About the awards
The Power of Youth Leadership Awards recognize and celebrate young progressive leaders in BC who are driving change towards a more socially, economically and environmentally just society.
The award is given in two categories to recognize the vision and leadership of young people in different areas:
- Engaging in research, analysis and the development of solutions to key issues facing us today; and
- Contributions to social movement building.
Eligibility and criteria
The Power of Youth Leadership Awards are open to progressive young leaders under 32 who are active in BC.
The CCPA recognizes that leadership comes in many different forms. For the purposes of these awards, “leadership” is defined very broadly and is not limited to being the lead person in a movement, organization or project.
Prior involvement with the CCPA is not required.
Please review the individual award descriptions to learn more about each category:
Leadership Award for Social Movement Building
The recipient has:
- Made a significant contribution to social movement-building in BC, by building bridges between communities or social movements; or
- Articulated a new and hopeful vision for the future and helped others find their role in bringing it to life; or
- Found new and/or creative ways to tackle a longstanding issue in their community; or
- Demonstrated courage in standing up for what they believe in.
Leadership Award for Research, Analysis And Solutions
The recipient has:
- Made a significant contribution to public interest research; or,
- Enriched the analysis and understanding of a public policy issue; or,
- Offered a new and hopeful vision for meeting a pressing social, economic or environmental challenge of our time; or,
- Shown leadership in public policy debates.
Winners of the 2018 Awards
Haley Hodgkinson, Leadership Award for Social Movement Building
Haley is a passionate advocate for youth, and is dedicated to opening dialogue around mental health and substance use, creating platforms for young people in her community to speak up about the issues they face.
"Learning how to advocate for others helped me learn how to advocate for myself and I want to do that for more youth,” she explains.
Haley has collaborated with youth organizations across Chilliwack and Agassiz, including as a Youth Activity Coordinator with Agassiz Harrison Community Services’ Valley Youth Center, which she helped to create. Haley currently works with FLOH (Foster System, Life Promotion, Opiod Dialogue, Harm Reduction/Homelessness), and volunteers her time with the Voice of Youth for Community Engagement peer group.
Zoë Yunker, Leadership Award for Research, Analysis and Solutions
Zoë’s research examines corporate influence on government policy and on civil society, which in turn often limits the options made available for addressing social and ecological injustices.
“The systemic nature of the challenges we face is at once frustrating and deeply inspiring: frustrating because entrenched power is a formidable opponent, but inspiring because it means we need intersectional and community-based movements of resistance to respond effectively,” writes Zoë.
As a Research Assistant with the Corporate Mapping Project, Zoë combines her research with a commitment to community organizing, including acting as Co-Chair of Divest Victoria, and co-founding the BC-Wide LNG Network.
Winners of the 2017 Awards
Cicely Blain, Leadership Award for Social Movement Building
Cicely is an anti-racism, Black liberation, and queer justice advocate whose work centres on accountability, accessibility, antioppression, and art as politics.
Cicely is the founder of Black Lives Matter Vancouver and a queer youth worker who has led many community-building events, protests, vigils, workshops, and public education sessions—offering a powerful approach to social justice work that amplifies voices from marginalized communities.
“My vision is to create conversations and action in Vancouver that have been ignored or erased, to re-visibilize the Black community, to decolonize my art and poetry, to hold organizations and governments accountable to real anti-racist work and to lift up the voices of the most marginalized,” writes Cicely
Khelsilem, Leadership Award for Research, Analysis and Solutions
Khelsilem is a respected community leader and bridge-builder who engages in research, analysis, and advocacy relating to the protection of Indigenous languages, particularly the Squamish and Halkomelem languages.
His work involves connecting younger generations to the knowledge and memories of elders, with a view to securing a continuum of growth and learning—and to advance and protect Indigenous cultural identity and governance.
He is currently a lecturer at Simon Fraser University in a first-of-its-kind Squamish language immersion program, and is the founder and programming director of Kwi Awt Stelmexw, a non-profit organization dedicated to Squamish language, heritage and art.
“I would identify my work as breaking off from the normal systems that structure and inform our learning. For me, pulling from our past strikes at the true meaning of being innovative in the work we do,” he explains.
Khelsilem has just been elected to the council of the Squamish Nation.
