Youth, Hope and Shaelyn Wabegijig: an Interview

CHERYL LYON – Her Anishinaabe name means “first morning light.” And Shaelyn Wabegijig is living into her name. A member of the Caribous Clan and originally from Timiskaming, now Rama First Nation, Shaelyn shines the light of her passion for indigenous knowledge on this local land.

Sitting in the sacred space of the tipi on Trent’s grounds, she described to me how, in her graduate studies at Trent University, at her initiative, Philosophy courses included Indigenous Knowledge for the first time – a significant accomplishment since Euro-centric worldviews desperately need the land -centredness of Indigenous ways of thinking.

Having influenced her university in this important way, Shaelyn set her sights on other systems changes to restore us humans to the fundamental, nurturing, guiding relationship with Earth, Shkaakaamikwe, our mother. 

First is her work in the Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPAC) project aiming at ensuring inclusion of lands and waters where Indigenous governments have the primary role in protecting ecosystems through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems. With an Ontario Trillium Youth grant, the local IPAC project will build the capacity of Michisaagig youth from Oshkigamong (Curve Lake) to create a protected area of First Nation land locally. So far, the local youth group has identified the Catchacoma Forest for protection. They will be consulting with other youth and local communities to identify what needs protecting and how to make that forest qualify as an IPAC area.

IPCAs are, in her view, an example of the opportunity and the need to open up more “systems,” be they economic, environmental, social or legal, to the holistic “system thinking” of Indigenous Knowledge, in which the complexity, interrelatedness and Nature’s essential role are honoured in all decision-making.

Then there’s Shaelyn’s role in holding power to account. She is one of seven youth (the youngest 12 years old) suing Ontario Premier Ford’s  government for its role in threatening their very existence by not protecting the natural environment. “I’m getting my activism going” says Shaelyn keenly. Their court application holds that the Conservative government is violating Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which protects every individual’s right to “life, liberty and security of the person,” and Section 15  “that regardless of race, religion, national or ethnic origin, colour, sex, age or physical or mental disability, all are to treated with the same respect, dignity and consideration.” She says she is fighting “to see that our case gets its day in court because I want to be able to share healthy air, land and water, and a safe climate.” Over the next two years or more, as the legal process unfolds, she will be dealing with media, attending hearings and speaking in Court if called.

Shaelyn Wabegijig on how to bring Nature into daily urban living

  • Have houseplants
  • Say a prayer for the Water (Nbi) as you water them
  • Create little ceremonies of thankfulness like that outdoors too
  • Go outside; be still, listen – find your personal connection
  • The Earth wants to  heal you as much as we want to  heal her

“ When I was young, I told my mother that I wanted to change the world and I’m hopeful enough to think I can make a difference.” No doubt Shaelyn Wabegijig will.

Shaelyn was invited to write this article in her voice but asked me to do it as she is enormously – and understandably-  busy at present as Project Co-ordinator for the Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals to 2030,  a partnership of  Kawartha World Issue Centre and Peterborough GreenUP for local action on the Goals

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