Three indigenous youth activists you should know

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By Miriam Lawson, Communications Officer at Minority Rights Group International

From Black Lives Matter to the Arab Spring, the power of young people to create change has been demonstrated time and time again. The future belongs to young people and perhaps more so than at any point in history, that future is looking more and more uncertain. Every day, the threat of climate change is becoming a reality of present day climate crisis. 

Today marks the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The international community is asked to recognise this year’s theme of indigenous youth as agents of change for self-determination. So today we are sharing the stories and work of three young indigenous women who are fighting for climate justice. These are just three of many, many young people doing amazing things in the global fight for indigenous rights. Follow them, listen to them, join them! 

Archana Soreng advocates for indigenous representation in policymaking processes and the preservation of indigenous knowledge. She is a member of the Khadia Tribe from Odisha, India, one of hundreds of India’s Adivasi (or tribal) groups, who vary greatly in culture and identity and face a range of challenges and rights violations. Common to many Adivasi communities, however, is the deprivation of their ancestral land, from which grows a multitude of issues ranging from the erosion of traditional livelihoods and culture to mass eviction and the destruction of entire ecosystems.  

Having got her start in activism from her land-defender parents, early engagement with activism helped Archana realize the shared experiences among Adivasi communities. Archana is a former member of the UN Secretary General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, building solidarity with indigenous youth activists from all over the world in the fight for climate justice. 

She was an official spokesperson on biodiversity at the Children and Youth Pavilion of the COP27. Nobody can represent us better than we represent ourselves’, she reflects on policymaking, ‘and it is solidarity among young people and Indigenous communities which has helped us hold on to each other and call for stronger climate actions.’ 

Follow Archana on Twitter and Instagram 

Laetania Belai Djandam recently took the stage at the Land Body Ecologies festival alongside MRG partners and friends to discuss the concept of solastalgia (the emotional or psychological toll of a changing environment) and how the stories we tell can be just as important as more traditional forms of evidence in influencing policymakers. 

A member of the Dayak community, Belai volunteered on a river clean-up project at seven and started learning about forest management at nine. She eventually became part of a team of activists that worked with the Dayak Iban of Sungai Utik, a Dayak community in West Borneo, to regain their land rights after forty years. Gaining legal title to their land has helped them protect their culture and livelihoods as well as the forest ecosystem they call home. 

‘There’s this notion that activism can’t go hand in hand with happiness, that we have to be serious all the time, and I think activism goes hand in hand with joy. You have to make sure to find the joy in the work you’re doing. Joy doesn’t betray activism, but sustains it’, says Belai. She continues to work with communities in West Borneo through participatory and community-led efforts to change the way land is managed and protect it for future generations. 

Follow Belai on Instagram 

Autumn Peltier grew up on the largest lake island in the world, Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron, Canada. Manitoulin (or Manidoowaaling) Island is so large that it has over 100 lakes itself. In a country with such an abundance of freshwater, many indigenous communities have lacked access to safe water for years or even decades, and live daily with the health consequences caused by this injustice. 

Autumn began advocating for indigenous water justice at the age of eight, confronted her prime minister Justin Trudeau over the issue at the age of twelve, and by the age of fifteen took her fight to the UN.  

Now eighteen, she is chief water commissioner for her community, the Anishinabek Nation. She follows in the legacy of her great-aunt, Josephine Mandamin, who trekked 25,000 miles in her lifetime while carrying a bucket of water to draw attention to water pollution and environmental degradation faced by Canada’s First Nations peoples. Peltier was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2017, 2018 and 2019. 

In Autumn’s words: ‘I’ve been doing this for eight years and nothing has changed. I don’t want to be doing this until the day I die. As a chief I can make things change – that’s my end goal. Canada slips First Nations issues under the carpet. I want to bring attention to these issues, to racism.’ 

Follow Autumn on Instagram 

Photo: Autumn Peltier attends the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation 2021 awards ceremony at the Grimaldi Forum, where she won the Water Award in recognition of her work to promote access to clean water in Canada. Credit: macri roland/Shutterstock 

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