The next generation of land defenders

5 young people step up against nuclear waste

Shayna Paul. All photos: Debby Morin

In summer 2011, several people from communities in northern Saskatchewan walked 820 kilometres from Pinehouse to Regina to raise awareness about the storage and transportation of nuclear waste in the province, and to oppose a proposed nuclear waste dump near Pinehouse.

Youth played an important role in the walk. Among the core walkers were five courageous young people who gave up a good chunk of their summer vacation to stand up for their communities and for future generations.

Geron Paul accepts an offering of water in the group’s buffalo horn from elder Marie Campbell.

Geron Paul, age 19 and from Beauval, walked for the full three weeks. At the rally at the Saskatchewan legislature in Regina at the end of the walk, Paul had his public speaking debut when he addressed the crowd of hundreds about the dangers of nuclear waste. “I am proud of our natural resources. I am proud to say I live by one of the most beautiful lakes in Saskatchewan,” he said. “If I have to give up an ‘unparalleled economic opportunity’ to keep it clean, I am willing to live with the consequences.”

Rueben Roy

Rueben Roy, age 16, of English River First Nation also participated in the whole walk. Roy is concerned about the impact that nuclear waste storage could have on the natural environment surrounding his community, including the animals and water. “Walking on the road instead of driving it allows you to see and feel more with nature,” he notes. “We want to see a north that is not polluted.”

Marissa Favel accepts water from the South Saskatchewan River.

Marissa Favel, age 17 and in Grade 10 in Ile-a-la-Crosse, says she joined the walk “for everyone in this world, but especially for the children.” Favel has two younger brothers and considers the storage of nuclear waste in her community a threat to their future. In this photo she is accepting a gift of water in the group’s buffalo horn from the driver of the Batoche ferry that took the group over the South Saskatchewan River.

Shayna Paul, age 17 and in Grade 11 in Beauval, also had her younger siblings and cousins in mind when she decided to join the walk. “I don’t want them to have this stuff in their backyard,” she says. A powwow dancer since the age of two, Paul danced the walkers into the cities of Prince Albert and Regina. She says she felt proud to be able to do this and also enjoyed the opportunity to connect with the elders and other youth in the group as they walked.

River Cote

River Cote, the youngest of the group at 13, was so inspired by the walkers when they stayed at his home in Saskatoon that he persuaded his mom to join them for the remainder of their journey. Cote gave up a much-anticipated trip to Saskatoon’s Exhibition to attend the walk. “It was amazing to get out of the city and walk,” he says. And besides, he continues, “the Exhibition comes every year, but this opportunity just comes once in a lifetime. If they bury [nuclear waste] up there and something happens, everywhere around will be a disaster.”