Updated: Mar 29, 2021
Opinion by Dilki Jagoda. This piece is based on an interview between Jagoda and Miyawata Dion Stout.
In September 2019, a series of climate strikes took place around the world. These incredible protests managed to mobilize around 6 million people worldwide, all unanimously demanding urgent action around the escalating climate emergency. Amongst the protesters in Manitoba, was 12 year old Miyawata Dion Stout. In fact, Stout along with her friends, were the first youth strikers to be associated with school/student strikes in Winnipeg history. As a proud Plains Cree member, she has always recognized the value of intersectionality in her activist efforts.
“My two fights are climate justice and racial justice. Very quickly, I started to realize that they’re the same thing, climate change will and is playing on the structures of racism and discrimination that we've already set up. It's just a fact. So we all are going to be affected by climate change, but it's not going to be equal. Every movement is so important, every fight is so important, every voice is just so important, because everything in society is connected. Black rights, Asian rights, Indigenous rights, land sovereignty claims and women's bodies, climate change and racism, climate change and sexism, bigotry and anti-Semitism. When one community is affected we're all affected by it and you see it happen. You see the violence towards women translate to violence towards Indigenous women and in return as violence towards the land. It's very very very connected like everything is just intertwined.”
"With Indigenous peoples protecting over 80 percent of the world’s natural resources , it is crucial for the protection of our planet to incorporate more Indigenous beliefs and systems of knowledge within our approach to climate justice and policy considerations for Canada’s climate action plan."
Now at the age of fourteen, she is very active in the fight against climate justice and racial injustice. She comes from a long line of activism, with both of her grandmothers being residential school survivors and moving on to share their stories and becoming very successful advocates for Indigenous rights, she has always felt that resistance and activism runs in her blood. “I have always been very vocal about being Indigenous, I wear my regalia and ribbon skirts to school. It’s never been something I shied away from because I’m only the second generation that hasn’t gone to residential school and that’s very recent if you think about it.” She equally recognizes that this fight has barely started and the importance of Indigenous self-determination for the future of this movement. Land stewardship and self-governance rights are two of her most notable points of emphasis in her fight for Indigenous rights and climate action because she understands that without them, there will be no real change. With Indigenous peoples protecting over 80 percent of the world’s natural resources , it is crucial for the protection of our planet to incorporate more Indigenous beliefs and systems of knowledge within our approach to climate justice and policy considerations for Canada’s climate action plan.
“As climate change progresses we see how Indigenous knowledge across this continent can be used to fight it. I think that is one of my major goals, using Indigenous traditional knowledge as a way to fight against climate change, using other communities knowledge as a way to shield ourselves from a lot of this violence and racism. In Indigenous stories, we have the records of the rivers who know how to control the forests and protect them from wildfires. It's just a question of if people are going to listen to us. We need to translate these stories into science. To me that's the biggest thing is really to return land stewardship, to the traditional people, because that's where the largest knowledge base can be found.”
" 'Everyone's young at one point, we're not going to be young forever. One day, we are going to be ancestors and I think that’s beautiful. So it's not a question of age, it's a question of ‘what do you want to pass on?’. I always knew I didn't want to pass on the struggle, the trials to get justice and the trials of forced removal.' "
Despite her young age she recognizes the urgency of the climate crisis our world is facing and she understands the role she plays in this issue as a youth, a face of the future. She dedicates her efforts into being a youth activist because she wishes for people to understand the impact and power of youth when united under one cause.
“Everyone's young at one point, we're not going to be young forever. One day, we are going to be ancestors and I think that’s beautiful. So it's not a question of age, it's a question of ‘what do you want to pass on?’. I always knew I didn't want to pass on the struggle, the trials to get justice and the trials of forced removal. We want to pass on this territory, we want to pass on everything that our ancestors already passed on to us, but without the bad things we’ve had to face. It’s important to ask yourself ‘What am I safeguarding right now as a young person who's not going to be young forever?’. That's what I always think about. It's important to get involved when you're young, because when you're young we think we take on the world and that we’re invincible. To bring power to this mindset, we need unity. We need unity to be able to achieve the most that we can before we pass on the torch.”
Stout has remained active online even with the ongoing pandemic impeding the process of physical protests and climate strikes. She is waiting optimistically again for the day where mass gatherings are allowed, but for now she is dedicated to spreading her message through any means necessary. She aspires to continue mobilizing and inspiring youth to fight for a better future.
Gleb Raygorodetsky, “Indigenous Peoples Defend Earth’s Biodiversity - but they’re in danger,” National Geographic, November 16, 2018, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/11/can-indigenous-land-stewardship-protect-biodiversity-/