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Youth summit addresses climate change

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - More than 5,000 students attended Power Shift 2007 Nov. 2 - 5, the largest youth summit on climate change. A number of indigenous youth attended the conference as keynote speakers, panelists, student activist leaders and participants. Young people spoke in a congressional hearing before the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, and met with senators and representatives from their respective states.

The summit was organized by the Energy Action Coalition, a group of more than 40 organizations that work together toward a ''clean energy'' future.

Evon Peter, a former chief of the Neetsaii Gwich'in, was a keynote speaker. Peter has advocated indigenous and environmental rights to the United Nations and the Arctic Council forum and is currently the executive director of Native Movement (www.native movement.org), which focuses on ''grass-roots awareness, advocacy, action and values'' in both Alaska and Southwest Native communities.

''As indigenous people, we are not environmentalists, not in the Western sense,'' Peter began. ''For our people, we have an understanding of human beings within creation. As Western environmentalists, they look at ecosystems as sustainable because of the biodiversity within them, void of human presence. As indigenous peoples, we know that we are a part of the ecosystem.

''Unfortunately, many of our people have adopted a Western thinking [that is] unsustainable and unhealthy. We need a great healing with an understanding and practicing of our spirituality. ... The way we've related to the Earth and disrespected those spirits has consequences. ... We have brought this time upon ourselves,'' he said.

''This crisis extends beyond fossil fuels, climate change and over-fishing. Our generation will have to face this - it is inescapable. There are already clear signs of traditional people suffering - suicides in youth, abuse and neglect.''

According to Peter, youth have ''already faced the impacts of colonization. We've felt it on an emotional and spiritual level. We carry and push it onto each other. ... Now is the time to take action and leave something healthy for the seventh generation.''

''If we don't spend this time with elders, in ceremony, prayer and with our language, we won't have those things to carry on. ... We have a lot of work, praying, listening and actions to do. A healing within each one of us needs to take place,'' he said.

The summit ended with a day of lobbying members of Congress on Capitol Hill, addressing global warming, climate change and related local community concerns.

''Power Shift 2007 was an uplifting experience that reignited my desire to get involved in the struggle for environmental stability,'' said Kelly Hubbell, Navajo participant from Window Rock, in a press release. ''It was inspiring to see thousands of people gathered for a common cause. It was especially uplifting to hear from amazing leaders who have been advocating for years, yet have not backed down from their beliefs. Overall, Power Shift was an educational and motivating experience that I feel honored to have been involved in.''