Young people marching through Yellowknife during Friday’s global strike for climate action described depression and anxiety about the reality of northern climate change.
“It’s kind-of horrifying,” 15-year-old Liam But told Cabin Radio as he marched. But says friends of his struggle with their mental health “because they’re scared that they’re going to die and not live their full lifespan.”
Hoisting up a sign taped to his skateboard – “Frack off, gasholes,” it read – But and fellow students walked out of class to protest a lack of action on climate change by leaders worldwide.
Organizers in Yellowknife estimated 1,000 people took part. A crowd of around 800 people passed Cabin Radio’s downtown studios as the lunchtime march crossed the city.
Gatherings across the world have taken place for the past week, inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish student who began walking out of school as a form of protest in 2018.
That lone demonstration has since morphed into a movement known as Fridays For Future, leading to previous, smaller-scale protests in Yellowknife and Inuvik.
Reading a poem written by her sister to Friday’s crowd, in which a post-apocalyptic future upon a garbage mountain is imagined, Pretty Ngo shared But’s fears.
“It’s really difficult to think about our future, because we may not even have a future, right?” She said. “It’s a lot of anxiety and depression.”
Written in the land
Clarence Mackenzie, a youth representative for Dene Nation, said he spends time on the land and sees the havoc wrought by climate change.
“I see animals’ patterns changing and there aren’t very many animals any more,” he said. “I know the water is rising, ice is melting, permafrost is melting. And I’m kind-of scared of that, because I don’t know what kind of diseases are in the permafrost.”
A young protester holds up a Fridays For Futures sign in Yellowknife. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
(Reports in the past few years have suggested melting permafrost may “awaken” old diseases which were trapped, frozen, until this point.)
The science of climate change was clear before Mackenzie was born, 23 years ago, he said, and action should have followed much sooner.
“If we can elect officials who help us with having a greener planet, that would be great. But I don’t see that vision coming with current leaders,” he said. “I feel like they’re kicking it under the rug and letting us, the next generation, take over.”
Courtney Howard, an emergency room doctor in Yellowknife, voiced concerns heard from Elders and residents while she worked in Inuvik.
“The health impacts we’re already seeing up here include decreased safety of ice-based travel, which makes hunting more difficult, and that brings food security issues,” Howard said.
“We’re also seeing people having more trouble connecting with their community, and that makes people sad.”
Howard urged a shift in the conversation on climate change, saying people must now be concerned about more than polar bears and chemicals. Climate change, she said, should be seen as the “most important health issue of our time.”
“What I want you to remember is that action feels better than anxiety,” she said. “Your courage inspires other people to have their own courage and a healthy planet makes for healthy people.”
Speakers address the global climate strike crowd at Yellowknife’s Somba K’e Park. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
An anti-fracking sign at Yellowknife’s global climate strike march. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
Nia, a 12-year-old on the Yellowknife march, agreed. She said it felt “pretty powerful” to know the actions of students can help the world.
Ngo, seeing younger students carrying posters she had prepared, said: “I feel like there’s hope because these kids have hope.
“Look how many students came out today … we left school because our future depends on climate change.”
Onlooker Janell Dautel, watching and filming protesters as they marched up Franklin Avenue, said: “It’s really neat to see that our youth want a different future, and a future that will protect them.”