2021 Top 25 Winners – Climate and Food Justice 

It’s time to turn the spotlight onto this year’s Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 within the category of Climate and Food Justice  Climate and Food Justice is a wave in the sustainable movement, specifically, it incorporates working with local organizations to address issues such as hunger and working with governments at all levels to initiate policy changes.  All recipients are leaders in their communities that have a passion for human rights and food security. From working with indigenous communities to support programs such as LandBack to non-profits that hope to bridge the gap between food waste and food insecurity, they are creating a foundation for a sustainable future. 

Here’s a quick list of our Climate and Food Justice winners:

  • Soomin Han, 22, Location: Manitoba
  • Lilian Barraclough, 23, Location: Nova Scotia
  • Kiemia Rezagian, 24, Location: Ontario 
  • Horeen Hassan, 25, Location: Ontario 
  • Serena Mendizábal, 23, Location: Ontario 
  • Rachel Dong, 17, Location: British Columbia 
  • Dani Stancer, 24, Location: British Columbia

Soomin Han

Location: Manitoba

Traditional Territory: Treaty 1 territory, the original lands of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation

Soomin is a GreenPAC parliamentary intern working with MPs to champion climate justice on Parliament Hill. Her desire to make a change in the world of environmentalism and community engagement stems from her identity as a young, immigrant, Asian woman. In high school, Soomin got involved in an initiative called Strong Girls, Strong World, a program that encourages young women to become agents of change. In this program, she helped create a toolkit to share the knowledge of how gender interacts with systemic oppression. This toolkit has created a safe place for people (especially women), to learn about intersectional feminism and how gender can impact their identities. This experience helped her develop a desire to utilize her skills in order to advocate and engage with people in her community. In 2017, Soomin participated in the Students on Ice Arctic expedition, which allowed her to connect with nature and learn from Inuk elders and youth throughout the expedition. After her time during the expedition, Soomin’s fight for gender rights met with her desire to call for climate justice. 

Soomin created the University of Manitoba’s first SDG Guide, with was authored by various members of the SDG Hub with their experiences, this guide highlighted how the U of M campus and community is taking action on each of the 17 goals and how community members can take action or get involved. She also attended the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change COP 25 (Conference of the Parties) in 2019, where she advocated for the protection of Indigenous and human rights as well as climate justice. She advocated for more youth targetted engagement including decision-making at all political levels. When asked about her experience at this conference she responded, “We have to start recognizing the powerful work being done by Indigenous, Black, racialized, trans, disabled, and frontline communities at the decision-making tables and support these communities to lead and shape the discussions. Support the grassroots initiatives and amplify the solutions developed and led by Indigenous and frontline groups alongside your advocacy for more ambitious solutions by governments and corporations!” Soomin’s constant ability to push herself to fight for diversity and inclusion as well as climate change is exactly what the new generation of climate activists need. 

Lilian Barraclough

Location: Nova Scotia

Traditional Territory: Kjipuktuk, Mi’kma’ki

Lilian Barraclough is currently pursuing her Masters of Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University, her research topic is “Can art and science work together to build rituals and vocabularies for dealing with climate grief?” Her research explores the climate grief of politically active youth in Mi’kma’ki. Her aim in her research is to identify activities that are helpful for youth to process their climate grief and encourage communities to build supportive areas. When Lilian started her degree she started writing for the Nova Scotia Advocate, increasing public awareness of environmental concerns in politics. Additionally, she is also a secretary on the Moonlight Institute’s Board of Directors. Lilian’s accomplishments do not stop there, in 2021 she became a Learning Lead for the Cautious Optimist Project, where she was able to lead a series of tutorials demonstrating practical skills that can help communities survive in a climate apocalypse.

Her role in her community continued to grow in 2021 when she became the Green Party’s Policy Convener, where she wrote a large portion of the party’s election platform. From there Lilian was also a Green Paty candidate for MLA in the riding of Halifax Chebucto in the 2021 Nova Scotia Provincial Election. Her campaign was based on ecological wisdom, democratic collaboration, and justice. The Ecology Action Centre said that Lilian’s platform was the most environmentally robust of the provincial platforms. When asked what systemic change looked like to her, she replied, “Systemic change looks like strengthened communities where everyone has the means to survive and thrive. It looks like a society where its acceptance and inclusion of all and where no one is left behind. Systemic change looks like decolonizing so-called Canada and returning the land back to Indigenous peoples across this land, defunding the police, transforming the incarceration system to one of justice, providing everyone with access to free education, income to survive, meaningful work, healthy food, and building sustainable localized communities that are carbon-zero and adaptive to the impacts of the climate crisis.” Lilian is seen as an innate leader in her community and her research on Climate Grief is groundbreaking. 

