Youth in the Sahtu are exercising their voices on the issues of climate change, health, the traditional economy and industrial development through a blossoming regional youth network, established by the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board (SRRB), local resource councils and the Pembina Institute.
Tee Lim, a policy analyst with Pembina and lead on the project, said the idea for a youth network was sparked by a cross-community learning forum held last November in Tulita, which brought together youth, elders and other knowledge holders from all of the Sahtu communities for a week.
“There was a really clear call from youth in particular for greater networking and gatherings and coordination amongst themselves, capacity building and general exposure to a lot of these issues, ranging from climate change and health through to development, including the shale oil development that’s taking place in their region,” Lim said.
That forum was the first stage in one of two main initiatives being undertaken by the budding youth council. Funded by Health Canada, the project is looking into the impacts of climate change on people’s health in the region, taking into account scientific information and the traditional knowledge of land users.
Lim said the project is giving youth in the Sahtu “some of the latest (Western) climate science, first-hand,” paired with elders’ experiences of climate change on the land.
While the project is in its initial stages, having just recently received funding, Lim said there are plans underway to hold another regional gathering later this year where each community can present the results of their own community-based, self-directed reþsearch.
“The idea is that each group of youth picks an identified component of potential vulnerability to climate change and they pursue certain questions, try to dig down into a certain environmental determinant of health and go off and explore that in their own community context, and then bring that back (to the network),” Lim said.
As well, there are plans for more on-the-land activities like fall hunts.
“One of the hopes of the community health and climate change project for 2014-15…is getting high school groups possibly out on their community fall hunts, which we were able to help facilitate in Tulita last year,” Lim said. “The idea would be to expand that, having youth from each community get out on their own community fall hunt.”
Supporting the traditional economy
The second project in which the youth are currently involved deals with the traditional economy, linking youth, elders and prominent harvesters together to talk about ways in which new and traditional ways of making a living can be brought together to improve the economic livelihoods of people in the region.
“The broad objective of that project is to examine how to maintain and strengthen the traditional economy in a context of fairly rapid industrial activity and expansion,” Lim said, “again with a really strong youth focus in there.”
Representatives from all the Sahtu communities met on the traditional economy program in Deline in February – the end of the first year of the two-year project – where Lim said there was a really strong call for more on-the-land activities and further bridge-building between elders and youth, particularly around traditional skills.
“While there’s definitely talk about the increasing implications of wage work, a lot of the discussion actually focused on the strong desire on the part of youth to learn from their elders and learn traditional activities and basically keep the traditional economy strong,” he said.
“How do they mutually support each other in a positive way; how can skills inherent to traditional activities be transferred into successful wage employment?”
The ultimate goal is to come out with an action plan for a mixed regional economy at the end of year two.
Lim said it’s essential to have youth involved in the important discussions dealing with the future of the region, environmentally, culturally and economically.
“There’s just a real interest in these issues when you engage youth; there’s a real hunger for more information and opportunities to engage, and a general desire to have a voice and say over some of what’s occurring in the territories that not only these youth but their families have lived on for generations,” he said. “These are the folks that are going to take over the stewardship and governance of the region.”