2020 Top 25 Winners – Indigenous Engagement Leaders

2021-10-30

 |  Starfish Changemakers

Indigenous engagement in environmental activism is essential to creating an intersectional understanding of climate change impacts that honours diverse perspectives and experiences of the world and incorporates these perspectives into holistic climate change solutions. Take a look below at four leaders from Starfish’s Top 25 Under 25 who are passionate about empowering Indigenous voices in environmental work. 

Myia Antone, 25 

Hometown: Squamish, BC

Traditional Territory: SḴWX̱WÚ7MESH ÚXWUMIXW (Squamish Nation)

Myia Antone recently moved back to her home in Squamish, BC, after completing the Environment and Sustainability program at the University of British Columbia. Though not an outdoorsy child growing up, Myia understands how important the land and environment are to her and her community of Squamish Nation. When deciding what she wanted to do with her life, she says “I want to protect the land that I grew up on.”

During university, Myia was introduced to outdoor activities like climbing, skiing, and mountain biking. She believes that by joining these sports as an adult, she was able to “recognize there are not many other Indigenous people doing them,” and could reflect more critically on the outdoor community. While navigating backcountry safety programs, Myia realized that many of the courses “aren’t built for indigenous, black, or people of colour because they aren’t trauma-informed…It’s not just physical safety with the environment, but also safety with the people you’re out there with and if you feel comfortable speaking up… There are so many different factors that play into that.” Myia could not see a safe space for BIPOC folx to learn, experience, and come together in the outdoor activity world, so she decided to make a place herself. 

In 2020, Myia launched Indigenous Women Outdoors (IWO), an inclusive community that empowers womxn to reconnect with and reoccupy their land, and to become leaders in the outdoor community by creating safe opportunities to experience nature. Through trauma-informed courses, which Myia describes as recognizing “whose land we’re on and that western knowledge isn’t the centre of these courses,” IWO participants receive wilderness first aid training, backcountry training, and attend overnight hikes to help them feel confident in the outdoors and leading their own community programs.

Part of the knowledge and experience that Myia braids into her environmental work is her passion for Sḵwx̱wú7mesh sníchim (Squamish language). Myia’s love for the language is evident in her stories and voice when she talks about it. She explains that Sḵwx̱wú7mesh sníchim “really complements and upholds the outdoor work I do as our language comes from the land, like sounds that mimic the wind, for example.” To Myia, her environmental work and language work are completely intertwined and she “wouldn’t be doing one without the other.” 

Currently, Myia is working as a full-time language educator while running IWO. When asked how others can support IWO and the work she is doing, Myia suggests people offer their own unique skills sets and knowledge rather than general help. A good example of this would be photographers offering to mentor or run photography classes for Indigenous photographers.

Kiya Bruno, 15

Hometown: Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, AB

Traditional Territories: Treaty 6 Territory

Kiya Bruno is from the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alberta. She is a singer, dancer, actress, climate change activist, and Indigenous rights advocate. 

At the age of thirteen, Kiya became the first person to perform the Canadian National Anthem in Cree for a Toronto Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. Kiya learned the anthem in Cree the year before and has been performing regularly across Canada at hockey and baseball games, including a Stanley Cup playoffs game and the National Canada Day Special for CBC in 2020. Kiya hopes her performances inspire other Indigenous youth to follow their passions, show their culture, and help revitalize Indigenous languages across Canada. She explains, “I hope after they see me perform in my language, they’ll be more inspired to show their talent and to learn their language.”

In addition to performing across Canada, Kiya and her mother, Barbara Dumigan-Jackson, recently launched their clothing company, Stay Rooted Apparel ᑲᓇᐁᐧᔨᐦᑌᑕᐣ ᒥᑐᓴᐠ. Every item bought from Stay Rooted comes with the guarantee that 5 trees will be planted. In addition, 10% of the company’s proceeds go towards providing clean drinking water to a First Nations family. So far in 2021, over 2000 trees will be planted through their program.

Stay Rooted is inspired not just by planting trees to help the environment and combat climate change, but also by Kiya and her mother’s belief in staying rooted within their culture, teachings, stories, and traditions. They embrace their Cree culture and show it through meaningful designs in their apparel. The duo hopes that through their company and Kiya’s performances, others will be inspired to give back to the land, protect the water, and end the First Nations water crisis within Canada.