Winners of the 2016 Awards
King-mong Chan, Leadership Award for Social Movement Building
In high school, like many of my peers, I began doing a lot of volunteer work; in particular, my Christian upbringing led me to help the less fortunate. I volunteered through different organizations, helped at community dinners, and fundraised for organizations doing international development work. That was my world of anti-poverty work.
Then I took a university course that changed my life and catapulted me onto this journey I now walk. It was only the first class; my professor (Frank Tester) must have only begun to discuss capitalism, global economic systems and the subsequent class struggles. But there was only one word to describe what I felt walking to the bus stop after class that evening: liberated. And so my journey of working for social justice began. For me, this journey is also necessarily a spiritual one, as I somehow remained a Christian. This identity is fundamental for me and drawing inspirations from liberation theologies, it guides and influences my work.
The course led me to be a practicum student, and later a community organizer, with the Carnegie Community Action Project in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. I began to build relationships with low-income English-speaking residents and they educated me about their fight for affordable housing and against gentrification. More importantly, they brought me to the ground and helped me make practical and political sense of what I was introduced to through the course.
However, at that time, it seemed like the low-income Chinese-speaking community weren’t consistently part of the discussion and action regarding gentrification. This led me to focus on the Chinese-speaking community and after many conversations and town halls, together with a group of regular attendees, we formed the Chinatown Concern Group. Together, we build our analysis on how gentrification is threatening not only the future of the low-income Chinese community in Chinatown but the future of Chinatown itself. We also outreach to and engage other Chinese-speaking residents on these issues as we plan actions and seek solutions to this crisis. Through the Chinatown Concern Group’s work, I also became connected with other Chinese community members that too saw this fight for Chinatown as a social justice issue. Out of a common desire to organize and to build people-power in this struggle for justice in Chinatown, the Chinatown Action Group was formed.
Racism and ageism create a culture that minimizes the voices of Chinese-speaking residents, many of whom are seniors. Furthermore, our English-dominant culture has marginalized and excluded these community members from participating in decision-making over the future of their neighbourhood. As we continue to build our capacity and strength, I look forward to the day when Chinese-speaking residents of the Downtown Eastside can no longer be ignored when they vocalize their concerns about gentrification and how it is threatening their livelihoods as well as the Chinatown they call home.
Anelyse Weiler, Leadership Award for Research, Analysis and Solutions
I care about advancing food and agriculture-based livelihoods that promote ecological resilience and enable everyone to live and migrate with dignity. While growing up on Vancouver Island in the territory of the K’ómoks First Nation, I was surrounded by activists, peers and teachers committed to the long-term and often messy struggle toward social transformation. Along with subsequent mentors, they taught me the importance of strengthening linkages between environmental movements and efforts to end oppression of all kinds. My later experiences coordinating research partnerships between UBC students and practitioners in the BC food system, and especially my involvement in a campaign to ensure land security for the UBC Farm, left me with a taste of the profound possibilities for generating collective change through coalitions between scholars and broader communities.
During my involvement in BC food security and farming initiatives, I became increasingly concerned with how to reconcile the tension between efforts to promote local food and the widespread marginalization of people hired to produce local food. Many racialized migrant and immigrant farmworkers in Canada encounter low wages, working conditions that violate health and safety standards, and imbalances of power that make it difficult for them to exercise their rights. My master’s thesis compared how alternative food networks in BC have engaged with precariousness affecting un(der)paid interns and migrant farmworkers. In my PhD research, I aim to highlight the perspectives of farmworkers in Canada and the United States on what a more just, environmentally sustainable food system would look like, along with an understanding of farmworkers’ household food security. Some of the organizations with which I’ve recently had the honour of being involved include Sustain Ontario, Justicia for Migrant Workers, KCL Friendship Society, CultureLink’s Bike Host program, East End Food Co-op, Umbrella Mobile Clinic, and the BC Employment Standards Coalition.
My current side projects include assisting with studies regarding meat consumption and humane, climate-friendly jobs for farm animals. I’ve also been coordinating an initiative with members of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, Food Secure Canada and the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research that seeks to ensure civil society organizations and Indigenous communities in Canada’s North can meaningfully participate in food policy decisions that affect their lives.
