You were named Australian Geographic Society's Young Conservationist of the Year and Bob Brown Foundation's Young Environmentalist of the Year in 2015. How have these recognitions been opening up doors for you?
Over the last year being seen as a young environmentalist, as a young conservationist, to me and to so many of the young people that I work with, we’re not just that.
We’re young people fulfilling our cultural responsibility to protect our country, and to protect each other, and to stand with each other.
It’s given us a great platform to really have our voices heard by a lot of the non-Indigenous community as well, and I think that’s where we also need to be looking. We need to be working with our own mob to really understand what we’re facing - what climate change presents, and what the impact of the fossil fuels industry has on our communities. But also see that we need everyone to join this fight and to support us.
We need to be the ones that are leading it, but we need to work with non-Indigenous communities, with all the other communities that share the same values and ideas, for how we need to create large-scale change in Australia and around the world, and use those platforms to the best of our ability.
What do you have to say about traditional owners who say they were not properly consulted about the six nuclear waste sites throughout Australia that the government proposed last November?
It’s not surprising that the traditional owners haven’t been consulted about the nuclear waste dump proposals. We’ve seen this fight that’s been going on about where the waste dumps kind of end up for years, and a lot of the campaigns that have been run have been led by a lot of strong Aboriginal women.
As the situation is across the entire country too often our communities and traditional owners aren’t actually given the ultimate say about what goes on in our country. You know companies, corporations, mining companies governments really take a tick box approach to consulting with communities, and we know that that’s not going to work. They’re going to search for the people who are saying yes because what are the other options?
We need to be looking at what those other options are, and really try and build them, and also calling out the corruption that goes on when it comes to our communities being consulted about what goes on in our country.
How are you using social media to better protect our environment?
So many of our mob are online on social media. It’s one of the easiest ways for people to connect - to communicate, to share stories, whether it’s writing or photos or videos.
And I think broadly what we’re trying to do in building the SEED Indigenous Youth Climate Network is build and connect our people to stand with each other to protect country and to build the movement for climate justice.
One of the best ways to do that is by connecting people online so that they can be sharing those stories and working with each other and supporting each other, whether you’re in Lismore, which is where I grew up, or whether you’re in Borroloola in the Northern Territory or Western Australia, you can be connected online and social media is a great way to really create social change.
How is Australia impacted in its effort to better protect the environment without a treaty?
There’s a lot of different ways that we need to think how change is going to be created in this country, and a question of what a treaty or treaties looks like is a really, really big one and the answer to it is complex and is going to be different all over the country.
But the fact that our aunties and uncles and brothers and sisters have been fighting this ever since colonisation and we’re still here, we’re still living and breathing and fighting - it’s our young people who need to kind of step up and learn from the old ways that have worked, but also I guess learn from the struggles that a lot of lessons have come from that haven’t worked. or that we can adapt and change, and use new resources to build on.
You were involved in the recent UN Paris Climate talks from Australia. What did you take away from the experience?
Whether or not the UN climate talks were talking about the direct impacts on people who are facing climate change right now in their actual communities, we did get to an agreement.
But I think as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we know that agreements can be made, promises can be made, but we need to keep people accountable to actually fulfilling them, and the agreement that we saw isn’t as ambitious as we need it to be, so the solutions and the actual delivery of those solutions aren’t going to come from world leaders or from government.
They are going to come from everyday people, like myself and everyone that I work with who are actually out there on the ground building the solutions in communities.
What hurdles are you currently facing in your effort to look after our planet?
Talking about country and environmental injustices in a way that our people really get it and understand how it’s connected to all of the other issues that we’re facing and struggles that we’ve been fighting for, for so long, and the way that climate change will make all of those other things even worse.
What about the opportunities?
By looking to renewable, alternative sources of energy that our communities can be a part of, deciding what that looks like and how we benefit from it. Then we can actually be changing the way that we receive our electricity and power, but also how we hold the power in our own communities as well.
Bundjalung woman from Tweed Heads Amelia Telford will speak with Crystal Lake from Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Canada, at the All About Women festival at the Sydney Opera House at March 6 as a prelude to International Women's Day on March 8.