'We all need to wake up:' Indigenous youth lend their support to climate strikes

Thousands of people across Canada will be participating in a global climate strike Friday calling for action to address climate change, including Indigenous youth.

Group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous delegates will be at front of Montreal march

A delegation of 15 Indigenous and 15 non-Indigenous youth will be at the front of the climate strike march in Montreal. On Thursday, they met with David Suzuki. (Melissa Mollen-Dupuis)

Thousands of people across Canada will be participating in a global climate strike Friday calling for action to address climate change.

In Montreal, 15 Indigenous and 15 non-Indigenous delegates at the front of the march will be holding a banner created by Anishinaabe artist Rachel Thusky Cloutier bearing the slogan "Au front pour la Mère Terre, To the front lines for Mother Earth."

The delegation received a two-day training organized by a slew of organizations including the Quebec-Labrador First Nations Youth Network, Greenpeace Quebec,the David Suzuki Foundation, and Idle No More Québec to develop a network for the youth to support each other in the fight against climate change. 

They're not the only Indigenous youth who are raising awareness of climate change. CBC News spoke with three First Nations youth who want to see action on the issue. 

Autumn Peltier

Canadian water activist Autumn Peltier from Manitoulin Island addresses the UN General Assembly on World Water Day, March 22, 2018. She will speak again at the UN on Saturday at the start of the 2019 Global Landscapes Forum. (Manuel Elias/UN Photo)

Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner Autumn Peltier will be spending her 15th birthday at a climate change march through the streets of New York City.

Peltier, who is from the Wikwemikong First Nation, is also set to deliver a speech to the United Nations' Global Landscapes Forum on Saturday. It will be her second time addressing the UN. 

"I'm excited to show people what we're struggling with and fight for," she said.

"I'm going to be talking about water protection on a spiritual and cultural level, coming from traditional knowledge of elders, talking about what we can do, solutions on how to protect clean water and keep what water we have now safe."

She said addressing climate change and protecting water is important to her because of the First Nations communities that don't have access to clean drinking water.

"Children grow up drinking from big bottles of water that get delivered to their homes once a week, and then not knowing what it's like to ever wash your hands, brush your teeth or shower with what comes from your tap," said Peltier. 

"I'm trying to advocate for them and hopefully get clean water for them."

Rosalie LaBillois

Rosalie LaBillois is the co-chair of the AFN's national youth council. (Fred Cattroll)

Rosalie LaBillois, 22, is the co-chair of the Assembly of First Nations national youth council. She is striking Friday in support of the delegation of Indigenous youth from Quebec who will be leading Montreal's climate march.

"It does hit home for a lot of us. We see we're in this state of crisis," she said.

LaBillois is Mi'kmaw from Eel River Bar First Nation, N.B. and comes from a family of fishermen. She said the livelihood of many Mi'kmaq depends on the ocean.

"My grandmother always said the ocean is our grocery store," she said. 

"I'm hoping that this type of strike or engagement can continue to raise awareness of what's happening. I'm hoping it can mobilize our people to help wake them up."

Iotshatenawi Reed

Iotshatenawi Reed is from Kahnawake, Que. (Iotshatenawi Reed)

Iotshatenawi Reed, 28, is Kanien'kehá:ka from Kahnawake, Que. For the past two and a half years she's been with Kahnawake's waste management department promoting backyard composting.

"The gases that are created in landfills are one of the causes of climate change," said Reed.

"It's very important to manage our waste in a proper way to avoid contamination in our land and our waterways."

She is attending the National Organics Recycling Conference taking place this week in Guelph, Ont. She said First Nations communities like her own need to be more concerned about climate change and can take simple steps to change daily habits. 

"Coming from a traditional family, all my life being taught that when we were brought into this world we have everything here in order to survive. By abusing those rights and being greedy, it can be taken away just as quick," she said.

"It's instilled in all of us to care for our environment. I don't know if it's too late but we all need to wake up and take action."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.