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Community Summary Report: Whitehorse

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Community Partner name: BYTE – Empowering Youth Society

Conversation date: January 25th, 2022

1. Introduction

A. Summary

Youth in the Yukon are experiencing significant impacts at the intersections of climate change, economy, and resilience. Despite their ongoing advocacy for localized solutions, youth are facing a deeply uncertain future that will be shaped by decisions made in spaces where they feel they have limited access and representation. Yukon youth are calling for transformative political action that challenges the status quo and our community’s broader assumptions about the economy. Discussing solutions like localized food systems, sustainable housing and transportation, and revitalized education systems, the young people in this community conversation have demonstrated a willingness to lead in a territorial Just Transition that leaves no one behind. In the movement for community resilience, youth have consistently upheld the importance of centering the leadership, epistemologies, and worldviews of Yukon First Nations in seeking to foster reciprocal and sustainable relationships with the land and community. 

B. About the Green Resilience Project

This community conversation was part of the Green Resilience Project, a Canada-wide series of conversations exploring and documenting the links between community resilience, income security and the shift to a low-carbon economy. Working with a designated partner organization from each community, the Green Resilience Project aims to create spaces in which a wide range of participants can talk through the links between climate change and income security, and identify possible next steps to build or maintain community resilience in the face of these challenges.

This  Community Summary Report  reflects what we heard and learned in our community’s conversation. Each Project partner organization across Canada will be producing a similar report. In March 2022, the Green Resilience Project will produce a final report summarizing findings across conversations, which will be available to the public and shared with Environment and Climate Change Canada. 

Funding for the Green Resilience Project is generously provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Climate Action and Awareness Fund. The Project is is managed and delivered by Energy Mix Productions, Basic Income Canada Network, Coalition Canada Basic Income – Revenu de base, Basic Income Canada Youth Network, national experts and local partners

C. About the Community Partner organization

BYTE – Empowering Youth Society is a by youth, for youth organization that focuses on promoting and empowering youth throughout the Yukon and Canada’s north. Based on the traditional territories of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council in Whitehorse, Yukon, BYTE travels to communities across the north to offer workshops, run programming, or host events and conferences.

The organization’s work is centred on creating spaces for Northern youth to lead and helping them to develop confidence, skills, openness, and a sense of belonging. We aim to meet youth where they are at without judgement and foster healthy relationships. As part of our core values, BYTE upholds Indigenous rights, lands, knowledge, perspectives and experiences. 

In addition to programming like Communities Building Youth Futures, the Leaders in Training Conference, and Yukon Youth Want, BYTE coordinates the Yukon Youth Panel on Climate Change–a diverse group of youth that engage with young people across the territory and provide perspectives to the Yukon Government on climate action. Through BYTE’s engagement with Yukon youth, staff have become familiar with the issues impacting young people across the territory and the solutions they are advocating for. It is for this reason that the organization was keen to host our own community conversation after being approached by the Green Resilience Project; we know that when it comes to climate change, income security, and community resilience, Yukon youth have a lot to say. 

D. Why this community was selected to have a conversation

Upholding the voices of Yukon youth 

There are many communities that exist within our larger Yukon community, and each of them are unique and have issues that impact them in different ways. Youth across the Yukon are not only affected by climate change, income security, and community resilience in the present moment, but will also have their futures shaped by the magnitude and ambition of solutions that are implemented today. Despite this, BYTE has heard consistently in its work that Yukon youth feel underrepresented and disempowered in spaces where critical decision-making on these issues is taking place. It is our hope that this community conversation–hosted by Yukon youth, for Yukon youth–can help build connections between the territory’s young people and elevate the environmental and socioeconomic solutions they are advocating for. 

Context on issues facing the Yukon

The following paragraphs aim to provide a brief overview of some challenges that are currently impacting the Yukon. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather aims to provide contextual information on numerous issues that were repeatedly raised by the youth who attended our conversation. 

