Sarah Fontaine-Sinclair holding her PJSA award. (Twitter/École River Heights)

Why I am a climate striker and water walker

I help organize climate strikes and walks around Lake Winnepeg to honor my Cree and Ojibwe ancestors who fought for me to have a future.
Sarah Fontaine-Sinclair holding her PJSA award. (Twitter/École River Heights)

At the 2019 conference of the Peace and Justice Studies Association, or PJSA, middle school student Sarah Fontaine-Sinclair gave the following plenary speech. An Anishinaabe and Cree human rights and climate activist, At age 13, Sarah was one of PJSA Peace Award recipients, inspiring all with her energy, insights and spirit. Though the daughter and granddaughter of prominent organizers, educators, lawyers and such, Sarah more than stood on her own two feet. She is an Imagine-A-Canada and a “next generation peacemaker” award winner. Stemming from a family of activists, she was basically raised in marches and demonstrations.

Bozhoo! Niimizhinibikwe. Hello!

My name is Sarah Fontaine-Sinclair. My Anishinabe name is Niimizhinibikwe. It means “the light that dances on the water.” An elder named Dale Missyabit gave me that name and it refers to the waters in Thunder Bay. He gave me that name so I would always have a place to go to in order to understand myself.

I am Cree and Ojibwe. I was born in the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in my grandmother’s home. I was the first baby born at home in 60 years because missionaries and the federal government stopped our grandmothers from handling that job. The first words I heard were Cree when I was born, and I strive to learn my language. 

I am currently a climate striker and a water walker. The water walk that I participated in 2014 was something that my family decided to organize, because the water in Lake Winnipeg had become so polluted it was almost unlivable for any life. My family (both my grandmothers, grandfather, mother and father and aunties) walked around the entirety of Lake Winnipeg with a bucket of water and an eagle staff. 

Sarah Fontaine-Sinclair, with her father, scholar Niigaan Sinclair, and grandfather the Honorable Justice Murray Sinclair. (IPRA/Matt Meyer)

I have been climate striking since December 2018. I went on my first water walk around Lake Winnipeg when I was eight years old. Seven kilometers. Climate strikes are strikes that students and adults do on the first Friday of each month. They are modeled after Greta Thunberg’s strikes that she started in August 2018. She would not go to school on every Friday because she believed that school and education would not matter if she didn’t have a future due to climate change.

I am part of a group at my school, Ecole River Heights, who started climate strikes with 20 students. We started with teaching ourselves about the climate — with help from the Manitoba Youth for Climate Action — and then we began to hold petitions in our hallways and information sessions. Then we organized marches to Parliamentarian Jim Carr’s office, also speaking to the media. We started organizing marches to the legislature, and events like the die-in at the Forks.

Last October 2019, we helped organize the Winnipeg Climate Strike. There were thousands of people, showing all of us that all it takes is time, commitment and hard work. Young people like us can help change the world!

I was asked how I sustain in the struggle for peace and justice. There are some days that I do want to give up — that I want to stay in my room and do nothing. There is still being pipelines being built, emissions released, glaciers melting. But I always ask myself in those moments: If not you, who? And if not now, when?

I do this work for my future. I’m honoring my ancestors who fought for me to have a future. They signed treaties to protect and share the land. My ancestors wanted my generation to have clean water, lakes and oceans … To live freely without worrying whether my government is going to put climate first. To put this generation first. 

I’m doing it to protect me.

Because water is me.

It’s my identity.

Water is also you. All of our bodies are made of water.

So, I am walking too for all of us. 

My Ojibway name — Niimizhinibikwe — means the light that dances on the water. Light can’t dance on the water if there is oil clouding it. I have to protect the water because it’s my job. It’s been my job ever since I was named Niimizhiennibense, and now Niimizhinkbikwe. 

I’m doing this so there is a next seven generations.

This story was produced by IPRA Peace Search

Founded in 1964 to advance research on the conditions of peace and the causes of war and violence — with five regional associations covering every corner of the planet — the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) is the world’s most established multi-disciplinary professional organization in the field of peace, human rights and conflict studies.

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