When Disa Crow Chief was in high school, her friend invited her to an environmental club.

In the first Water Pollution YYC meeting, surrounded by other students, Crow Chief was inspired by environmentalism. She signed up to gain more experience and knowledge.

Then she realized she could draw on her own cultural teachings and history, too, to connect to the environment.

“I started getting to know our Blackfoot culture, like what our people did back then, how they lived their lives,” Crow Chief said. “You learn that our people were natural scientists.”

Crow Chief realized the importance of centring Indigenous voices in those conversations because they belong at the forefront of environmentalism. Many Indigenous people have a strong connection and relationship to Mother Earth and have been her caretaker for thousands of years.

The link between culture and environment is clear among Indigenous people and also that environmental degradation affects the health and well-being of not only the First Nations people but everyone. 

Both Crow Chief and fellow advocate Cory Beaver want people to know how important Indigenous perspectives are and the knowledge that can be shared with industry for the betterment and survival of all peoples.

“Indigenous representatives are so important because the energy sector is predominantly white,” Beaver said. “Companies, organizations, corporations are very colonial, and it seems Indigenous people don’t have autonomy or have a say on anything.”

Seven Gen 2019, The First Indigenous Student Energy Summit hosted at the Grey Eagle casino. The organizing committee. PHOTO: Sevengenenergy

Crow Chief and Beaver started a group called Seven Gen to increase the presence of Indigenous voices in conversation about the environment and the energy industry. 

Both Beaver and Crow Chief wanted to host an event and bring the knowledge about all the things they have learned at the other organization they were in. The goal of the summit was to build connections, encourage and empower youth to take up space at these kinds of tables.

They hoped to reflect an Indigenous perspective. For example, by assessing how colonization has harmed the land because Crow Chief and Beaver found non-Indigenous people did not talk about those concerns with them. 

Beaver and Crow Chief ran into some slight difficulties with infrastructure and how the funding was going to work for their shared dream. They both had the plan but needed an organization to partner who is familiar with events and to get them started.

Crow Chief applied for different programs and was chosen out of 80 applicants for presenting their plans for Seven Gen at the Alberta Climate Summit.

“Out of 80 applicants, I was chosen and shortlisted as one of the five pitch teams and I presented at the Alberta Climate Summit,” Crow Chief said. “There’s like 600 people, mainly executive directors, oil people and university people. It was one of the first things that helped take off Seventh Gen.”

A global youth program called Student Energy offered her training and funding, which gave her a head start on getting their conference underway. 

Crow Chief said that Meredith Adler, the executive director of Student Energy, was inspired by Crow Chief and Beaver’s passion and wanted to partner.

“And she just really believed, like so much in this project,” Crow Chief said. “She really went out of her way to work on this project with us.”

In 2019, Seven Gen ran the first Indigenous Student Energy Summit hosted at the Grey Eagle Casino in Calgary, bringing together more than 200 Indigenous youth from across Canada. 

“I always went to these higher-level conferences. And I kind of noticed some areas that could have been improved or that were lacking,” Crow Chief said. “I wanted to just honor young Indigenous people in mind and voices.”

 Their next event will be in March 2022 in Saskatoon. Applications are currently open on the Seven Gen website.

“The event was so successful,” Beaver said. “You hear about it every now and then and how it has impacted so many Indigenous youth here in Canada.”

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Sherry Woods is a communications student at Mount Royal University.