Warming at approximately three times faster than the global average, Northern communities in Canada are often on the front lines of climate change. In the Yukon, the average temperature has increased by 2.3°C between 1948 and 2016, with winter temperatures increasing 4.3°C in the same time frame. Climate change has increased the frequency of extreme weather events, impacting communities, ecosystems, and wildlife. In 2021, the Yukon shattered summer records, documented record flooding, and experienced above average snowfall. Warming temperatures are also driving permafrost thaw, which is in turn damaging infrastructure and impacting ecosystems. 

The Yukon’s climate action plan, Our Clean Future: A Yukon strategy for climate change, energy, and a green economy, was released by Yukon Government in 2020 and aims for 30% greenhouse gas emissions reduction from 2010 levels by 2030; Our Clean Future accounts for a reduction of 201 of the 263 kilotonnes necessary to meet this target. In 2021, the government increased its emissions reduction target to 45% from 2010 levels by 2030. The government has since established a Climate Leadership Council that will provide recommendations on strategies for achieving this new target. 

Climate change is by no means the only challenge facing Yukon communities. While the territory currently has the lowest unemployment rate in Canada, communities still face many issues with regards to income security. It is notable that despite a recently announced territorial minimum wage increase of 50 cents to $15.70 per hour, set to take effect on April 1st, 2022, minimum wage is still below $19.07 per hour, which the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition identified as the territory’s living wage in 2019. 

The Yukon and Northern Canada also face heightened challenges to food security and food sovereignty, intersecting with both income security and climate change. In 2017-18, the Yukon had the third highest rate of food insecurity prevalence in Canada at 16.9%, behind only the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. For many Yukoners, the ability to harvest food from the land is greatly impacted by environmental changes. 

The Yukon is also currently experiencing a housing shortage and higher than normal rental rates. In 2021, the average sale price for a single detached home in Whitehorse rose 15.4% from the third quarter of 2020 to $656,800; average condo prices in the city similarly increased by 10.6% to $456,300 in the same period. A 2021 Confidence and Supply Agreement signed between the Yukon Liberal Caucus and the Yukon New Democratic Party Caucus incorporated a cap on rent increases at the rate of inflation, which came into effect on May 15th, 2021. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also posed significant challenges to the territory, including highlighting and exacerbating pre-existing issues around mental health and substance use. The 20% of the population that lives outside Whitehorse face even more significant challenges to accessing care for mental health and substance use due, in part, to the geographical remoteness of the 17 communities across the territory. In January of 2022, Yukon Government declared a substance use health emergency following a drastic increase in overdose related deaths in the Yukon.

Yukon youth leadership 

Yukon youth have demonstrated notable leadership in response to issues impacting their communities. In 2019 local high schoolers in Whitehorse began their own wave of the Fridays for Future school strikes begun by Swedish youth activist, Greta Thunberg. In October of 2021 the first cohort of the Yukon Youth Panel on Climate Change delivered a set of bold and transformative recommendations on climate action in the territory, entitled Our Recommendations, Our Future, to Yukon Government.

Additionally, The Children of Tomorrow (the Yukon First Nations Climate Action Fellowship) are showing immense leadership in their development of a Yukon First Nations Reconnection Vision and Action Plan that “can guide Yukon First Nations, governments, and industry in responding to the challenges of climate change with spirit and action that reflect a Yukon First Nations worldview.” These examples are only a few of the ongoing initiatives being driven by Yukon youth to push for transformative action in the territory, but reflect the energy for change BYTE hoped to capture through our community conversation. 

E. About the conversation participants
# of conversation participants: 22

At BYTE – Empowering Youth Society, we see youth in the Yukon as one of the greatest assets the territory has to generate resilient communities–leading the charge for bold and transformative action on issues like climate change and income security. Despite the lack of representation young people often face in policy and decision-making spaces, Yukon youth are leaders in their communities when it comes to advocating for environmental and economic solutions. 

In an effort to engage as wide a selection of Yukon youth as possible in our discussion, BYTE released an open call for registrations in the month preceding the community conversation. The conversation was advertised via posters and across social media for several weeks. Understanding that an overemphasis on ‘merit’ or ‘experience’ can sometimes be used as a pretext to exclude youth voices from important conversations, BYTE did not require any qualifications from participants outside of being between the ages of 13 and 30, being a Yukon resident, and having interest. As part of registering for our conversation, youth were asked to provide their age and community on an intake form. 

