Ashley Daniel, a Dakota Ojibway indigenous youth environmental activist and UN Youth Delegate, tells Alicia Kroemer about how her upbringing by the lake and forests of Swan Lake First Nation has informed her life and work since.

I grew up on the reserve surrounded by nature, living in harmony with it in a sustainable lifestyle. I rst got interested in climate change when I was 10 years old and watched my neighbour gathering rain water and composting on the reserve. I was really interested and curious to see what they were doing and why. I’m also interested in how technology in harmony with nature could potentially help our environment and our people. When I think about the environment, I think about who we are as indigenous people. I think about the violence done to the land and people through colonialism, through resource extraction.

Water, air, land, all of it, the sun, moon, ocean, they are all sacred and connected. As we see
it in indigenous culture, everything is interconnected – if you remove one element the others topple over. Life is circular and holistic. We eat the plants that grow from the Earth and breathe the air around us. Industries pollute water, the Earth and the air – all of these elements we need to live. But people around the world are now opening up their eyes and seeing this in the way that we see it. But it is not just opening up our eyes but also taking action – the Earth requires urgent action as how we are going right now, it is a downward spiral.

The Earth is our mother: we come from her, we are part of her. This was something I knew growing up surrounded by nature. You cannot just take and take and take from the Earth, you must also give back. We have to replant trees; we have to honour her water. Our mother is dying because of climate change. It is not just humanity that is affected, it is our animal, insect and bird relatives who are also dying. They don’t have a voice to communicate to us that they are being hurt, that their homes are being destroyed because of us. It is a very sel sh thing to not think about all the living creatures who also live on this planet who are negatively impacted by environmental destruction. They deserve to be here just as much as we do.

Because the youth are not afraid to say how it is, they are not bound to anything – we just care about the future of the planet which we are growing up in. We are more impacted than our parents and grandparents by climate change. We see a problem and we want to change it. If we can come together collectively, regardless of where you are from and take action, we can be effective. The word is out, the ones that are advocating are becoming stronger and stronger.

 
There are a lot of aims to discuss in dismantling old power systems in Canada for indigenous issues. We need recommendations to the plastics and beef industries. Our Earth cannot do anything with the plastics we pollute it with: it is not giving back, it is only doing harm. That is a major issue I will be advocating for at the UN.My ancestors moved around the land and took only things that they could travel with. They did not leave waste. In indigenous culture you leave the land as you found it. My ancestors would have words that I cannot translate in English to express the sorrow they feel about the present state of the world.Indigenous peoples are rst-line defenders against state and extractive industries because we are not afraid to say no. We also have the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as a protective document that we can stand on to hold these states and industries accountable, not only to indigenous peoples, but to all people to protect the environment which provides life for us all. We need more people in the government system saying no with us too.

 

Ashley Daniel

 

Photo: A portrait of Ashley Daniel, a Dakota Ojibway indigenous youth environmental activist.
Supplied by Alicia Kroemer.