Protecting the water – one youth at a time.

Yellowknife, NWT – Sixteen First Nation youth from across Canada are in Yellowknife next week learning more about how to protect water as part of their two-year long journey to strengthen their abilities as indigenous water leaders.

Their Yellowknife trip is the third stop in their journey as part of the Water I <3 U Project.

The youth are from four First Nations across Canada and have travelled to each other’s communities in the Arctic, Pacific, Atlantic and Hudson Bay watersheds. In each case they’ve witnessed first hand and heard from Elders about how water is the lifeblood of their communities; how it is rapidly changing; and the risks those changes create for First Nations families, livelihoods and culture.

First Nations young people are more likely then anyone else to understand current issues with water, says CIER executive director Merrell-Ann Phare.

“They are living on the land, their communities are often right beside rivers and lakes, they live on islands surrounded by water, and they see what happens when water isn’t treated with respect. They know water is the foundation of life. These youth are witnessing changes in the quality and quantity of water – early warnings – that city dwellers are too far removed from to see quickly. These young people are the best equipped to raise awareness about the health of our water and our future. With the support of our funders, are proud to be working with this next generation of water leaders,” Phare says.

The students gather every few months at each other’s communities to set long term goals and develop action plans to raise awareness of water challenges in their communities.

“It is amazing the ideas they’ve come up with,” said Shianne McKay, CIER research associate.

“Some youth are creating household tool kits for their community members on how to conserve water. Others are planning public workshops and will invite their Chief and Council to attend and some have plans to talk with elementary classes about taking care of the water,” McKay says.

The Water: I <3 U project is funded by the RBC Blue Water Project, TIDES Canada, the Vancouver Foundation, The Thomas Sill Foundation, the Northwest Territories Government, and the Government of Canada. Northwestern Air donated flights for the youth from Fort Smith to attend the Yellowknife workshop.

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