Our conversation had a total of 22 participants. While we feel that it was able to capture a range of lived experiences amongst Yukon youth, we acknowledge that there is room to increase this diversity moving forward. For our conversation we sought to discuss issues impacting youth in communities across the Yukon. However, it should be noted that the vast majority of participants were based in Whitehorse. Several of our participants identified as Indigenous and several identified as persons of colour; we do feel, however, that there was a greater potential for representation that we would strive to meet in future conversations. 

While the conversation was open to youth ages 13 to 30, most of the youth who attended were between the ages of 20 and 30. Several participants noted the lack of a younger youth presence and discussed potential avenues for engaging this demographic in future discussion. 

Most of our youth participants described their socioeconomic status as middle income, with some participants identifying as low and high income earners. Five participants identified as belonging to or having belonged to a union. The youth present were reflective of a broad range of sectors in the labour force including: arts and culture; recreation and sport; community and government services; non-profit organizations; Indigenous governance; education; law and social services; media and publishing; finance and administration; agricultural and natural resources; natural and applied sciences; Indigenous languages; renewable energy; construction and trades; and charitable or grassroots organizing work.

F. The Community Conversation 

Our community conversation took place via Zoom on January 25th, 2022. While all participants were Yukon residents, several were calling in from outside of the territory. The discussion began with an opening from BYTE that provided an introduction to the Green Resilience Project and the event structure, and an overview of several issues facing the territory. Participants were provided with a list of key terms from the Green Resilience Project to ground our conversation. No changes were made to the list of questions provided by the project organizers.  

Considering the challenges to organizing in online spaces and the relatively small population of Yukon youth, we felt that the level of engagement in this conversation was a success. Given the aforementioned shortfalls in engaging youth in rural communities, BYTE would aim to host more community-specific and targeted conversations in the future. Another challenge identified by several youth was a comparative lack of experience or knowledge around the technicalities of issues like climate change and income security that may make young people feel that these conversations are intimidating or inaccessible. BYTE aims to incorporate this feedback into future programming and invest in capacity-building workshops and events that can empower youth to use their voices in future community spaces.

2. What We Heard

A. How are the changes to our community’s environment and economy discussed in the introduction affecting you, your family or the community as a whole?

“This is what extinction looks like.” -Yukon youth participant

“All of our ecosystems are changing, so it’s hard for us to come back to the land.” -Yukon youth participant

Climate change is one of the most prevalent issues impacting Yukon youth. In our conversation, this was discussed in terms of increased floods and river slumping, unclean water, and changes to the natural freezing and thawing cycle. It has also impacted and disrupted relationships to land and animals. Participants noted a catastrophic decline in local salmon populations–a critical keystone species–as well as threats to other species that many depend upon for their way of life, such as moose and caribou. Due to the Yukon’s remoteness, environmental impacts have been amplified–particularly on rural communities outside of Whitehorse. Several participants expressed feeling anxious about the territory’s capacity to mitigate increasingly extreme natural disasters in the future. 

Food security was also widely discussed in our conversation. The susceptibility of northern supply chains to disruption, from both pandemic-related impacts and climate change, highlighted the lack of local food production for several participants. Many discussed how traditional subsistence practices and attempts to harvest food from the land are also made increasingly difficult due to climate change. Reliance on outside food sources and the decreasing prevalence of affordable, nutritious, and culturally-relevant foods were points of worry for numerous participants. 

Many participants noted the ongoing housing shortage as an issue that impacts them and their communities. One individual discussed anxiety around being unable to purchase a house within their budget, despite both them and their partner working full time for the territorial government. Significant urban sprawl and lack of public or active transportation opportunities were also identified in Whitehorse as contributing to the degradation of local environments. Lack of transportation within and between Yukon communities was indicated as a factor contributing to the territory’s automobile dependence. 

Mining in the Yukon was identified as a specific point of contention for several participants, described as a key industry which “often divides the territory’s population.” Some issues brought up by youth included the lack of required investment from mining companies in remediation, outdated mining legislation, violations of First Nations rights and sovereignty within certain projects, and the lack of regulation of territorial mining emissions. The fact that mining will have a role to play in obtaining minerals necessary for low carbon technologies seemed to heighten the importance for several participants of developing more sustainable mining practices.

