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Eco-Eeyou Istchee initiative aims to raise awareness on climate change

BY Ben Powless Sep 29, 2022

The Cree Nation Government launched an initiative this summer to raise awareness among young people about the effects of climate change. 

The Environment and Remedial Works department is behind the Eco-Eeyou Istchee campaign to educate about climate-change threats to traditional ways of life that may also provide opportunities.

Pernilla Talec, an environmental analyst and climate change coordinator who runs the program for the CNG, told the Nation that the idea came from discussions with two students doing a summer internship on how to raise awareness about climate change with youth in the Cree communities.

“We came up with this idea of a social media campaign. The students worked on it throughout the summer to create posts. The idea is to raise awareness of climate change and how it’s impacting Eeyou Istchee, to help people take action in how they can adapt and maybe if they can mitigate climate change by being more eco-friendly and reducing their ecological footprint,” Talec said. 

Talec and her team hope to engage community members about climate change by asking them questions about what they’d like to know, while posting relevant information on the group’s social media accounts. While the initiative was initially intended for young people, she said it’s open to all ages, since “we’re all being impacted by climate change.”

Talec said some concerns about climate change are related to increased extreme weather events such as intense wildfires or unusual floods. 

“Forest fires are naturally occurring, but when it’s bigger and due to a changing climate, it’s called a wildfire. There’s expected to be more wildfires. But at the same time, for northern Quebec it’s not sure because they’re expected to receive more precipitation,” she added. 

The Eco-Eeyou Istchee team is trying to share good news and highlight other opportunities that climate change may bring, conscious that negative posts can foster eco-anxiety. “In the Cree communities there’s a growing interest in gardens and greenhouses, and you can see this as an opportunity that comes with a warmer climate and a longer summer,” Talec explained. 

Recent posts on the group’s Facebook page highlight how ice breakage has become more unreliable across Eeyou Istchee, including quotes from Elders voicing their concerns about travelling on rivers. Another post highlights how animal populations have declined, including the caribou, geese and rabbits – even as others have increased in some areas, including bears, wolves and bugs. Mining is treated as both a positive for the economy and a threat to local environments.

The group has announced several giveaways and contests to increase the visibility of the initiative. Talec acknowledged that since the initiative was only launched in July, they’re still working to get followers and traction online. When a contest to design a poster didn’t receive any applicants, the group decided to focus on giveaways to spread the word.

“So far it’s really mouth-to-mouth, talking to my contacts in the communities and asking them to share it,” she said. They’ve asked youth councils and environmental administrators to help, and an intern put up posters around Chisasibi.

The department held a well-received climate change forum in 2016 in Eastmain, and people have asked for another one. While no date has been set, Talec hopes to host another forum soon.

Now that the summer interns have left, Talec hopes to keep the accounts active, and to add a presence on TikTok. “For the coming year I’ll stay with the safe territories of Facebook and Instagram,” she added with a laugh, encouraging people to follow and “ask questions.”

by Ben Powless, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.