Winners of the 2015 Awards
At our Fundraising Gala on April 16, 2015, we announced the recipients of our third annual Power of Youth Leadership Awards. We are pleased and proud to have the opportunity to honour Natalya Melnychuk and Chris Dickinson (pictured here with CCPA-BC Board Chair Kevin Millsip). Read on to find out more about their work in their own words.
Natalya Melnychuk, Leadership Award for Research, Analysis and Solutions
My roots in the Shuswap region of BC strongly define me and provide motivation to take action on local social and environment concerns. One of these concerns is how to best organize to effectively manage our watersheds. This question has driven my pursuit of a PhD researching issues of legitimacy and collaborative governance for water, using five BC watersheds as case studies. This research has underlined for me that solving the world’s water problems goes beyond science and technological innovation and requires addressing the social and political aspects of how best to make decisions and take action for water.
Another issue that is of local concern is rural resilience. Many small communities, such as Chase on the Little Shuswap Lake, face trends of young people leaving their communities coupled with an aging baby boomer population. These trends impact the vibrancy and diversity of the community as well as the local workforce, as successors for local businesses are not being recruited. My main involvement in this issue has been through researching and sharing context-appropriate solutions and running a community working group to develop and carry out a strategy to help address this issue. Part of solving this issue involves the positive promotion of community to develop values of small town love, particularly among young people. As a result, I am also independently developing a book that highlights the lives of positive role models from across the diversity of sectors in the Shuswap to contribute to the sense of local community.
Connected to the issue of rural revitalization is the active engagement of youth in community well-being. For young people to care about their community they must have the opportunity to be meaningfully engaged in the decision-making processes that affect them. Through activities such as my position as co-chair on the Fraser Basin Council’s Youth Committee I am not only contributing a youth perspective to programs and projects that are contributing to social and environmental well-being, but am also helping other young people become active and engaged citizens as well.
Chris Dickinson, Leadership Award for Social Movement Building
I am an activist and planner from Whistler, BC. Whistler is observed by many as an affluent mountain town, and for this reason, perceived immune from economic and social problems. In 2014, I compiled a small documentary for the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) that challenged this perception. Homeless in Whistler followed several homeless residents living in tenuous circumstances in an effort to bring awareness to a little known and often misunderstood social struggle within the community. The documentary received widespread praise and was the subject of several articles in local papers, in addition to the BC Huffington Post.
Since then, I've continued my efforts to bring attention to homelessness in communities where tolerance and support for this population of people are often absent. In the spring of 2014, I put together a successful crowdfunding campaign to purchase back a homeless residents’ camper that had been impounded for unpaid parking tickets. In less than three days, the campaign raised $1,500 (well above the initial goal) and the surplus funds were donated to the local food bank.
In 2010, I completed my master’s degree in Urban Development (M.Pl) from Ryerson University. It was through this degree that I first became interested in social justice and began focusing extensively on issues of poverty, homelessness and affordable housing. I continue to be inspired by other activists and documentary filmmakers who take courageous risks to challenge prevailing norms in the face of overwhelming opposition.
Moving forward, I will continue to generate thought provoking discussions on contentious issues throughout the province. In doing so, I hope to inspire other youth and young adults to become interested in social justice issues and champion those causes they are most passionate about.
Winners of the 2014 Awards
At our Fundraising Gala on March 13, 2014, we announced the recipients of our second annual Power of Youth Leadership Awards.We are pleased and proud to have the opportunity to honour Jasmine Thomas, Shawnee Gaffney and Diego Cardona. Read on to find out more about their work in their own words.
Shawnee Gaffney, Leadership Award for Social Movement Building
My interest in social justice started off when I realized the world was not as perfect as I had thought when I was a child. It wasn't until I had begun coming out of the closet that I took action in finding a solution to the homophobia that many were facing. I found a group for queer youth called S.Y.A (Surrey Youth Alliance) where I met other lgbtq youth. These youth were led to many different places, I've seen some become comfortable with themselves and come out to accepting parents and others fall to a different side such as drug use, failure in school and homelessness. I was furious that some of the group attendees had to lie about what the group was for in order to attend.
Knowing how much of a difference it makes meeting others in similar situations and having an adult to talk with when things seem unbearable, it was shocking that so many people thought/think homophobia no longer exists. I begun presenting speeches in high schools and in front of community workers talking about homophobia. Laying my own experiences on the table, I answered many uncomfortable questions in hopes my audience would leave better informed. Soon enough I too had become homeless but I continued to do these speeches and met community workers that helped me back on my feet by connecting me to services.