Each of these issues have presented personal and emotional challenges for Yukon youth. Several mentioned their mental health worsening as a result of issues impacting their community–particularly climate change. For some, these impacts included questioning if they want to have children. One participant described the situation as a “collective mental health crisis.” 

B. How are these environmental and economic changes related to each other? 

One common theme between each of the conversation’s groups in discussing connections between environmental and economic changes was the commodification of basic necessities such as housing, food, and clean water. This “colonial view of resources” was described as creating communities where profit, rather than sustainability or resilience, is the ultimate measure of success. To quote one participant: “The truth is that until we change the system and start to view needs as necessities and not as goods we can trade for currency, not a lot will change.” 

Another common thread in discussing connections was the perceived lack of intersectional or systems-thinking by governments to reflect the ways in which environmental and economic changes are related at a political level. Systems and approaches in the Yukon were criticized for being reactive rather than preventative. Several youth disapproved of what they viewed as siloed approaches to climate change and economics, as well as communication between governments and organizations being ineffective, bureaucratic, or non-existent. 

Relationships between climate change and jobs were also explored. In discussing how a changing climate impacts many aspects of the workforce, one individual shared how their family’s car dealership is adapting to meet the projected rise of zero-emissions vehicles, but faces challenges around training for these new systems. Participants discussed how workers in sectors dealing with infrastructure (such as Highways and Public Works) will face worsening conditions due to permafrost melt and increasingly extreme natural disasters affecting infrastructure. Participants also discussed how certain jobs and industries can drive climate change. In the Yukon, mining was identified as one sector that provides significant employment while also contributing to environmental harm. One individual discussed that they themselves, as well as many friends, have often relied on environmentally harmful industries for work and felt that options to transition to greener sectors were limited.  

Several participants also identified how income insecurity and related economic struggles make participating in individual climate solutions challenging. While at a certain income level eco-conscious consumerism is feasible, this quickly becomes economically inaccessible for some; many youth identified as struggling with the affordability or accessibility of certain climate solutions, like buying local and retrofits. Connections were also drawn between improving the energy efficiency of homes and buildings and the rising cost of housing. Several participants raised concerns about how intersecting issues would impact affordability in the territory. 

A few individuals also identified a positive relationship between the necessity for climate mitigation and adaptation and potential avenues for economic development. One discussed the importance of fostering imagination as a means to develop transformative and revolutionary solutions in this context. Participants acknowledged that while climate change poses great risks to the territory, many climate solutions allow for investment in green jobs and new economic sectors. 

C. What are some possible solutions to the challenges we’ve discussed that will help the community respond to climate change and create income security for all community members? 

“To make the changes that need to happen at the rate that they need to happen, there’s a lot of economic supports that are required.” -Yukon youth participant

Numerous policy initiatives were mentioned by participants throughout our conversations as ways to respond to climate change and improve income security in the Yukon. These included: 

  • Increasing localized food production and access to land-based foods to foster food security and food sovereignty. This was mentioned both in the context of ensuring Yukoners have access to affordable, healthy, and nutritious foods, as well as understanding the empowerment that personal connection to food sources can provide. 
  • Banning single-use plastics across the territory. 
  • Implementing a territorial Universal Basic Income (UBI).
  • Improving public transit networks (both within and between communities) to reduce the Yukon’s automobile dependence and make movement between communities more affordable. 
  • Transforming approaches within the public education system to include more material relevant to Yukon First Nations history and worldviews, politics, climate action, the Just Transition, and advocacy.
  • Improving the affordability of post-secondary education, including suggestions to make it free.
  • Reevaluating our current First Past the Post electoral system in the territory.
  • Respecting First Nations’ rights to regulate hunting on their respective traditional territories. 
  • In Whitehorse, densifying housing to address affordability and urban sprawl.
  • Increased federal funding for local climate solutions.
  • Improving mineral development legislation in the territory to reflect environmental stewardship and First Nations rights and sovereignty; this would include regulating greenhouse gas emissions from the mining industry in the Yukon.
  • Grants for Yukoners seeking to purchase zero-emissions vehicles or retrofit their homes; many participants noted that the current rebate program in the territory requires an up-front allocation of funds that still renders purchases inaccessible for many