Kiemia Rezagian

Location: Ontario

Traditional Territory: Traditional territory of the Three Fires Confederacy, comprising the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi

Kiemia Rezagian is a well-spoken young advocate for climate and social justice. Her climate and environmental justice work started with her love for people and desire to work to dismantle injustice to allow people in communities across Canada to live in peace and security. Her activism is rooted in the protection of people who live through war, human rights abuses, and injustice. Kiemia is a child of a refugee, which enables her to fight even more. Through learning more about indigenous land and water defenders, she realized that the climate movement and the human rights movement were one and the same. 

Her grassroots organizing experience demonstrates that there is potential for problem-solving and creativity in the collective thinking and dreaming that enables the community of people who express their passion for a cause. She advocates for grassroots organizations as an opening for individuals that want to create change even with the barriers of a professional world. “People have always been, and will always be, the driving force behind social and economic change.” Kiemia’s desire to create change is inspiring. She hopes that in 5 years more people will be actively doing more to tackle the root causes of inequity and marginalization. She believes that we can create a world that has new ways to exist outside of colonialism and oppression.  

Her advice for young environmentalists looking to get involved in the sustainability movement is to not be afraid of the path of figuring it all out. Sometimes the path forward isn’t always clear and Kiemia has always tried to find ways to do the most good for the most people. “Starting by getting involved anywhere will introduce you to the infinite network of people doing different kinds of organizing that might inspire you. Sometimes it might not be the right fit, and some relationships may not flourish, but that’s okay. There will be one that will, and that one will matter”. Her involvement in the climate and social justice movement has the potential to create lasting change in her community and her desire to make the world a better place is strengthened by her ability to empower young people to do the same. 

Horeen Hassan

Location: Ontario

Traditional Territory: The traditional lands of the Attawandaron, Haudenosaunee And Anishinaabek, and the Treaty lands of the Mississaugas Of The Credit. Land that is subject to Treaty 3

Horeen Hassan is an empowering member of the Guelph community while also championing human rights. While she was at the University of Guelph, she was the Vice President of External Affairs in the Student Union, leading protests to end water bottling contracts, challenging plastic waste on campus and working toward developing a sustainable action plan to diverge from fossil fuels. After her time at the University of Guelph, she started working with Wellington Water Watchers in order to resolve issues concerning water cleanliness and scarcity, specifically, the needs and concerns of BIPOC individuals in the area. Even more, she has been working with the Six Nations community to have the Nestle Water Bottling Plant grounds returned to the Six Nations. Her experience fighting these important issues reinstated her belief, “As a settler, I have an obligation to stand in solidarity with these movements and to respond to their calls to action when those calls are made. Those in the climate movement should know by now that there is no such thing as climate justice without Indigenous sovereignty and LandBack”. 

In the summer of 2021, she walked 100km across Ontario communities to visit areas whose water supply has been threatened due to development projects. When asked why the issue of threatened sources of drinking water was important to her she replied, “It’s simple, water is for life and not for profit. In many instances, our colonial governments leave people and communities behind when it comes to access to clean drinking water. In other instances, these governments side with corporate powers, prioritizing their profit over the well-being of communities and the natural environment. It is our job to hold our governments accountable and work to create a people-centred society”. Her will to continue to fight for the rights of underprivileged communities is shedding light on problems that all Canadian need to care about. Her advice for young environmentalists is to join various social and environmental justice movements to be a part of an exciting community of people who do meaningful work. Horeen’s desire to help people and work to make society more people-focused is a great representation of a new generation of climate and social justice activists.   

Serena Mendizábal

Location: Ontario

Traditional Territory: Traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Attawandaron

Serena Mendizábal is a Cayuga Ngabe Wolf clan woman from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, she is part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and their traditional governance. Her love and passion for her community are what drive a heartful responsibility to her community, Yethinihstenha Onhwentsya, her family and future generations to continue to protect their lands and waters. When asked how her experience as a member of the Cayuga Ngabe Panamanian Wolf clan contribute to her involvement in the Climate movement, she replied, “As a Haudenosaunee woman, climate justice means Indigenous sovereignty and land back”. Her community is a vital part of the climate justice movement and is one of the reasons why the fight is important.  

