A six-day trip through the Beaufort Delta made a changing climate bracingly tangible for roughly a dozen youth leaders this week.
Running from August 22 to 28, Ecology North’s Young Leaders’ Summit on Northern Climate Change had participants meet with elders, harvesters and community members studying the first-hand effects of climate change. This is the second time Inuvik has hosted the event, where youth delve into topics such as coastal erosion along the Arctic coast and the changing water conditions of the Mackenzie River.
Ecology North executive director Craig Scott said the youth on the trip “really connect with each other and find people they can relate to from other small communities. They learn a lot from each other.”
Climate change can be apparent in their own communities, but a trip like this provides broader context to their knowledge.
For Emma Baldwin, a recent Carleton University graduate, speaking to elders in Tuktoyaktuk about coastal erosion was more impactful than studying climate change in class.
“This is what I studied and this is the reality of their lives,” she said.
As a student, she’s interested in international relations and climate change negotiations. The trip allowed her to develop a deeper knowledge of the North outside her home in Dawson City, Yukon.
“The Arctic holds such power because of how fragile they are, and how that impacts the rest of the world, is why I’m passionate about studying it,” she said. “A lot goes into it.”
It was consequently impactful to gather personal stories of climate change’s impact. She said the visit to Tuktoyaktuk was particularly emotional, especially when meeting community youth and seeing their passion for keeping their culture and home.
That’s balanced against Northern communities’ greater exposure to the realities of climate change, however.
“I don’t want to say they have no power,” she said. “They have so much power and so much voice, but they also don’t have the funds to adapt a lot of the time.
“It’s easy to get defeated and be super pessimistic about the future, and I don’t like that.”
Meeting other youth reminded her why she was participating in the discussion, and serves as motivation for ultimately addressing the issue in an international relations setting.
In the near term, however, she wants to take her experience back home to Yukon and hold her local government accountable for their efforts to address climate change.
Adonika Jayne is also from Dawson City. For her, the trip was a chance to kickstart ideas and get inspired to bring the lessons to her own community.
“While there’s huge issues going on, and we’re in a sh–ty situation, I probably couldn’t have explained why, or told you scientific backing as to what is happening” prior to the trip, she said.
Visiting Tuk and seeing coastal erosion was a visual of an often abstract issue, she said.
It’s also relatable. At home, she lives across a river in West Dawson, which relies on freeze-up and break-up to travel across. However, for the past three years, the ice hasn’t jammed correctly and Jayne likely won’t be able to live in her house this winter.
It runs parallel to the experiences of the people she met, though they’re slightly different, she said.
Nonetheless, she said “to speak with [elders] and hear their opinions and experiences is incredibly valuable,” in the group’s visits to Tuk and Tsiigehtchic. For visiting youth, they’re living records of the changing climate in the area.
Moving forward, she hopes creating and foster community will be a vital step when addressing climate change on a small-scale.
“That’s why I like living in small place,” she said.
Ethan Eyakfwo, who’s originally from Gameti, and is now living in Behchoko, agreed about the need for community. He said he hadn’t directly felt significant climate change before the trip.
“We don’t really see the changes happening, but now that I came here, it’s really eye-opening. It’s hard to accept,” he said.
Seeing evidence of coastal erosion, and in one case an island being washed way, he said it was difficult to grapple with.
“There’s nothing you can really do about, which is hard,” Eyakfwo said.
For him, gaining more knowledge about climate change made a major difference.
“Coming here, it’s a lot more than news around the world,” he said. “It’s affecting people, the land, but it’s also affecting their way of life, which I feel on par with.”
Eyakfwo said he knew a similar way of life and seeing that threat was also tough.
“I wish I can do more. I think I can do more and try to help,” he said. “Small steps. Each small step will create a step forward.”
However, he feels that speaking with a climate-change skeptic friend will now be easier, given his experience and the stories he’s heard on the trip.
“He doesn’t … see what I see from here, which is way different from back home,” Eyakfwo said. “I feel like if I talk to him now with the stories and the photos, I think his perspective might change.”