Youth environmentalists take a moment to enjoy the outdoors in Cheakeamus River.

By Chloë Fraser–


The sun glints off our shoulders as we run to the Cheakamus River, laughing in our oversized T-shirts and dusty bathing suits. It is Day 3 of the Summit and we’ve already had the “Nice to meet you” chats and the “What brings you here?” conversations. We have reached the point where we talk fear and belonging, leadership and pay. We shriek as the icy water reaches our hips and our chins. Some of us splash water on each other and for a moment or two, we enjoy acting our age.

The Youth Environmental Changemakers Summit was held in Squamish, B.C. on the unceded, ancestral, and traditional territory of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Peoples). Organized by The Starfish, the summit brought together 75 youth leaders from across Canada for five days of shared learning on climate action and justice.

During that time, we gathered for roundtable sessions and panel discussions. We joined land-based activities led by Indigenous knowledge keepers, and learned about stinging nettle and salmonberry, licorice root, and how, if you hang hemlock branches in Átl’ḵa7tsem (Howe Sound) during herring season, the tiny silver fish will lay their eggs on the boughs. The branches are removed weeks later, bulging with clear bubble-like eggs that taste of citrus. After herring’s disappearance from Átl’ḵa7tsem in the 1970s, their annual return in these waters is still a welcome surprise.

Summit participants took part in a cedar walk with Indigenous knowledge keepers.

Indoors, summit participants talk about sustainable impact – how to access funding, how to rest, and how to scale initiatives strategically. Somebody brings up the issue of urgency. We wonder out loud: How can we make the right connections without forcing relationships? What does it mean to build at the speed of trust? Where can we slow down without stalling? These questions must inform our progress toward Sustainable Development Goal 17: Partnerships, including reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

In a keynote led by Syilx facilitator Warren Hooley, we explored the emotional tools and humility required to engage in decolonization. Hooley presents a natural tension between Western values and traditional ways of being. He asks us to consider where we fall on that spectrum, and how productive, self-sufficient, and time-crunched we have learned to be. A lesson: impact can also mean learning to exist differently in professional and social spaces.  

When it is time for me to lead a roundtable discussion, I ask about the climate narratives we can afford to discard. Immediately, my peers list the content they’ve been exposed to since grade school: the greenwashing and the antagonism, the jargon-filled reports, the guilt-tripping and the polarization. It is clear to us that oil and gas trade groups have weaponized these discourses to nurture climate doubt, and yet we still need to engage with corporate partners. I make eye contact with each speaker and see the same weariness and good-humored resignation I too have learned to sit with. We are hungry for better stories. 

Recipients of The Starfish’s Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 Award led roundtable discussions at the Summit.

Throughout the summit, I hear exhausted young professionals talk about the precarity of grant-funded positions, the weight of representing vulnerable people, and the emotional labour of navigating politics when they feel personal.

What makes climate action personal for you? I ask this question every day over food. For most participants, getting involved was not a decision so much as the obvious conclusion to a thousand small stories. One participant shares that their love for gardening, passed down the paternal family line, has become a way to reconnect with their father. Someone talks about their parents’ respect for nature, and volunteering at the local aquarium as a teenager. Natural disasters, children, the price of housing, the loss of water, and owls – there has never not been a relationship between these things.

Surrounded by dozens of brilliant youth leaders, I was reminded why taking action means accepting one’s role as another spoke in the wheel. It means carrying on the legacy of family and friends, and thinking often about who will follow in our footsteps. For all the ink spilled over young people’s social isolation, many of us have learned not to take community for granted. We have learned to see ourselves as a collective, and to rebuild this sense of shared belonging – one potluck, campfire, or cold river swim at a time.