Inheriting Climate Change with Maatalii Okalik and Rae Bainteti


On the 14th of January, One Young World Ambassadors Maatalii Okalik and Itinterunga Rae Bainteti addressed how the climate crisis impacts the peoples of their regions.

The Republic of Kiribati, located in the central Pacific Ocean halfway between Australia and Hawaii, will be the first to go underwater as sea levels continue to rise. Simultaneously, Arctic cultures are experiencing the devastating erosion of their land at the hands of global warming. Despite the extreme difference in the climate of their homelands, the changes these young activists are fighting remain the same.

Introduced by Curator Amber Lincoln and hosted by trailblazing youth activist and One Young World Ambassador, Kehkashan Basu, the conversation explored how their communities have adapted to overcome the consequences of climate change. This discussion was hosted in partnership with One Young World and the British Museum Youth Collective.


We know that climate change is the greatest threat to our planet. What have been the most visible impacts in your communities?

Rae: Climate change is a daily lived reality (for us). Most visible impacts in the Kiribati region has been severe coastal erosion due to the sea-level rise, displacement of communities and tropical cyclones and experiencing droughts which are affecting indigenous plants.

Maatalii: We are the human barometers of climate change. When we were ringing the climate change bells all those years ago, it fell on deaf ears. We need the help of the global community as we move forward with regards to protecting the area between Canada and Greenland, not just for the Inuits but for the Global community.

How can indigenous knowledge be mainstreamed?

Maatali: We have amazing knowledge keepers who are passing it down to eager youth. However, the nation-states we live in don’t include indigenous people in negotiations. This is our greatest barrier. For example, for the Paris agreement - Canada didn’t think to provide Inuit knowledge.

Will nations use the COVID crisis to abandon the Paris Agreement?

Rae: COVID-19 is an important, urgent agenda affecting everyone, it is borderless - like climate change. However, as a practitioner working in climate change, I have seen the distraction that COVID has maintained like attending to migrants in Australia and NZ has been sidelined. COVID-19 has also tested every country's commitment to the Paris agreement. Where are the impacts of CC like migration during the COVID crisis?

Maatali: we have to identify that over the last year, we saw the positive effects of lockdowns, especially for what indigenous communities are connected to - the environment. We have definitely seen a positive change, we must continue this momentum.

What more needs to be done to mitigate climate injustice beyond protests and strikes?

Maatali: The swiftest action that can be done is that the governments can include indigenous peoples in their teams, think takes, policy-making etc. so that we can work powerfully together.

Rae: The urgent thing to do is to conclude the conversation on climate change and start acting. Ensure that everything seen in the Paris accord is followed through instead of it being a voluntary commitment. Most islands are very remote so, when disaster strikes, it's usually young people who are first responders while the international community takes weeks to help. Investing in young people and indigenous communities for disaster relief is integral.

What positive changes can we make and what traditional methods can we use?

Maatali: The global communities support to protect the area between Canada and Greenland would be the most ideal. We have already provided information regarding that area to the governments that exist in that jurisdiction. “How do my actions impact the next generations to come” - that way of thinking is embedded in us. We are contributing least to climate change and it's reflecting that meaningful and holistic way of thinking.

Rae: From our perspective, our knowledge is undocumented. Growing up, I saw that these skills and this knowledge are central to protecting families. Documenting best-practices is beneficial to spread knowledge and encourage further researcj. I would like to see our traditional knowledge used as a tool to achieve the SDGs. Why can’t the global community see this knowledge as a strength for the global community building resilience against climate change?

Concluding Remarks

Maatali: What (Rae and I) are talking about in the top of the world and the bottom is the same thing - we want to ensure that we have a safe place to live and we want to celebrate being indigenous. As Rae has said, climate change is borderless just like COVID-19.

Rae: It is a matter of life and death for so many - I remember a story about our elders which speaks of indigenous communities and their knowledge as being as important a part of communities across the world. We use what we use and leave what we leave for the next generations. The question is “what do we leave for the next generations”. What would our young people inherit as our legacy to keep this world going?

About the speakers


Maatalii Okalik  

An Inuk from Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic, Maatalii Okalik is President of the National Inuit Youth Council, a role in which she promotes and practices Inuit languages, cultures, suicide prevention, education, empowerment and reconciliation. She has spoken at Canada's parliament addressing the Senate Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs, at United Nations forums including COP22 in Morocco, and actively engages Inuit youth and global citizens on social media. She works full time with the Government of Nunavut, as the Chief of Protocol with the Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs, and has held leadership positions in organisations such as Nunavut Sivuniksavut, Students on Ice and serving as the President of the Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre. 


Itinterunga Rae Bainteti

One Young World Ambassador Itinterunga Rae Bainteti, who is of Banaban and Kiribati origins, has pioneered climate change and youth development programs in Kiribati, advocating for youths at the national, regional and international levels over the past nine years. Now based in Auckland, New Zealand, he recognises that climate justice and social justice are linked to the histories and future of his people. He is a Council of Elder for Micronesia in the youth-led grassroots network in new window) Pacific Climate Warriors and Board Member of the Pacific Climate Action Network 2019–2020. He is also the co-founder and Chair of the Kiribati Aotearoa Diaspora Directorate Charitable Trust, Member of the Technical Advisory Group for the Pacific Youth Council and an awardee of Her Majesty the Queen Point of Light Award


Kehkashan Basu

Born in 2000, Kehkashan Basu joined the World Future Council as a Youth Ambassador in 2012, when she was just 12 years old, and is now the youngest councillor at the World Future Council. She has had significant impact on the global community with her work on children's rights, peace and disarmament, climate justice, gender equality and social upliftment. She is a United Nations Human Rights Champion, a Forbes 30 Under 30, a National Geographic Young Explorer, one of Canada's Top25 Women of Influence and has been named as one of the Top100 SDG Leaders in the world in 2020.


Amber Lincoln

Amber Lincoln, PhD, joined the British Museum in 2016 as a curator for the Americas Section in the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. She earned her doctorate in anthropology from the University of Aberdeen in 2011, focussing on the Circumpolar North, material heritage and phenomenology. This was followed by a three-year postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, her alma mater. Her work at the time documented the reindeer herding histories and legacies of Alaska Natives. Amber’s career in museums began as a curatorial research assistant at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. Since then, she has collaborated with indigenous artists and practitioners on several museum and material culture research projects in Alaska, Sápmi and the Russian Far East. She also continues to conduct museum and anthropological research in the Circumpolar North with indigenous advisers, furthering her education with their teachings.


The Last Ice

Maatalii Okalik participated in the creation of this National Geographic Film “The Last Ice” highlighting the impact of climate change on Inuit communities. Directed by Scott Ressler and executive produced by Dr. Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and founder of National Geographic Pristine Seas, THE LAST ICE, tells the story of Inuit communities fighting to protect the rapidly disappearing Arctic that has been their home for centuries.

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British Museum Exhibit

From 22 October 2020 – 21 February 2021, the British Museum has showcased an exhibition on "Arctic Culture and Climate". Developed in collaboration with Arctic communities, the exhibition celebrates the ingenuity and resilience of Arctic Peoples throughout history. It tells the powerful story of respectful relationships with icy worlds and how Arctic Peoples have harnessed the weather and climate to thrive.

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One Young World and the British Museum’s Youth Collective will be hosting a breakout session on the 21st of January. This will be an open forum for participants to discuss the topic of climate change in more depth and to explore how each person can take action in their own countries and communities.