One of the unfortunate realities of living in a developed democratic society is that governments tend to be driven more by where the attention of the mob is focussed and far too little on the action that the job at hand requires. Elections, after all, are essentially popularity contests that focus too much on personalities and image and too little on policies that will lead to peace, order and good government.
That is why bringing public awareness to the critical issues facing our times plays such a vital role in any democracy. In these days of conflicting spin issuing from politicos of all stripes it can be a difficult path for anyone to decide whose path offers the wisest choice. But youth have an uncanny ability to cut through the mists to find the heart of the matter.
In recent months we have watched as a Autumn Peltier, a young woman from Wiikwemkoong, which despite its undeniable heart and history remains essentially a tiny community, feted on the highest pedestals of the international stage for her fearless stand in defence of that most crucial of life’s necessities—water.
Autumn and her late aunt Josephine Mandamin have travelled thousands of kilometres to bring their message into countless Canadian homes. The message is simple. Water is life and everyone should have access to fresh clean water as a vital human right.
This past weekend, students from Manitoulin Secondary School did the unthinkable for a teenager on the weekend. They clambered out of bed before the sun rose to travel to the ends of Manitoulin on a mission to help bring that message forward and to raise money to help those who do not have access to clean water. From the beaches of Misery Bay and the shores of Wiikwemkoong, groups of MSS students travelled 63 kilometres to converge at the beach in M’Chigeeng. On that journey, each of the young women in the two groups took turns in carrying a copper container of water, while male members of the group fulfilled the traditional male warrior role ensuring the path was safe and secure.
The youth have cut to the chase. This is an attribute that is sorely lacking in political players of all stripes lately. Even those politicians whose actions in power totally belie and refute any practical effort to combat the environmental impacts threatening water will claim to recognize those threats. When seeking to look behind the veil of spin of politicians, look to their actions for clues as to what they really mean.
Sadly, while Canadians regularly poll that the environment is top of mind and their top priority, when it comes to marking an x, short-sighted greed too often wins out. Everyone wants to save the world, as long as it doesn’t cost them anything. But as these young people pointed out this weekend, not saving the world will cost all of us far too much not too long down the road.
Those of a particular mindset will say that the issue has gone too far and we mere mortals cannot hope to turn our environmental ship from the path of its present course of disaster. Youth will not accept this answer and neither should any of us. Humanity has helped create the current mess threatening our existence and if we can find the political will to care about future generations we can turn the ship around.
That is why “raising awareness” is not a futile gesture—it is a fundamental portion of our democratic responsibility as citizens, and today, it is the youth in our communities who are bringing the most rational and message for our consideration.
So, to the youth of Manitoulin, congratulations and thank you—you are making a difference.