Rheanna's Insights from the Youth Environmental Changemakers Summit

Rheanna Garcia Youth Environmental Changemakers Summit 2024 Clayoquot Biosphere Trust

In March 2024, Rheanna Garcia was selected to participate in the Youth Environmental Changemakers Summit, where she took part in five days of shared learning, reflection, and knowledge exchange. 

A future 2024 graduate of Ucluelet Secondary School (USS), Rheanna has been deeply involved in environmental and community initiatives. In November 2022, she joined the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust’s Youth Advisory Committee, contributing to local projects that promote cultural preservation and environmental stewardship.

Rheanna is the co-president of the USS Surfrider Youth Club, treasurer of the Student Council, a member of the yearbook committee, and a student teacher's assistant in English 8 class. She plans to attend Vancouver Island University to further her knowledge and cultural experiences.

Learn more about her time at the Youth Environmental Changemakers Summit below.

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The babbling flow of the Cheakamus River centers the mind as I walk along it with the other participants, looking up I see the majestic glide of a raven and we all take in the fresh air as we walk toward the longhouse. Our guide brings attention to the native plants and traditional trails. Once arriving they tell us of their totem pole and we receive a traditional welcome onto their lands, the lands of the Squamish Nation. 

It is day 4 of the Youth Environmental Changemakers Summit, taking place on the unceded, ancestral, and traditional territory of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Peoples). The summit encompassed 75 youth environmental leaders from all over the country, planned and coordinated by The Starfish Canada. It was a five-day learning experience about youth empowerment encouragement, and environmental leadership. This is my reflection.  

As the teachings continued, we started down into the forest of ancient cedar and maple trees.  Covered in blankets of lush moss and ferns.  As we walked our guide would provide deep wisdom of traditional uses for licorice root, berry and maple bud collection and carving canoes. As well as giving gratuity to the earth’s bounties as we learned Indigenous knowledge in the forests close to the Cheakamus Center.  

A joyful return to the longhouse is where we all huddled together to enjoy a meal. We heated stews by placing hot stones within them and as that warmed, we cooked bannock on sticks over the bright fire. Furthermore, we learned of the different practices in longhouses and the traditional ways they would have been built.  

My attention was then focused on the next activity, traditional wool weaving.  Which was done on an upright loom and as I sat weaving, I was taught it took meticulous time and steps. Such as gathering wool, proper dyeing, and weaving.  This made many items one of which was a blanket, which is traditionally a most treasured gift. 

As our time at the longhouse came to an end, our guide led us in a closing circle. Continually, we all expressed our deepest gratitude and best memories together. Reflecting on the time and teachings we were so fortunate to receive from our incredible guides.   

This experience was among many others over the five-day summit that left me more openly connected to the environment.  As I return home to the Pacific Rim region, I feel empowered and inspired to continue my own journey as well as support more youth voices in our communities' areas of leadership. 

- Rheanna Garcia

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