Severn has been speaking up for what she believes since she was very young. At age 9, she started the Environmental Children’s Organization, a group of friends committed to learning and teaching other kids about environmental issues. They were successful in fundraising and organizing to attend the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, where 12-year-old Severn delivered a powerful speech that garnered worldwide attention. For this she received the UN Environment Program’s Global 500 Award in Beijing, the following year. This speech is still having an impact today, as citizens worldwide are still watching it on YouTube.
If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!Plenary session address by Severn, age 12, to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 11, 1992.
Since then, Severn has continued as an advocate for intergenerational justice, fighting for long term sustainability and for awareness of the fundamental interconnection between culture and environment.
She is proud of her work as an Earth Charter Commissioner (earthcharterinaction.org). In 2000, she and five friends carried out Powershift – a cross-Canada cycling campaign to raise awareness about climate change and air pollution. In 2001, with fellow students at Yale University, she developed‘the Skyfish Project’, a youth thinktank that brought their ‘Recognition of Responsibility’ to the 2002 UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she was on the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Special Advisory Panel. The trip was the subject of a documentary film that aired on CBC’s long-running documentary series ‘The Nature of Things’.
Severn believes that science is important for informing global change , and it must be coupled with media and communication. She received a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Yale University, and a Masters of Science in Ethnoecology from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, where she studied with Kwakwaka’wakw elders on the Pacific Northwest coast. She has completed several speaking tours in Japan with the Namakemono Club and published several books including The Day You Will Change the World (Gakuyo Shobo, 2003), now in its 19th printing. She is one of the authors and editors of the book Notes from Canada’s Young Activists (Greystone Books 2007). As a youth Severn co-hosted a TV series in North America for children called ‘Suzuki’s NatureQuest,’ and hosted the APTN series ‘Samaqan – Water Stories’ about First Nations and water issues.
In 2017, Severn and her ECO friends, now adults with families of their own, marked the 25th anniversary of their trip to the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio, and the speech that “silenced the world for 5 minutes,” by inviting youth today to participate in an anniversary video project. The video below is the online version of this special event.
Severn honoured the generational turn of the speech by encouraging youth from across Canada, the US, Japan and Brazil to give the speech again. To breathe new life into the speech. To speak truth to power. And, to take ownership of the speech and record themselves saying these words today to remind adults of their responsibility to their children and to themselves. 25 years on, a generation later, the original speech is still making its rounds on the internet. Severn hopes to continue this project on an ongoing basis, as more and more students and youth are encouraged to recite the speech, or parts of the speech, and upload their videos to Severn’s “I’m Only a Child, but…” YouTube page.
Today, Severn lives on the Pacific Westcoast archipelago of Haida Gwaii, home of the Haida Nation, her husband’s community. There she studies the critically endangered Xaayda kil (Skidegate dialect of the Haida language) with elders. She is a Vanier Scholar and is working towards a change-oriented PhD at the University of British Columbia with the goal of conducting language research to help the revitalization of the Haida language.
Severn is a board member of the David Suzuki Foundation (www.davidsuzuki.org) and was a co-founder of the Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society, a Spark for the Girls Action Foundation, and a Champion for WE CANada at the Earth Summit 2012 (www.earthsummit.ca). She hopes her pursuit of traditional and scientific knowledge and dedication to using her voice will help her promote a culture of diversity, sustainability and joy.