It has now been over five years since I started going to The Surrey Youth Alliance and I am now on the board as Youth Representative. I joined another group called Youth OUTreach two years ago working with other youth activists fighting against homophobia as-well as a committee that works with youth transitioning out of care and youth homelessness last year named Y.A.C (Youth Advisory Circle). In all three of these organizations the youth have a strong voice where all members speak from their own experiences.
I am always excited for new projects and put in an effort whenever possible. I have met many memorable, important activists that have contributed to inspiring me. My passion for activism goes beyond the work I do for these organizations. I became very approachable once I started meeting others that are facing the same issues and have created a book of resources that I carry with me when I can, in case I meet another youth whom could use them.
Diego Cardona, Leadership Award for Research, Analysis and Solutions
Since I was little I was vastly influenced by my parents who were active members of their communities and inculcated in me a passion for community work. My family immigrated to traditional Mohawk territories-Montreal as refugees from Colombia in December of 2005. Although I have always expressed gratitude for the opportunities available throughout Turtle Island-Canada, my intersecting identities soon enabled me to realize that inequity, oppression, and the systemic exclusion of people were common practices among established institutions.
As a result, my work with the Fresh Voices initiative and the Youth Advisory Team (YAT) has been dedicated to revealing the challenges facing newcomers to Canada, articulating the need for migrant justice and engaging youth in the process.. With the support of amazing partners, the YAT organized the first province-wide conference that brought together newcomer youth, service providers, and politicians to discuss how different programs and systems affected immigrant and refugee youth in BC. Subsequently we hosted dialogues that culminated in a powerful report that amplified the voices of more than 220 newcomer youth, and over 50 policy makers, and advanced their recommendations regarding the improvement of services and programs.
As a group we’ve had many victories. We were the first youth group to present in front of a legislative committee in BC. We successfully changed the name of ESL (English as a Second Language) to ELL (English Language Learning) as a mechanism for acknowledging the diversity of languages spoken by newcomer youth. Moreover, our Make-It-Count campaign, which seeks to facilitate a dialogue for comprehensive reform of the current ELL system, has received the support of more than 2,300 British Columbians, and various social groups that understand our shared interest in the well-being of immigrant and refugee
As a proud young immigrant, the struggle for migrant justice has always been my source of energy. This is a struggle often not prioritized in our social justice circles, but a struggle which represents a crucial factor in the fundamental viability and legitimacy of Canada’s progressive alternative. This is why I invite all of us to reflect on the role we’re choosing to play in advancing the humanity of this common sense cause.
Jasmine Thomas, Leadership Award for Social Movement Building
Jasmine Thomas, 25, is a Dene/Cree in British Columbia and an environmental & Indigenous rights activist in the fight against the Northern Gateway Pipeline project.
The Enbridge project, proposing to build an oil pipeline across B.C. to the Pacific coast, is facing strong opposition from among the fifty First Nation communities which sit on the pipeline route. One of these communities is Jasmine's home, the Saik'uz First Nation.
"This pipeline is going to be crossing some of the most environmentally sensitive areas. There's no way that they can do that and say that it's safe!" she says.
First Nations along the coast say they are particularly worried about an environmental disaster, like the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. The local economy is based on fishing, and it would be destroyed in the event of an accident.
In our documentary we see Jasmine Thomas in action as she works with the Indigenous Environmental Network and trains in strategies of peaceful protest.
"We go out and we try to explain what's going on, but the general public isn't aware, where the pipeline is going to cross these waters that feed our people", she says.
Biography from CBC's 8th Fire (TV series) website.
Winners of the 2013 Awards
At our Fundraising Gala on March 13, 2013, we announced the recipients of our first annual Power of Youth Leadership Awards. We are pleased and proud to have the opportunity to honour Sonja Ostertag, Harsha Walia and Jamie Biggar. Read on to find out more about their work in their own words.
Sonja Ostertag, Leadership Award for Research, Analysis and Solutions
My parents have always encouraged and supported my siblings and me to follow our hearts, stand up against injustice and be engaged citizens. My commitment toward social and environmental change is part of my daily life: my activism in co-founding the Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance, and my doctoral research on contaminants in marine ecosystems. While this work has been challenging and an uphill battle at times, my family, colleagues and friends have supported my journey as a community organizer and scientist, and I would not be able to do what I do without their love and kindness.
