Fighting for Our Future

I’m suing the Canadian government because my culture and my history and my family’s livelihood is at risk due to its inaction on climate change.

As a 17-year-old from Haida Gwaii archipelago off the British Columbia mainland, in what is currently Canada, I have been working for climate action my whole life, in a way. I have grown up fostering a great respect for the land. I have grown up on stories of the land, stories of my father and my grandfathers and generations going back farther than I can conceptualize.

I was about 10 when my father, Jaalen Edenshaw, carved a totem pole that was raised at an ancient village site in a place called Windy Bay in the Haida Heritage Site and national park, Gwaii Haanas. My father carved it to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Gwaii Haanas Agreement between the Canadian and the Haida Nation to co-manage and protect our lands.

The protection of Gwaii Haanas, and of the land I learned and lived and played, on was wholly dependent on the sacrifices and work and power of my nation, of my grandfather, and the Haida community, which has lived on these islands for at least 12,000 years.They stood up for the preservation of this sacred space from resource extraction, especially logging, and it was a long, hard battle. But they won. Gwaii Haanas is protected now. It is due to these community members that I can enjoy and have my life changed by Gwaii Haanas, by its thousand-year-old trees and ancient village sites where my ancestors lived.

photo of a young woman

My lawsuit against the federal Canadian government for its role in the climate crisis is my version of taking a stand for my people so that future generations can be shaped by the land, just as I have been. So that people can take our pristine conditions for granted, as I did when I was younger. That is the ultimate luxury — to have the total sense of security that land provides. That is what I want for Haida Gwaii’s future. But if that is not possible, it is my honor and responsibility to preserve what I can of Haida Gwaii so that future generations have enough of it to fight for.

That’s why I’m suing the federal Canadian government. Because my culture and my history and my family’s livelihood depend on my rights to clean air and water. Because my language is really, really at risk, and every aspect of it comes from our land. Without one we lose the other.

I am suing the Canadian government because, due to climate change, I have lost any semblance of cultural security, and my food security is at risk too. Things that we depend on — fish, seaweed, yellow cedar — are already being impacted by climate change, and those impacts are projected to only get worse. A healthy community needs a clean environment.

Climate change is impacting me and my rights as protected in the Canadian Charter, including my rights to equality, to life, liberty, and security of person, and my public trust rights. The same is true of my 14 co-plaintiffs, youth from across Canada, and of all Canadian youth, especially Indigenous youth, who are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

We cannot vote yet, so we must seek protection of our rights through the court system.

Canada’s contribution to the climate crisis has yet again proved that the health and well-being of Indigenous people and youth is not a priority for the government.

All my life I have seen my rights treated as optional by the Canadian government. So I am so grateful for our amazing lawyers and everyone else who has made this lawsuit possible, for my family and community and the inspiring people who have empowered me and made me feel like a fight for my rights is one I can win.

I can recognize what a rare and incredible thing it is that an Indigenous girl in Canada feels that a fight for her rights is one she can win.

I have been so supported and inspired by other members of my community. I hope that this lawsuit inspires other young people, especially Indigenous youth, because we need more Indigenous voices in the climate movement.

This fight is not just about protecting our land. It is about protecting every aspect of who we are.

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