A dozen students from Diamond Jenness Secondary School took part in a sustainability retreat over the weekend, learning about how to reduce their ecological footprint and live in better harmony with the land.
“It’s so important to get young people in the community involved in this kind of project,” said organizer Simran Lehal. “It’s all about increasing awareness of local producers and trying to get them to think globally and act locally.”
Students participated in gardening workshops, including the Saturday morning event at the community hall, and activities such as making their own skin balm from olive oil, beeswax and herbs. Other members of the community were brought in to teach the youth various skills, including Kim Rapati from Ecology North, Franziska Ulbricht from the Real Food Cafe, and Dorothy Buckley, who organized a traditional feast.
“It’s great to see how much the community supports this kind of effort and how into being green this town is,” Lehal said. “We had a good core group of interested students from the gardening club at the school, but more people signed up than I had expected.”
The retreat was funded by $3,000 that Lehal received last year for attending a conference on sustainability in Guelph, Ont. However, part of that sum will go towards an ongoing mentorship program for participating students. They will be paired with a community group or school and be paid for work they do on projects aimed at increasing sustainability in Hay River.
“It really gives them something they can take with them wherever they go or whatever they do next,” said Lehal. “The work can be anything from physical labour, like planting trees and gardens, to administrative and creative work.”
While some participants had a lot of planting experience coming into the retreat, activities were also geared towards those who were new to the field and looking for some confidence.
“I don’t have much of a green thumb,” said Kristie-Anne Scheller, a Grade 11 student. “I planted some sunflowers and nasturtiums, and now hopefully they’ll sprout and won’t just die.”
Many of the activities focused on using things in nature to create everyday items, like the balm, and Scheller was astounded by the multiple functions of plants that grow all around the area.
“I had no idea there was so much out there,” she said. “There are all kinds of plants and trees that can be used for everything from food to medicine and all kinds of other things.”
But beyond the hands-on skills of gardening and lotion-making, Scheller said the retreat made her think harder about the global green movement, and its goals and ideals.
“It really opened my eyes,” she said. “We’ve kind of only got one planet, so we can’t screw it up.”
— Sarah Ladik