Justin Langan, 22

Hometown: Swan River, Manitoba 

Traditional Territories: MICHIF PIYII (MÉTIS), ANISHINABEWAKI ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, CREE, AND OČHÉTHI ŠAKÓWIŊ TERRITORY

Justin Langan is a Métis youth currently living in Winnipeg and attending the University of Manitoba; however, he is originally from the rural community of Swan River, Manitoba. There, he grew up surrounded by Indigenous culture, learned respect for the land, and eventually became involved in sustainability and activism during his high school years. 

In 2019, Justin’s interest in climate change and environmentalism transformed when he launched a project to learn about different perspectives on climate change across communities. Combining his advocacy and journalism skills, Justin travelled around the parkland region of Manitoba talking to Elders and “hearing their stories and how drastic climate change is, especially in the prairies.” Justin’s interest in climate change and environmentalism began in high school, but his involvement in activism transformed when he talked to Elders about the drastic changes in the prairie landscape due to climate change. He says “we, as Indigenous people, have seen firsthand the effects climate change has had on the local wildlife, rivers, ecosystems, and berries.”

In 2019, Justin began combining his skills in advocacy and journalism to visit Indigenous communities around the parkland region and record conversations with youth and Elders about their culture, heritage, language, and personal stories. Through these discussions, Justin hopes to intertwine the different perspectives and understandings of their communities, language, and culture to show how much “both generations have to offer one another.” 

While visiting different communities across Manitoba, Justin saw common threads relating environmental concerns to animal populations and plant life. Specifically, Justin says, “berries and medicine have diminished in size and have become scarce near these communities, directly affecting the wellbeing of Indigenous people.” 

Along with his community conversations, Justin is also heavily involved with the Manitoba Métis Federation. He helped establish Regional Youth Committees, created a Métis Youth Vote campaign, and is the Editor-in-Chief of the Metis Youth Newsletter, “The Cart”. Justin hopes his projects across Manitoba create dialogue within and across communities to “educate and inform Indigenous youth about climate change, how it directly affects them at a local level, and how they can use resources to fight it.”

Justin recently launched an Indigenous clothing brand, O’KANATA Apparel, in which 10% of each purchase goes to supporting Indigenous youth through scholarships and community-based projects. He is also completing his degree at the University of Manitoba and continues to create short films with the hope of moving into feature films soon. 

Sarah Hanson, 25

Hometown: Ottawa, ON

Traditional Territories: Anishinaabe of Biigtigong Nishnaabeg First Nation

Sarah Hanson is Anishnaabe from Biigtigong Nishnaabeg in Ontario and uses her voice to create spaces to intertwine western science and Indigenous knowledge in climate change work. 

While attending Queen’s University to complete her degree in biology, Sarah advocated for Indigenous culture and issues as co-president of the Native Students Association. Currently, Sarah is the North American Regional Director for Youth4Nature. Youth4Nature is an international non-profit organization that educates and empowers youth to speak out on solutions for the environmental crisis while staying rooted in science, traditional knowledge, and climate justice. Here, Sarah facilitates discussions with youth on Indigenous rights, social justice, and nature-based solutions. 

Previously, Sarah worked at Crown Indigenous-Relations and Northern Affairs Canada as a Jr. Environmental Policy Analyst. She worked to combine Indigenous knowledge and community work with western science to create safe, respectful, and all-encompassing places of research for Indigenous youth in the climate field. 

Along with her role at Youth4Nature, Sarah is also a member of Leading Change’s Steering Committee, an organization that encourages young professionals across Canada to act on climate change issues. During her participation with Leading Change, Sarah increased Indigenous engagement with the GLOBE Forum, a sustainable business summit, by leading a delegation of 14 Indigenous youth at the event. 

In 2021, Sarah also became a delegate for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. As an advisory board to the Economic and Social Council, Sarah and the other members of the forum advised on Indigenous issues relating to social and economic development, culture, the environment, education, health, and human rights. It is clear through all of Sarah’s work that she strives to improve diversity and Indigenous engagement in climate change solutions across professional industries, education, and government structure.