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WWF supports Indigenous youth on climate change canoe trip

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WWF is supporting a group of seven young people from the Arctic as they paddle a traditional canoe along the west coast of North America from Vancouver, Canada, to Neah Bay in the United States. As they progress along the coast, they are stopping in communities along the way to share their stories of the impacts of climate change in the homelands.

Some of the young people are from Greenland. They have seen the sea ice recede in recent years, closing off traditional hunting grounds from dog-team travel. Other paddlers are from the village of Shishmareff in Alaska, where melting permafrost (ice that freezes the ground hard) combined with increasingly severe storms is eroding away the spit of land on which the village stands.

The paddlers are in an eight-metre canoe named ‘The Perfect Storm’ or A’wila in the native language of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. The canoe was carved by native youth and Mervyn Child from the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation out of a fallen cedar tree that fell during a massive storm in 2003 taking down some 10,000 trees in North America’s largest natural park: the Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada.

A’wila Tribal Canoe Journey 2010 is part of the Tribal Journey to Makah 2010. Every year since the 1980s canoes from all along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean of British Columbia (Canada) and Washington State (US) come together on a journey to celebrate their connection to the land and spiritual well-being.

Below you can find some reflections from the paddlers.

“I came on this trip so I can learn other songs and about a lot of different cultures. Also so I can share my culture and the native games with others. I would like people to know that my culture is important to me. Even though that I barely know how to speak it. It still means a lot to me. Like we would have elders tell us stories and when they tell the stories they would speak it in Inupiaq. After the story is over they would ask us what kind of story it was. Next they would translate it into English. I would also like to share with people what is happening to our home because of climate change because when this is gone, we may also lose a big part of who we are.”

– Meghann Piscoya – Shishmareff

“In Shishmaref our land is eroding. Climate change is taking our land away. We had to move some houses from the East side of the island to the West side because the ocean was washing away the land where the houses were. Sadly our island isn’t big enough to do this much longer. Because the weather has been warmer and warmer we’re not able to pick as much berries as we used to, they ripen too quickly. Some of the lakes dry out and the fish die. Our beach gets smaller like every year. They made a seawall to try and stop it with huge rocks. I hope to show people some of our traditional ways. I’d like people to know how important our lives are. I want to learn songs from other cultures, and I hope to learn more about them.”

– Janelle Pootoogooluk from Shishmaref, Alaska

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