewart was part of a group of young people discussing the issues facing their communities.

"A big one is clear-cut logging," he said, noting the effects in his home community of Marble Mountain.

The conference has him thinking about taking action.

"I'd definitely bring this to the attention of the community leaders, maybe see if we can get a rally ... to maybe put an end to the clear-cutting."

Kieran Johnson, a 20-year-old from Eskasoni, is studying natural resources environmental technology at NSCC.

She said the loss of trees to invasive pests in the hills above her home have her considering a career in forest management.

The conference also has her thinking about other environmental concerns.

Annie Johnson, the director of administration with the Unama'ki Institute of Natural Resources, says youth need to be educated about the (Holly Conners/CBC)

"I didn't know too much about the sea level rise, so it was really interesting to think about that because in the Mi'kmaw culture, we think about seven generations ahead," she said.

Both Johnson and Stewart say they hope to pursue a career on the island.

"I'm learning now that outmigration isn't the way to go, you need to keep jobs here in Cape Breton," said Stewart.

The conference includes discussions on leadership, sustainability and entrepreneurship with a focus on the Bras d'Or Lakes and the environmental stewardship of Cape Breton.

The conference is being hosted by the Bras d'Or Lakes Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative (CEPI), an Indigenous-led initiative involving all four levels of government.

A focus on engaging youth

CEPI's goal is to promote sustainable economic development in the Bras d'Or Lakes watershed, but in recent years it has also taken a keen interest in engaging youth.

"You can talk about sustainable development, and you can talk about best practices and environmental management, but really the future of any area is in the youth," said Annie Johnson, the director of administration with the Unama'ki Institute of Natural Resources.

"So, what they're seeing is a really growing concern with people going to school and then leaving. But if that trend continues, there isn't going to be somebody that's going to take care of the area, there isn't going to be somebody that's going to learn about all of the environmental uniqueness we have on the Bras d'Or Lakes."


Holly Conners is a reporter and current affairs producer who has been with CBC Cape Breton since 1998. Contact her at