Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, who has been embraced by the world’s media as the face of youth environmental activism, is deserving of the attention and accolades she’s received, but there are many other youth activists who have not caught the media’s attention for their outstanding work. And they deserve to be as well-known within this movement as she is.
And to be clear, I don’t think pointing out the work of other activists takes anything away from Greta, her message or her work. There is room for everyone to add their voice to the call for protecting the environment and action to slow/fight climate change. I just think the media has chosen to heavily focus on Greta because White voices are often given more weight or utilized more over the voices of indigenous and peoples of colour.
This is reflected by the fact that indigenous communities often experience the effects of environmental damage before anyone else – but how many of these communities are as vigorously represented in the media?
Indigenous peoples are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change, due to their dependence upon, and close relationship, with the environment and its resources. Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by indigenous communities including political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination and unemployment. | UN Dept. of Economic & Social Affairs
Communities directly and immediately impacted by climate change should have their experiences at the forefront of any fight to protect Mother Earth. If we are truly serious about having any shot at understanding what is going on, it is their voices that should be heard first. I’m not saying that Sweden hasn’t or won’t feel the effects of climate change and that Greta Thunberg should be silenced, but there is a wealth of lived, land-based knowledge that could be accessed by highlighting all voices that are on the front lines and seeing the destruction of our natural world with their own eyes.
Autumn Peltier, at the age of thirteen, addressed world leaders at the 2018 UN General Assembly as an advocate for clean water and a water protector. Autumn is Anishinaabe and a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation. Earlier this year she was named the Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation and has worked tirelessly to advocate for clean water.
Isra Hirsi, the 16-year-old daughter of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, has been a keen advocate and speaker on social justice issues but has recently discovered the urgency of climate change action, especially as it impacts indigenous nations/lands alongside communities of Colour the most. Isra is the co-founder and Executive Director of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike and continues to organize, educate and work for the improvement of environmental protections and climate sustainability that will affect the whole world. She is joined in her mission by an amazing team of young people like Feliquan Charlemagne, Karla Stephan, Salomée Levy and Anya Sastry.
Artemisa Xakriabá is a 19-year-old activist member of the Xakriabá people of Brazil who is a vital voice highlighting the devastation and destruction climate change is having on the Amazon rainforest. As a representative of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, Artemisa spoke at the recent New York Climate Strike and hers is a voice we should be hearing more often.
We, the indigenous peoples, are the children of nature, so we fight for our Mother Earth, because the fight for Mother Earth is the mother of all other fights. We are fighting for your lives. We are fighting for our lives. We are fighting for our sacred territory. But we are being persecuted, threatened, murdered, only for protecting our own territories. We cannot accept one more drop of indigenous blood spilled. | Artemisa Xakriabá – Climate Strike Speech
18-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is the Youth Director of Earth Guardians. At the age of six, he spoke around the world about environmentalism and climate action. He has worked tirelessly since then to educate others about the urgent need to rise up and protect the Earth (including writing books, creating music, and attending summits/assemblies) and he has a wealth of experience that can be drawn on to actually make a difference.
Nina Gualinga is a 24-year-old indigenous woman from Puyo, Ecuador who faithfully works to raise awareness about actively protecting the Ecuadorian Amazon. When she was 18, Nina was part of a group of indigenous people who spoke before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that helped to win a landmark case against the Ecuadorian government for allowing oil drilling on indigenous lands and continues to work to get her government, and governments around the world, to work towards becoming a fossil-fuel-free economy.
I’m constantly in awe of the power, poise, knowledge and passion — coupled with real action — that all of these young activists have shown over the years and that they continue to make a difference on a global scale. Greta Thunberg is extraordinary and has fought her way to rightfully hold the attention of the world, but that right also belongs to Artemisa, Autumn, Isra, Nina and Xiuhtezcatl — and any other young activist I’ve unintentionally missed. All of their voices are equally valuable so let’s make sure their representation is too.
If you know of any other young activists that I’ve not included that you want to make sure get a shout out, leave a comment!
UPDATE: As I continue to find new youth climate activists I will add them and try to provide links to their work and ways you can support it.
Miyâwata Stout, a 12-year-old Cree activist who co-organized protests back in 2018 to send a petition to the Canadian government calling on them to take immediate climate action.
Mari Copeny, aka Little Miss Flint, has been campaigning for water protections and clean water for her community in Flint, Michigan and beyond.
Ridhima Pandey, an 11-year-old activist from Haridwar, India filed a complaint, along with a number of other activists, with the United Nations Climate Action Summit against five G20 countries and their lack of action to combat pollution and environmental degradation by failing to curb fossil fuel emissions.
Carl Smith, a 17-year-old climate activist from the Yupik of Alaska, also filed the complaint with the United Nations Climate Action Summit mentioned above.
Tokatawin Iron Eyes, a 16-year-old Native youth advocate and public speaker from Standing Rock who helped set up and co-chaired, alongside Greta Thunberg, the Youth Climate Crisis Panel held in October 2019 at Pine Ridge.
EPA Concludes Environmental Racism Is Real – The Atlantic
Indigenous Communities Are Leading the Environmental Justice Movement – Eriel Deranger & Bioneers