In discussing solutions, there was a focus on ensuring that the Yukon and its rural communities are considered and included in emerging strategies to address climate change. One participant emphasized the importance of adapting green energy solutions to the North, understanding that hesitancy can arise for decision-makers attempting to implement solutions that have not been tried above southern latitudes. While some youth vocalized their understanding that it makes sense to focus on larger population centres for emissions-reduction strategies, they consistently emphasized the importance of solutions that leave no one behind. This mindset was evident for many participants discussing the Just Transition, noting that the rurality of many Yukon communities will necessitate special attention and care to ensure new technologies do not result in energy poverty or lack of accessibility. 

While exploring solutions, many participants advocated for systemic and transformational changes in how communities, governments, policy-makers approach the topics of economy and climate. There was significant support for the implementation of a UBI in the Yukon, with many youth sharing that this would improve their ability to find meaningful work, participate in environmental solutions, and feel secure in the current housing market. We also heard that any implementation of UBI should not be predicated on a defunding or elimination of other public services. Several participants advocated for a paradigm shift in how we understand economics, moving from our current system of ‘take-make-waste’ towards a circular economy. 

Participants also advocated for collaborative solutions that span communities and employ intergovernmental and interorganizational partnerships. For the Yukon, this includes collaboration between levels of government (municipal, territorial, federal, and First Nations governments) as well as cross border cooperation with the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, and Alaska. Several participants identified communication between governments, organizations, and community members as a key existing gap that must be addressed if solutions are to be implemented meaningfully and holistically. 

D. How do you think these solutions can be achieved to build, maintain or strengthen community resilience? Who is responsible for these changes—individuals, community groups, governments or a mix? 

“We need everybody doing anything.” -Yukon youth 

Many of the youth in our conversation recognized individual responsibility as critical to strengthening community resilience. As one youth noted: “Small actions can have a chain reaction.” Most participants, however, also recognized current economic and other systemic limitations that affect individuals’ abilities to participate in meaningful environmental and economic action. There were calls for individuals to do what they can to support community resilience within their means, including: eating local foods; using active transportation; and meaningfully engaging in politics beyond election seasons. 

By and large, our conversation participants felt that strengthening community resilience involves significant policy changes at all levels of government. Understanding that corporations and other polluters often shift responsibility for climate change and economic hardship onto individuals, youth called for more stringent regulation to hold these groups accountable for environmental and economic harm. Many participants also recognized that the bureaucratic structure of current governments is not conducive to the immediate and transformative level of policy change necessitated by environmental and social crises. 

Several groups discussed how increased economic support from higher levels of government to local governments and communities that is less politicized and that incorporates minimal procedural bureaucracy could make a difference in effectively implementing localized solutions. As one participant noted: “One thing that’s unfortunate that we’re seeing is a lot of the funding we’re getting [for climate solutions] has strings attached and is not accessible, and there’s a lot of huge burdens especially for Yukon First Nations.” 

Throughout our conversation, numerous examples of ongoing work by many local organizations to foster community resilience were highlighted–including several that are being spearheaded by Yukon youth. Participants understood that these initiatives must be upheld and supported by both individuals and governments, and can be used as a starting point for future collaboration and broader solutions. 

3. What We Learned

Though we couldn’t discuss all the issues facing Yukon youth in just one conversation, we learned that Yukon youth are ready for bold and transformative action in the territory that leaves no one behind. Our participants presented comprehensive and creative understandings of the localized links between climate change, income security, and community resilience, and advocated for solutions that were equally creative and interconnected. The youth participating in this conversation showed up with passion and enthusiasm, reflecting the energy that is often missed when young people are excluded from decision-making spaces. 

