collaboration accueil manuel copeh

Following a River of Reciprocity and Hope


By Angel Kennedy

June 16th 2022


In a time of environmental crisis, I lay at the source of the river with humility and yearning

To reflect on what it means to live and connect in reciprocity…

With aspirations to see the familiar differently, on a life-long journey of (un/re)-learning

As the wind that blows through what remains of an otherwise scorched town, I’m reminded of the young voices telling me that, while I would be remiss to ignore the severity of the crisis we face, we must focus on ‘possibility’…  (Kennedy, 05/12/2022)

Kennedy 1Across the globe, stories of environmental crises permeate news, media, and conversations. Many of these stories emphasize threats instead of solutions and are littered with photos of the globe burning, smog-covered cities, and severe ecosystem devastation, and narratives about irreversibility, extinction, mass displacement, and “near term collapse”.1 While youth have cited the importance of sharing messages of urgency to garner collective support for addressing the climate crisis, this one-sided framing contributes to a “hope gap”.2 As I navigate bodies of literature, and engage in deep conversation with Traditional Knowledge Holders, youth activists/leaders, researchers, educators, and peers I am painted a clearer picture of the importance of invoking narratives of realistic or “grounded” hope through (1) taking notice and projecting forward the good-news stories already occurring, (2) bringing back clearer connections for youth on the relationships between all living things (including human and environmental health) as a form of empowerment, and (3) enabling inclusive and intergenerational pathways to action.


At the Confluence of Communication, Connection, and Collaboration

Invoking Narratives of Realistic Hope

Hope has been described as the ability to identify pathways to achieve goals and the agency to use those pathways.3 In this way, hope can illicit human thriving, mental and physical health, and creativity in times of hardship.2 As has been identified in literature about ecolinguistics, how we talk about something can influence how we act, therefore, the stories that surround us consciously and unconsciously, otherwise known as ‘stories-we-live-by’ influence how we think about and treat the world.4 In other words, these stories shape our mental models, which influence our behaviours, priorities, relationships, and actions.4-5 Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of place, stories of gender and climate justice, positive environmental trajectories, and stories of youth activism and intergenerational empowerment6 nourish shifting mental models towards deeper connections to the reciprocity between community, environments, and health; empowerment towards equity, and opportunities to bridge the knowledge to action gap. Taking note of and highlighting these healing stories has the power to link knowledges and foster deeper understandings of our relationships to one another and to ecosystems based in relationality, regeneration, and reciprocity.7

Empowerment Through Fostering Environment-Health-Community Connections

Kennedy 3For some youth, empowerment can also come from being (re)acquainted with the connections between all forms of life.8-9 For example, taking an ecological view of the human body can help enable youth to see the connections between themselves and the living systems they interact with, both of which can significantly contribute to personal and planetary health. As such, there is a need for youth-focused health literacy practices that take an eco-social and planetary health lens to acknowledge humans as living systems that exist among and interact with other living systems.10 It has been recognized that drawing together the true links between global ecosystems and social interactions can foster renewed care and relationality for each other, other living non-humans, and the environment.8 Bridging environment-health-community connections can also help youth draw connections between disciplines and sectors by illustrating the synergies between the systems in their bodies, and the processes that are occurring in the living systems they reside in. For example, there are parallels in the way that plants convert energy from the sun, get nutrients from soil, and provide these nutrients to other organisms, with the microbes living in the human gut consuming the food we ingest and releasing metabolites.8 How the bark of white birch trees regenerates like that of human skin. How water moves through the ground the way water moves through our bodies. How the connection of tree roots under soil facilitates the transferring and sharing of nutrients and may have positive effect on connected trees’ responses to environmental variability11 - drawing further attention to the importance of relationships to our health. These connections, when made explicit, can promote a deeper understanding of our own health, the health of the ecosystems we live in, and foster feelings of empowerment.

Facilitating Participation and Pathways to Action

Another key component to hope is creating opportunities for youth to become informed change agents for their environments and communities, which may include engaging in different levels of climate actions. As has been demonstrated at the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference, even though children and youth are among the most significant stakeholder groups in the climate crisis, they are almost universally excluded from critical decision-making processes.12 Therefore, more needs to be done to operationalize transdisciplinary, cross-regional, and intergenerational approaches to decision-making processes and settings. These integrated approaches to collaboration have immense promise to promote the co-benefits of improving youth’s sense of hope; developing creative, un-siloed, and equity-oriented approaches to sustainability; and capacity-building for the next generation of eco-social leaders. Another powerful pathway to action includes connecting youth efforts across places. Bridging connections between existing efforts allows us to work collaborative across urban and rural socio-economic and environmental contexts, social and environmental determinants of health, diverse knowledges, and diverse climate change experiences and entry points for environmental action. 

Arriving at the River Delta with Plans to Move back Upstream

…Arriving at the river delta from my time spent upstream

I carry lessons of intergenerational equity, reciprocity within and between watersheds, and intersectoral connection

Shifting from ‘problems to be solved’ to ‘strengths to be refueled’ as an emerging theme

From craving clarity, to finding solace in complexity and reflection. (Kennedy, 05/19/2022)

Photos by Angel Kennedy


  1. Bendell, J. (2018). Deep adaptation: A map for navigating climate tragedy.
  2. Frumkin, H. (2022). Hope, Health, and the Climate Crisis. The Journal of Climate Change and Health, 100115.
  3. Snyder, C. R. (2002). Hope theory: Rainbows in the mind. Psychological inquiry13(4), 249-275.
  4. Stibbe, A. (2015). Ecolinguistics: Language, ecology and the stories we live by. Routledge.
  5. Kania, J., Kramer, M., & Senge, P. (2018). The water of systems change.
  6. Damico, J. S., Baildon, M., & Panos, A. (2020). Climate justice literacy: Stories‐we‐live‐by, ecolinguistics, and classroom practice. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy63(6), 683-691.
  7. Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Milkweed.
  8. Robinson, J. M., Mills, J. G., & Breed, M. F. (2018). Walking ecosystems in microbiome-inspired green infrastructure: an ecological perspective on enhancing personal and planetary health. Challenges9(2), 40.
  9. Escobar, A. (2018). Healing the web of life: On the meaning of environmental and health equity. International Journal of Public Health.
  10. Parkes, M. W. (2021). Working together for WHOLE systems: Approaching Well-being and Health, while Oriented to Living-systems and Equity, (Chapter 5). In C. Stephen (Ed.), Animals, Health and Society: Health Promotion, Harm Reduction, and Health Equity in a One Health World (pp. 71–94). CRC Press.
  11. Adonsou, K. E., Drobyshev, I., DesRochers, A., & Tremblay, F. (2016). Root connections affect radial growth of balsam poplar trees. Trees30(5), 1775-1783.
  12. Save the Children. (2021 November 13). COP26: Empty Words and Not Enough Action Show Children and Youth are not Being Heard.