It is 1996. A picture shows a slightly chubby baby, carefully tucked away in a blanket, carried by her mum and surrounded by ice. A sense of confusion reflects on her face, as she is watching the breathtaking views of the Athabasca glacier in Alberta.
Twenty years later. A picture shows the same baby face, now slightly bigger and connected to an almost-adult body. She is finally capable of dragging herself up the glacier, ignoring the harsh cold wind and the signs that state how far the glacier has retreated. The icy location I was standing on with my mum back in the 90’s had quickly turned into volcanic rock, as its whiteness flushed down to the Athabasca falls a couple of miles ahead. Suddenly, my whole life seemed to be connected to this very glacier, pristine and powerful, yet so vulnerable in a way- like a metaphor for this very planet.
Nineteen years later. I remember visiting the open evening of my current university with my mum, my teenage self strongly claiming she didn’t want to go to lectures about that ‘climate stuff.’ I’m glad the passion of the lecturer that day shined down on me, moving me to want to make a change. My education made me into the person I am now.
Twenty years later. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood makes me cry for an hour, as the reality of environmental change slaps me in the face once again. Yes, I am studying to combat it every day, but treating it like something I need to be tested on alienates me from the issue itself. I promise myself to be a better activist… and move on.
Twenty years later. In the last week of classes, an inspiring person enters our lecture hall. Beau Dick, a native visual artist and chieftain of Kwakwaka’wakw descent, is invited to my sustainable forest policy course to talk about what forest stewardship, and forests in general, mean to him. He starts off by telling us two beautiful traditional stories. It feels like a breeze of fresh air, closing off a course that has been mainly about laws and politics of resource usage.
Beau’s message is clear: “The word ‘resource’ implies we are entitled to it, but truly nature should be seen as a gift.” The First Nations’ people experience a certain connectedness to their homes, the forest, and nature’s harmony, because they know their whole culture and livelihood depends on it. With colonization, ideas like civilization and agriculture were glorified, alienating us from that what we depend on: our planet.
This connectedness is worthless if not shared with and transferred to other generations and cultures, Beau argued. I guess I experienced this in some way when my professors’ passion for fighting for our planet appeared to be contagious, or when DiCaprio’s dramatic visuals gave me tears in my eyes. Beau Dick was right: the key to making change is to keep reminding, educating and encouraging each other to be activists. Cause that’s what could possibly save us to some degree:“You can complain and be critical as you like, but unless you go out there and do something about it, it is not going to help anything. First of all, stewardship entails learning to clean up after ourselves.”