As an environmental scientist, I work with northern communities to monitor the health of marine ecosystems. I am committed to studying arctic ecosystems because country foods are harvested directly from the land and water of the Arctic, and these foods are vital to the health of northern communities. During my time in communities in northern BC and the Arctic, I have come to recognize the conflict that exists between industrial development and food security. Oil spills, coal plants, climate change, and contaminants all pose threats to aquatic and marine life, and the communities who rely upon these ecosystems.
I have a vision of Canada in which policies are guided by research findings from academia and government institutions, developed through ongoing and meaningful participation with local communities, and inclusive of different ways of knowing and understanding the world. First Nations, Métis and Inuit have so much to teach the rest of Canada about valuing what is sacred, and protecting the land, water and air from pollution and irreversible damage from industrial development. We must listen to their stories and include their perspectives in decision-making in this country. Our governments must work towards respectful relationships with all Canadians and the environment that sustains us.
Harsha Walia, Leadership Award for Social Movement Building
My own experiences have taught me that justice is indivisible; that it is impossible to seek redemption for one part of myself while another part of myself, or other people, still face oppression and injustice. As a result, my social movement organizing and my vision are expansive. I organize daily for a world where we are all self-determining over our own bodies, lives, cultures, lands, and labour. A world where we strive for noncoercive and nonoppressive communities committed to Indigenous, racial, migrant, gender, economic, disability, reproductive, and environmental justice. A world where we can live free from cages, militaries, borders, reserves, segregation, toxic industries, corporations, sweatshops.
Many would say this anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist vision is unattainable, but just in the past year we been inspired by unimaginable victories. Quebec students won a tuition freeze after some of the largest street protests and civil disobedience actions in this country’s history; Indigenous nations and environmental activists have essentially prevented the Enbridge pipeline from proceeding; migrant communities won the first sanctuary city policy in North America to ensure that undocumented migrants have access to Toronto city services. Every day I see the red square, the blue drop or the red feather; symbols of resistance and revolution towards a more just, a more humane, a more egalitarian, a more decolonized society.
It is an act of faith to overcome fear in order to organize against authoritarian governance, oppressive hierarchies, and capitalist economies, while also shedding our internalized prejudices and isolated ways of relating to one another. I am honoured to be part of movements that are committed to individual and collective liberation, dignity and kinship. I feel blessed to be within communities that have an intersectional understanding of oppression and injustice. I am humbled to be alongside those who hold a deep desire to not reform, but transform, this system through strategic organizing to confront and dismantle power, an ethic of self-reflection, and intentionally respectful and just relations with each other and the lands we reside on.
Jamie Biggar, Leadership Award for Social Movement Building
I started organizing with students as part of the Canadian youth climate movement. We started making progress on our campuses, but it became clear that our federal government was doing everything it could to commit our planet to runaway global warming. So we challenged the Harper Conservatives in the lead-up to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference, the moment when national leaders were supposed to begin the serious global cooperation we need.
At Copenhagen I felt inspired by leaders from Africa and the Small Island Nations who stood up for climate justice. I felt ashamed of the representatives of Prime Minister Harper's minority government who were doing everything they could to sabotage the conference behind closed doors.
I felt like my generation was being abandoned and condemned by my government: I saw the raw power of fossil fuel industries, and I saw how together they were poisoning the well of the healthy democracy people need to come together and face real challenges.
Coming back from Copenhagen, a group of us decided that we should try to create a vehicle that would use the Internet as a tool to help people strengthen their voices, find common ground, and build political power together. We started Leadnow.ca as an experiment to further those goals.
We often think of democracy as a principle, an abstract ideal. We miss the fact that democracy is a practice — and just like music, theatre or sport, we need to practice and experiment to get better at it.
If we're going to stop runaway global warming, if we're going to reverse 30 years of growing inequality, we need to build more democratic societies — from the bottom-up, from the top-down, from the sides — wherever people can challenge arbitrary power and co-create better futures. This is hard, often frustrating, work — but it's worth the rewards.
In her book All about Love, feminist author bell hooks describes love as a verb, something we do. She defines love as the extension of the self to support the growth of another. Democracy can be like love. Let's try to love each other really well.