Indigenous youths offer their take on climate change

INDIGENOUS GLOBAL SUMMIT: They didn't cause the warming, but they can help find solutions.

April 22, 2009 

Members of the world's next generation of conservationists sat in a circle to bat around ideas on how indigenous people can help stop global warming.

Several dozen young people who are attending the Indigenous Peoples' Global Summit on Climate Change caucused Wednesday to define their role in tackling climate change.

About 400 people from 80 nations are attending the five-day United Nations-affiliated conference in Anchorage.

"We didn't have a say in all of this that went on but we are the ones taking all the heat," said Robert Chavez, a 16-year-old Pueblo Indian from San Juan Pueblo, N.M., when asked how he feels about global warming and the future of the planet.

The summit aims to get indigenous people of all ages to speak about climate change with a unified voice -- one that will have more influence over political and other decisions made about climate change.

"What do you want?" the group leader asked the young people. "What is a good way to define ourselves?"

In the end, the youths decided even though they did not cause the problem of global warming they are in a special position to find solutions. That's because they are the ones, they said, that can bring technological knowledge and the traditional knowledge of their elders to the problem.

"If we do not react now -- there will be no other time," said a young man from Africa who talked about how repeated droughts are killing livestock, creating economic hardships for families. "I do not see another time we will be together as people."

The youths decided they would send the summit a message about the importance of including them in looking for solutions to the problem.

"We are the bridge between our elders and what's ahead in climate change," said Greta Schuerch, 29, of Kiana. "I feel that indigenous youth have a responsibility especially to take the traditional and local knowledge and adapt to what is to come."

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, a 30-year-old member of the Athabasca Chipewyn First Nation in Canada, said young people make up more than half of the world's population.

Her town in northern Alberta sits precariously close to the tar sands being mined in Canada, Deranger said. She said mining of the tar sands has ruined the indigenous people's subsistence way of life.

"The people can no longer hunt and fish," she said. "The water is so polluted they no longer can drink it."

"We ... inherited all the problems," she said.

The summit will run through Friday, and will conclude with a declaration and an action plan, and a call to governments around the world to include indigenous people in any new regimes on climate change.

Conference recommendations will be presented to the Conference of Parties at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December.

Anchorage Daily News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service