Outside her work in the Six Nations community, she is currently a Masters of Geography and Environment student at Western University. Serena specializes in Indigenous environmental health governance. Serena is working toward improving community health through self-determinating decision-making regarding resources and energy. In Six Nations, Serena is part of Protect the Tract, a Haudenosaunee-led project that executes sovereignty by promoting land stewardship over the Haldimand tract. Specifically, they develop policies and the capacity for civic engagement through conducting research. In her role, she supports the self-determination future the Haudenosaunee Confederacy is working towards. This includes building better connections to the land, more confidence in Haudenosaunee identity, and political engagement in different systems. Serena also sits on the advisory board of the Six Nations Environmental Task Force. Serena is fierce in her passion for her community and she continues to change the way climate justice is pursued to highlight Indigenous sovereignty and lands back. 

Rachel Dong

Location: British Columbia

Traditional Territory: Traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil Waututh), and sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Coast Salish peoples

Rachel Dong is a young activist fighting Climate Change in her community through non-profit work and advocacy to be the change. Ever since Rachel was younger, she has had an innate passion for stopping climate change by putting a stop to food waste. When she entered high school, she decided to be the club president of Kitchen on a Mission, where she was able to aid in bridging the gap between food insecurity and the impact of food waste. As part of her role in the club, she coordinates weekly food rescues by building relationships with local bakeries and homeless shelters across Vancouver, so they can collect end-of-day goods that are not up to selling standards and donate it to people in need. Outstandingly, in over two years, Kitchen on a Mission has diverged $35 000 of surplus food from entering the landfill, and they recruited over 100 new club members this year. 

Rachel was a part of the Ocean Wise YouthToSea Leadership program where she participated in monthly shoreline cleanups to prevent 1300 pounds of litter from entering the oceans. As well as, she became the chair of the Vancouver School Board Sustainability Conference, where she desires to increase environmental awareness in order to create more youth advocates for climate change. The Vancouver School Board Sustainability Conference provided a day-long conference to inspire and foster a new environment for young adults to learn more about the community they live in and encourage more conversations about working towards a brighter future. Rachel’s ability to push towards a collaborative future inspires many young people to create change in their communities. 

Dani Stancer

Location: British Columbia

Traditional Territory: Traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Hul’qumi’num-speaking Coast Salish peoples, the traditional territories of the Quw’utsun (Cowichan) Tribes, Stz’uminus First Nation, Penelakut Tribe, and Halalt First Nation

Dani Stancer is a young activist who is working towards building a strengthened local food system in the Cowichan Valley. Her desire to make a change in the world of food justice was only elevated when she attended the University of British Columbia, where she worked as the Associate Vice President of Sustainability at the student union (AMS). In part of her role, she ensured the businesses of the AMS worked in sustainable ways, such as biodegradable cutlery, waste audits, and even environmentally friendly options during catering events. Dani worked on the AMS sustainability plan by including more tangible goals, circling operational sustainability, and the positive impact on the lives of students. She included the Ethical and Sustainable Purchasing Policy, filling in the gap between existing policies, as well as showing students the commitment AMS has to sustainability. 

Dani is currently the Food Hub Manager for the Cowichan Green Community (CGC), a non-profit in Duncan, BC, focusing on food security and environmental initiatives, specifically, alleviating poverty and working towards limiting hunger. She is working towards the construction of a warehouse and shared-commercial kitchen, which will serve as the Cowichan Valley Full-Scale Food Processing and Innovation Hub. It will be a member of the BC Food Hub Network. Even with her food policies and security work, she encourages small but significant ways to build a more sustainable lifestyle. “It’s not about all or nothing, just look to see what little changes you can make in your existing lifestyle to make it more sustainable. You shouldn’t have to break the bank to live more sustainably – look for easy swaps like saving jars, plastic (usually single-use) food containers, or takeout containers and reuse them when you’re meal prepping or need to save leftovers, or join neighbourhood free/gifted/swapped groups on Facebook to find items you need. If you have the ability to, try your hand at growing some of your own food or look for local farms and markets to support – eating seasonally and supporting your local food system is one of the best things you can do for the climate”. The sustainable movement does not just include individuals, rather communities coming together to create change. Dani’s leadership skills and drive to put her community first are what make her an incredible agent of change. 

Making a change in the world starts with making a change in your own life. Just like these young activists who are  working hard to build a sustainable future, you too can create change. Volunteering at social and environmental justice movements is just one step in the right direction. Another is building relationships with non-profit organizations and other like-minded individuals to support concerning issues, such as decreasing food waste or human rights. To create community change is to create everlasting change. 

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