'We create change by being in those rooms'
Skw’akw’as (Sunshine) Dunstan-Moore is a Nlakapamux and Yakima youth from British Columbia and Washington State who works to advance Indigenous and human rights, amplify silenced voices, and spread awareness of the climate crisis. In an interview ahead of the GEF Assembly, she reflected on the importance of including young and Indigenous people in environmental decision-making and shared why discomfort can be a sign of progress.
What are you currently focused on?
My focus area is climate policy, from the local to international level. I am the Indigenous Climate and Policy Advisor with VIDEA, Co-Chair of the Environment and Climate Change Youth Council, and a member of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO’s Youth Advisory Group. I will always advocate for ensuring Indigenous rights are upheld and respected because otherwise policies can harm Indigenous ways of life.
Your hometown of Lytton, British Columbia, was destroyed by wildfire two years ago. How did this affect your perspective and approach?
I call the Lytton Creek Fire my “villain origin story.” I've advocated for our planet since high school and the fire catalyzed my path, shifting from hands-on community work to a focus on climate policy. Because of my experience of the fire and being an Indigenous person, I am vocal about intersectionality within policies. It is crucial to ensure that Indigenous science, ways of knowing, and rights are upheld within policy creation to not continue the legacy of colonialism.
The good news is that we are starting to see climate policies progressing and being implemented. But for there to be sustainable change, there is no universal solution. Rural and remote communities require the resources and capacity to adapt climate policies to their realities, because those policies are almost always created to fit within urban standards. This gap can harm those communities. I've always had these perspectives, but now I'm in spaces where I can voice these to policymakers and leaders.
What have you learned and observed through these efforts?
The most impactful results I've seen are when I speak in panels at Indigenous-led, youth-led events. Indigenous youth, women, and people I've worked with often come and talk with me afterwards, sharing how they resonated with my experiences. Experiences of being young and Indigenous working in very colonial spaces. There is space for our perspectives, and we create change by being in those rooms, spaces, and conversations.
Do you have a message for today’s political and business leaders?
It is so critical to go that extra step when engaging with youth. Youth are now starting to be listened to, but they face many other obstacles. A big one is funding and compensation. Pay youth for their expertise. Fund youth to attend high-level meetings and events. Create space for us, remove barriers to young peoples’ participation, and start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Youth are innovative and imaginative, which can make political and business leaders uncomfortable. But if you lean into that discomfort, that is where change happens.
What are your other interests and hobbies?
I always joke about how I am very much a West Coast girlie regarding hobbies and interests. I love being outside hiking and paddle boarding. Filmmaking and photography are also some of my deepest passions.
What are you looking forward to at the GEF Assembly?
I am looking forward to connecting with the youth who will be at the GEF Assembly. It is always great to hear and talk with young people who are doing similar work back in their countries and communities. Vancouver is a beautiful city and very close to home, so I cannot wait to spend a few days there while advocating for our planet.