Young Yukoners take action on Climate Change, Part 2

By Dylan MacNeil

KDFN Citizen Jessi-John Whalen recently graduated from the Yukon First Nations Climate Action Fellowship.

Formed in 2020, the Yukon First Nations Climate Action Fellowship have completed an action plan that aims to help communities and governments tackle climate change in a way that reflects a Yukon First Nations worldview. According to a draft of that action plan released last summer, “the heart of climate change lies within our disconnection from spirit, self, each other and earth.” The fellows promote reconnection as climate action.

KDFN Citizen Jessi-John Whalen is 26 years old and a member of the Wolf clan. Through his job as a wildland firefighter, Jessi sees the impacts of climate change first hand.

“Last year, I was in Carmacks and I was helping with the flooding. I know the year before that, there was flooding,” says Jessi. “It’s getting worse and worse, that’s because of climate change. The glaciers are melting faster, we’re getting later winters.”

Jessi got involved with the fellowship because he cares about Earth. With the fellowship, Jessi has travelled around the Yukon to talk about the work they do, as well as give back. On a trip to Atlin, the group canned fish for the community.

Jessi would like to see more programs to teach people about their culture, especially the creative aspects like drum making and regalia making.

“Anything to spark that artistic side,” he says. “It’s a release. If you’ve got pent up emotions built up, pursuing your hobbies and doing what you like to do is a good way of letting go of those things.”

He believes connecting with traditional ways of life can create more sustainable ways of living and fight climate change.

“Why can’t we start growing food on our lawns instead of going to the grocery store and getting plastic bags?” he says.

Jessi hopes here at home, we can set an example for the rest of the county.

“The Yukon might be the first place to be like: ‘Hey look over here Canada! Maybe you should start doing the same thing we’re doing to save our asses from global warming,’” says Jessi. “This is a serious thing.”

Wildland firefighting may be a lifelong career for Jessi as he loves it. He is also optimistic he can inspire the next generation to care about their communities and give back.