#4 - DESIREE WALLACE
HOMETOWN: Langley, British Columbia
Through her work and travel, environmental and human rights activist Desiree Wallace has gained a first hand understanding of the social and environmental injustices that exist around the world. These eye opening experiences have led her to bring attention to these injustices and to work towards dismantling many of the oppressive structures that exist.
From a young age, Desiree’s parents got her involved in social justice and human rights work. This involvement led her to a global stewardship program at Capilano University, where the interconnectedness of social and environmental justice became evident through her studies, and she began to apply this knowledge to her activism.
Desiree is a co-founder of Beyond Boarding, a collective merging snowboarding and artistic mediums to reach new audiences and address privilege, oppression, and climate justice at large; their cumulative experiences have brought them to prioritize supporting grassroots indigenous self-determination and resistance to large-scale industrial development on unceded territories.. Using this platform, Desiree has spoken at events, rallies and workshops and has reached a wide audience. Her message has been one of empowerment, encouraging people to take a stand against projects that are harmful to the environment and violate human rights, while also informing her audiences about systemic issues that are not always reported on in the media, such as environmental racism, oppression and marginalization.
Beyond Boarding initially brought Desiree to Peru, where she saw the effects of climate change in the melting glaciers in the Andes causing severe flooding, the spread of waterborne disease and lack of food security in one of South America’s largest slum communities, La Belen. It became clear to her that climate change disproportionately affects impoverished communities in the global south and how these people's quality of life will further be compromised if the global North continues on its current path of economic pursuit. While she cares deeply about the destruction of the Earth, it is the urgency of which she cares about people that is the driving force for her environmental activism.
Desiree has spoken publicly at events across British Columbia, bringing attention to the oppressive structures that exist. She has worked closely with indigenous groups fighting for social and environmental justice through fundraising, community engagement, and legal support. Her journey for justice continues on to the front lines, where she has lived on blockades alongside the Klabona Keepers, a group of elders and families lead by grandmothers from Tl’ab’ane (more commonly referred to as the Sacred Headwaters) who resist large-scale industrial development on their homelands, protecting their way of life in so-called North Western B.C.
Desiree has worked tirelessly to bring awareness to the struggle of the Klabona Keepers. Alongside two of her Beyond Boarding peers, Nicole Kilistoff and Landon Yerex, she organized an initiative called Cycle to the Sacred, a bicycle ride from Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish territory, to Tl’ab’ane an area that is home to abundant wildlife, including caribou and grizzly bears, and is the location where three wild salmon rivers are born in close proximity. This bike ride was established to raise awareness about the Klabona Keepers’ fight to protect their sacred territory and to raise funds for their resistance.
Along the 90 day bike ride, Desiree and her friends spent time in multiple First Nations communities unlearning the history of colonization as it is taught in mainstream education institutes, while also learning about the land they are fighting to save from the exploitation embedded in this time-old resource-based economy. This ride not only brought attention to the Klabona Keepers struggle, but also emphasized the importance of decolonization, meaningful reconciliation and standing in solidarity with indigenous groups in protecting their unceded lands at large.
Her experience with the Klabona Keepers shifted the way she views activism and how change can be brought to the world. In returning home herself and several other women, Hannah Campbell, Midori Campos, Loretta Nole, and Tamiko Suzuki, were arrested on Burnaby Mountain to further engage people in the Klabona Keepers land defence and with women on the front lines all over the world.
Through her work, Desiree wants to help shift the social, political and economic perspectives to encompass a more collective framework, which includes a shift in how people view the land, water, air, and their surrounding environments. She wants people to realize that we are the rivers, the land, the air, and so what we do to the Earth, we ultimately do to ourselves and each other.
Desiree’s perseverance and dedication make her an inspiration to those around her to take conscious actions to work towards a better future. Her work with marginalized communities not only gives people the confidence to stand up for what they believe in, but also gives them hope for the future.
The Starfish Canada's Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 Magazine showcases the 25 finalists from 2015 with longer articles, new pictures, and captivating stories from across Canada. All proceeds directly fund The Starfish Canada's programming to assist youth in understanding and amplifying the environmental issues they're most passionate about.