Youth for a sustainable future

Photo by Eva Antonijevic

Youth empowerment and sustainability are two goals that Vancouver’s civic institutions often aim to improve. But how do the two interrelate?

The Source talked to four motivated activists, each striving in different ways for the inclusion of Canadian indigenous and non-indigenous youth in policy making, to see how they envision youth engagement in 2018.

Building the tools for engagement

The young leaders of today will be the leaders of tomorrow,” says Tom Ewart of IMPACT! Youth Sustainability Program, on the other end of the line in snowy Ontario. “That’s exactly why we engage some of the brightest entrepreneurial young leaders and catalyze their efforts to create a sustainable society.”

An initiative of The Co-operators and The Natural Step, and funded by numerous other partners, the IMPACT! Program initially started as a national youth conference on sustainability, but now provides workshops all across Canada. In these workshops, youth learn “what kind of leader they are and how to build out their visions and action plans to create a sustainable society,” says Ewart, who notes that there have been many success stories.

“Some youth come into the program with existing initiatives they want to scale, and others come with some ideas about what impact they want to have in society and leave with a solid plan to begin doing so,” he says. “IMPACT! offers funding and mentorship to support the social enterprises and initiatives that the youth establish, which have generated many meaningful impacts.”

One of those success stories can be told by 23-year-old Veronika Bylicki, one of the young entrepreneurs who launched CityHive after receiving the tools to do so during the IMPACT! workshops. “I was always interested in sustainability and together with my friend Tesicca Truong, I decided to found CityHive, an organization that strives to engage youth in city planning, decision making and sustainability,” zshe says.

She feels that youth can offer refreshing new perspectives if they are given the chance to do so.

“I believe that youth offer a lot of optimism and innovative ideas, and that’s why we want to transform the way that the government and civic institutions engage youth,” says Bylicki. CityHive seeks to build up the capacity among youth to actually engage, as well as help organizations create the tools to engage youth.

Bylicki’s inexhaustible commitment to society shows in her aspirations for 2018, “Citizen and especially youth engagement should not be an afterthought. So many of our greatest challenges – from climate change to affordability to renewable energy – can be addressed in part through solutions co-created by citizens and government. Engaging citizens more meaningfully is important to create more sustainable, liveable and inclusive places to live.”

Indigenous initiatives

Another young activist is 26-year-old Tessa Terbasket, a Syilx woman, who combines her knowledge of indigenous land management with her passion for water sustainability. After following an IMPACT! workshop and other youth leadership trainings, she started working as a youth worker, striving to share historical and ecological knowledge with both indigenous and non-indigenous youths. “Young people come with an open mind and are ready to leave any previous notions behind,”` says Terbasket, who worked alongside her studies as a youth reconciliation leader for Canadian Roots Exchange.

“In workshops we brought together indigenous and non-indigenous youth to build relationships by sharing their stories, cultures and the true indigenous histories of Canada. I was leading a water program in which we combined both Western scientific knowledge and my indigenous ecological knowledge to look at water issues in our territories.”

According to Terbasket, the difference in perspective is that indigenous people look at water not so much as a resource, but as a part of the land and a relation that they have to care for.

“It is important to awaken the youth to the realities that are going on,” she says. “In BC’s interior we are seeing the effects of climate change with more flooding and droughts, and on top of that the water licenses are over-allocated; licenses that historically were wrongly allocated. Settlers and farmers were first given water licenses, instead of the first people on the land”.

For Terbasket the issues don’t end there. “This is only one of the important historical injustices of natural resource management in regards to the original caretakers of the land,” she explains.

She holds that empowering the youth with knowledge and leadership skills is one part of the solution.

“Youths are very creative and innovative, they know what they want to see changed for society, they can really have a powerful voice for change,” says Terbasket.

Her aspirations for 2018 are clear.

“In terms of water management, decision making is not inclusive to youth and indigenous people. Their voices should be there,” she says.

Connecting to empower

In past years, Terbasket has worked closely with her aunt Kelly Terbasket, who launched the not for profit IndigenEYEZ in 2014, an organization that helps indigenous youth to regain their strength and self-esteem.

Youth empowerment is one of the main goals of IndigenEYEZ, which offers youth camps, school workshops and adult skills training.

“Our skills trainings and camps are focused on four pillars: self-development; connecting to others; connecting to the larger tribe or community; and connecting to the land,” says Terbasket. “We follow the indigenous analogy that all the work that we do now is for the future generation, the people to be. We all share one skin, snux-syilx in our language. This means we are all interconnected, and we can use these ancestral strengths to turn around the horrific statistics on First Nation communities.”

A member of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and Okanagan Nation, Terbasket had a hard time accessing her traditional knowledge as a young girl. This was partly due to the way that colonization had fragmented relationships in Indigenous communities.

“This is something that I wanted to change for the youth,” she says. “We need to put more emphasis on making connections across generations and mentoring our youth. This will be a solution to a lot of our existing problems. At the same time, technology and social media remove us more from each other every day. By organizing the camps and workshops, we want to let children reconnect to their community and to nature, to make them aware of the importance of our social fabric.”

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