CLIMATE WARRIOR: Angel Owen at the Break Free protest in Newcastle.
CLIMATE WARRIOR: Angel Owen at the Break Free protest in Newcastle. Valerie Bichard

‘We’re the last generation that can act on climate change’

NOT many 17-year-olds have moments where they regret not getting arrested - but Angel Owen is not your average teenager.

While some are "living in the moment" looking for the next party, she has spent the last two years travelling the country as an environmental activist, and now she is up for the Bundaberg District NAIDOC Youth of the Year.

Angel says young people, who are often too caught up with the pressures of school and work to realise the urgency of issues like climate change, need to be educated in order to be empowered.

"As young people, we are the first generation to see the impacts of climate change and we are the last that can do anything about it," she said.

Earlier this year, the Agnes Water local joined more than 2,000 protesters who jumped into kayaks and paddled out into the middle of Horseshoe Bay, Newcastle, home to the largest coal port in the southern hemisphere. The gathering was part of Break Free, a protest against fossil fuels, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as well as Pacific Islanders played a big part.

"The atmosphere was amazing, everyone was excited," she said.

"The day started with the First Nations leading people down to the beach and our elders being the first to touch the water. There were heaps of police around.

"We headed out in the kayaks into the channel. When you are inside the channel, that's when you're in an arrestable position. We were pushing it and saying 'Come on, arrest us' but the police were kind of like 'Actually, this is kind of making sense'. You'd see them smiling and bobbing along to the chants.

"Then we got the news that 70 people had been arrested on the train line and that just pushed everyone into next-level hype.

"I was pretty bummed I wasn't arrested," she joked.


CLIMATE WARRIOR: 17-year-old activist Angel Owen says she feels connected to Agnes Water. Photo: NewsMail / Eliza Goetze
CLIMATE WARRIOR: 17-year-old activist Angel Owen says she feels connected to Agnes Water. Photo: NewsMail / Eliza Goetze Eliza Goetze

As an Aboriginal woman, Angel cares about environmental destruction on more than just a physical level.

When her family went through huge upheaval during the 2013 floods - as the rains hit, her mother was airlifted to Brisbane to give birth to her brother prematurely, spending months in hospital, while her sister faced the clean-up of their house - she felt anger and despair which led her to question the increasingly extreme weather.

Learning about climate change at school, she knew there was more to it than melting polar ice caps.

"Then I went to NILA, the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy. They had a week-long gathering where you work on social action campaigns and they showed the previous year's campaign about climate change.

"I thought, 'This is what I need to know'," she said. "It was like that 'click' moment."

She now campaigns as part of Seed, a volunteer movement made up of indigenous young people.

"I understand people (mine coal) to put food on their table, to buy their kid the bike they've always wanted, to pay off their house or buy a new car - I understand that," she said.

"I can see it from an environmental perspective - it's cutting biodiversity; you can't rejuvenate a coal mine.

"Then I see it from an indigenous perspective. This is our mother. Everything we have, we've grown from our earth, from our country. I just don't understand how the destruction of our culture is being justified.

"In Australia, we have mines that used to be a songline, or a women's birthing place. How is a big hole in the ground a justified transition from Aboriginal culture?"

Angel hopes to one day fight for Indigenous rights in the realm of law - and she is on her way, having just been accepted to attend the InspireU Law camp run by the University of Queensland.

To vote for Angel for NAIDOC Youth of the Year, head to the Gidarjil Bundaberg Naidoc page on Facebook, and send the page a message saying "I, (name) am voting for Angel Owen - Youth of the Year 2016". Stay tuned to the NewsMail for more about this year's nominees.

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