Many youth shared experiences of feeling deeply anxious or worried for a future that they are struggling to politically influence. There was strong consensus that too little is being done at most levels to carry out a Just Transition in the Yukon, and a unified sense of urgency to implement solutions before reaching environmental and economic tipping points. Many solutions highlighted in our conversation revolved around increased education, localizing food systems, making green energy and technology more accessible, and centering public policy that can foster both affordable housing and sustainability. Many youth regrettably noted the absence of more community representation from outside of Whitehorse, as well as a lack of younger youth (under 18) participants. We hope that further conversation might expand on how many of the solutions advocated for by participants can be brought about through broader efforts of decolonization in the territory. 

  • To what extent do you think your conversation built wider and deeper understanding of the links and synergies between community resilience, livelihoods, income security and the low-carbon transition? Please explain your response.
    • 1 – Not at all
    • 5 – Very much so

The diversity in experience and backgrounds reflected at this conversation meant each youth participant brought a unique lens to the discussion. This breadth of expertise and knowledge meant that participants could learn from one another and recognize new links between issues affecting their communities; this was reflected in our evaluation survey, where most participants expressed that they had learned more by the end of the conversation than they knew at the beginning. 

  • To what extent did participants demonstrate increased awareness of climate change and their own capacity for climate action? Please explain your response.
    • 1 – Not at all
    • 5 – Very much so

Because climate change is such a prevalent issue facing Yukon youth, it was the centre of much of our conversation. Participants demonstrated passion and knowledge around climate action, and shared their own experiences with solutions. As previously mentioned, while we do feel that our conversation reflected a diversity of Yukon youth there was definite room for expanding community and age representation. We hope that an even deeper awareness of diverse climate impacts and solutions can be fostered by including these voices in the future. 

  • To what extent were new relationships between community partners and conversation participants created and fostered? Please explain your response.
    • 1 – Not at all
    • 5 – Very much so

Many participants were meeting for the first time at this event, and throughout the conversation were able to connect and share ideas. Several brought their own initiatives and organizational connections to the discussion and shared these with other youth. As BYTE strives to develop more relevant environmental programming, we hope to draw upon the connections we have made with this conversation’s participants in the future. 

  • To what extent did your conversation create opportunities to foster ongoing discussion of solutions related to climate change, income insecurity and community resilience? Please explain your response.
    • 1 – Not at all
    • 5 – Very much so

Again, the passion and enthusiasm of our youth participants around climate change, income security, and community resilience meant that each of them brought unique and creative solutions to the discussion. Many expressed a willingness to connect and collaborate on proposed solutions in the future, and several shared information on initiatives they are currently a part of. As previously mentioned, we would hope to diversify this discussion of solutions by ensuring that more rural communities are represented in future conversations, as we know that environmental and economic impacts and adaptations look different in each community. 

  • In your opinion, what does the community need to do next in order to build or maintain resilience in the face of climate change and rising income insecurity?

Yukon youth are advocating for transformative political action that goes beyond the status quo, shifting from siloed approaches to systems thinking that recognizes the interconnectedness of the issues we face today. Education and decolonization are critical to impacting this shift in community thinking. While the environmental and economic issues facing the territory are daunting, the solutions exist and are not new; centering the leadership and worldviews of Yukon First Nations is critical to fostering reciprocal relationships with land and community over profit and individualism, and to facilitating a Just Transition that leaves no one behind. 

While not a comparatively large population centre or emitter in the broader Canadian context, the Yukon has an opportunity to be a true leader in climate action and economic transformation. We already know that Yukon youth are leading the charge on many of these issues, and consistently demonstrate their passion and ingenuity in solutions; it is vital that youth be heard by decision-makers, and that young people in the territory be given the space to lead themselves. 

4. Next steps

BYTE will draw from feedback given by participants and lessons learned organizing this conversation in developing future programming, as we aim to amplify experiences and solutions that reflect the diversity of Yukon youth. In addition to disseminating this report, we hope to incorporate the impressive breadth of issues and solutions that participants discussed into future events, panels, and workshops. 

To stay updated on upcoming events and opportunities with BYTE, community members can visit our website or follow us on facebook and instagram, @byteyukon. 

If you have any questions about this community summary report or would like to be involved in future initiatives, please don’t hesitate to reach out to