Climate Accountability Means Communities of Care: Meet GSA’s Newest Organizer

Hey everyone!

My name is Gillian Der and I am so excited to be jumping into this role as community organizer on GSA’s municipal climate accountability efforts. I am looking forward to campaigning to support community members in asking their municipalities around the Salish Sea to send letters to the top 20 carbon producers, holding them accountable for their fair share of climate change damages. I wanted to take the time to connect with you, letting  you in on my hopes and goals for this campaign and my role within it.

But first let me tell you a bit more about myself!

The first time I had the privilege to encounter the Salish Sea bio-region I was 6 months old visiting with my grandparents in Vancouver and up in the backcountry in St’at’imc territory (Bridge River Valley). I have spent my summers since then up at the cabin playing, hiking, gathering, fishing, and growing food with my family. The privilege of spending significant amounts of time up in the woods taught me a lot about land and family. I also learned quickly of the impacts of climate change, as the glaciers around me shrunk while I grew.

Photo of Gillian and her Granny at their family cabin. Gillian is standing just outside the door and Granny is in the doorway

Last Summer at the cabin with my Granny (St’at’imc Territory)

When I decided to pursue post-secondary education, it was natural for me to choose a university that would allow me to be closer to the cabin, family, and the Salish Sea. So I left the center of the universe (Toronto), and four years later I graduated from UBC with a Bachelor of Arts in Environment, Sustainability, and Geographies and a minor in Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social justice.

Growing up in a time of climate change means growing up anxious. Since moving to the Salish Sea I have had to reckon with issues that collide with the looming climate crisis: what does it mean to live on stolen lands? Why do I feel so uncomfortable in so many environmental movement spaces? What does it mean to be a Chinese Canadian woman in this city? How do I honour my ancestors’ stories of colonization, migration, indentured labour, and perseverance as a settler? And how do I hold all of this while also fighting for a livable future? I only have two hands!

Gillian and her Auntie stand in front of the gates to her ancestral village. The gates have an eagle depicted on the left side and a waterfall depicted on the right. the gates are adorned with Chinese characters

Learning how I am related to these Unceded Coast Salish Territories means understanding how I got here. Visiting my ancestral lands in Hoiping County in China was an essential step in understanding my responsibility as an uninvited guest living here on Coast Salish Lands.

As I find my footing in this role, I am excited to bring forward my whole heart and all the questions and complexities I feel towards our climate emergency and climate organizing. Here is some of the work I am gearing up to do: first, I am excited to begin to meet the communities and individuals who are pushing for climate accountability in their municipalities. I am also hoping to expand this network specifically up the Fraser River Valley. I have come to find that fighting for a livable future can be incredibly rewarding but also a lot of work and the blows can hit hard, especially when the science is so clear about the task ahead. I want to be there with you as we celebrate wins in your campaign but also when the work is draining and tough. In my role I am going to center community care in my practice, aiming to both expand this network and this campaign while also deepening the connections we already have.

Community care is especially important to me as a woman colour because I have not always felt comfortable in environmental organizing spaces. I have often been in white spaces while doing this work where my views, my ways of organizing, and my community were either pushed aside as unimportant or were seen as antithetical to climate organizing. This is wrong. My communities, my ancestors, and I have unique ways of relating to our environments and communities which are an asset to current climate organizing. We bring with us traditions of resistance and environmentalism that need to be both included in this movement and genuinely valued. These facts stretch beyond my personal experiences and histories to other marginalized communities too. Building a caring community of climate organizing means making a commitment to use the power I have in this role to build spaces that are not only comfortable for marginalized folks but also spaces which center their knowledge. As such, I am excited at the chance to put together an environmental organizing conference with the explicit goal of having every facilitator, speaker, and trainer be a person of colour.

I invite you to reach out if you want to know more about our climate accountability campaign. I look forward to connecting and fighting together for a caring and just future!

One thought on “Climate Accountability Means Communities of Care: Meet GSA’s Newest Organizer

  1. What an amazing story of self! Love how forward looking you are for the lifting up of voices historically removed from the climate conversation in Canada. Looks like you’re well placed to do great things in this role.

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