Indigenous

Kahnawake's 1st youth delegation heading to COP26 climate conference

Four youth from Kahnawake are heading to the United Nations climate change conference next week, hoping to bring back knowledge to help mitigate climate change in their community.

'There's a clear connection between climate change and who we are,' says delegate Ohontsakéhte Montour

Karahkwinetha Goodleaf, Carlee Kawinehta Loft, Julie Delisle, and Ohontsakéhte Montour are the first youth delegation from Kahnawake to attend the United Nations climate change conference. (Submitted by Carlee Kawinehta Loft)

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Four youth from Kahnawake are heading to the United Nations climate change conference next week, hoping to bring back knowledge to help mitigate climate change in their community.

They're a part of the first youth delegation from the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community located south of Montreal to attend the global summit.

Taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, Oct. 31-Nov. 12, COP26 will bring together parties from across the globe to accelerate action on the UN framework convention on climate change.

CBC Indigenous spoke to the four youth about what they're hoping to gain from the experience, and why it's important for Indigenous youth to be represented.

Carlee Kawinehta Loft

Carlee Kawinehta Loft is the youth engagement coordinator at Kahnawake Collective Impact. (Martin Akwiranoron Loft)

"It's a space where all of these massive climate policies are being negotiated," said Carlee Kawinehta Loft, one of the youth attending.

"It's a way to learn from each other on how we on a community level are addressing the climate crisis and how we can work together to be even stronger."

Loft attended COP25 in Madrid in 2019. At the time, she was the only Indigenous person in a delegation of youth in Quebec who attended, and felt more youth from Kahnawake could benefit from the conference.

It's why she organized this delegation through her role as the youth engagement co-ordinator at Kahnawake Collective Impact, with support from Indigenous Climate Action, the Climate Reality Project, and YMCA Quebec. 

She said in preparation for the conference, the delegation has been attending training from Indigenous Climate Action and has also been meeting on their own for the past few weeks to prepare and construct a message that they hope to deliver at the conference. 

Ohontsakéhte Montour

Ohontsakéhte Montour is a cultural development officer at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center. (Submitted by Ohontsakéhte Montour)

The message will be in Kanien'kéha, or the Mohawk language, said delegate Ohontsakéhte Montour.

Montour is a cultural development officer at the Kanien'kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center, and said it was an important decision the delegation made as the language is directly tied to the land.

"If you understand our language and culture, the land is so important. The Earth is so important. There's a clear connection between climate change and who we are," said Montour.

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He said every day he recites the Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen, an address to give thanks to the waters, Mother Earth, and everything in the natural world. 

"That's like a main tenet of our culture to always give thanks for what's around us and what the Earth is giving us," he said.

"All these things that we should be thankful for from the Earth are in jeopardy because of climate change."

Karahkwinetha Goodleaf

Karahkwinetha Goodleaf is a neuroscience student at McGill University. (Submitted by Karahkwinetha Goodleaf )

Karahkwinetha Goodleaf, a neuroscience student at McGill University in Montreal, said she hopes to take whatever she learns at the summit back to Kahnawake in some way.

"I really want to see what other countries and other Indigenous groups through those countries have to say about climate change," she said.

Goodleaf said although many in the community are environmentally conscious, climate change is not on the forefront of many minds.

"We're the seventh generation, we have to carry this forward," said Goodleaf.

"We're doing a lot, but we still can do more, but we still have to figure out what that means."

Julie Delisle

Through her job as the environmental education liaison for Kahnawake Environment Protection Office, Julie Delisle works directly with the community and youth on how to better protect the environment. 

Her work is what prompted her to apply to be a part of the delegation when the call was issued last month.

"I want to be able to support them [youth] and inspire them to use that voice and knowledge . . . towards protecting our environment and mitigating climate change," said Delisle.

Earlier this month, the department planted 475 trees throughout the territory as a part of its climate change adoption plan. 

"I think we have solid steps towards implementing this plan, but we can always learn more from what other nations are doing," said Delisle.

"It's going to hopefully show community members and our youth that they can take actions here and be heard."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawake, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec. Email her at kanhehsiio.deer@cbc.ca.

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