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Young environmentalist centre stage at Peachfest Aboriginal Cultural Village

11-year-old Ta’Kaiya Blaney shares her passion for culture and the environment at the Penticton Peach Festival Aboriginal Cultural Village.
Ta’Kaiya Blaney is 11 years old and from the Sliammon First Nation

At 11 years old Ta’Kaiya Blaney has more passion in her convictions than most adults.

Blaney, who lives in North Vancouver and is from the Sliammon First Nation, learned from her grandparents and parents that their way of life would not be hers.

“They told me stories of how they use to go down to the beach and practice our traditions and culture by eating the herring off the rocks and gather the cockles and not having to worry about them being toxic, them being not edible because the land was pristine back then,” explains Blaney. “Every time they would tell me those  stories it reminds me that I am never going to be able to do most of things they talk about because the land is too polluted now.”

The stories, coupled with new stories of the environment being destroyed, sparked a passion in the well-spoken girl to stand up and do something about it. On Friday at the Penticton Peach Festival Aboriginal Cultural Village in Gyro Park she will bring her message of saving “mother earth.”

“There is always going to be people out there saying ‘what does she know, she is 11, she hasn’t got her wisdom teeth pulled, or hasn’t got a job or gone to college or university.’ I believe that it doesn’t matter if you are tall or small, 90 or six it is just that you have a message and that message is that you feel,” said Blaney, whose first name translates into Special Water. “The Earth is what I feel for. I am passionate for that. What I tell people is that if they have a gift they should share it, so if they are worried about the environment or they are worried about war then they should just not worry about people who are criticizing them. Stand up for what you believe in.”

In 2010 she co-wrote and recorded five songs with Aileen De La Cruz, including Shallow Waters. The message in the song is relevant today more than ever as she sings about how an oil spill in the northwest coast could tragically end the traditional way of life for many coastal First Nations and devastate all marine and coastal life and habitat. Since the video was released for Shallow Waters in February of 2011, it has been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube.

“I really didn’t think I would have this much impact. I definitely wanted to get my message out there ... it’s reached way farther and I am happy because I want to spread the message of how my ancestors land is being constantly destroyed, how my culture is in danger and how mother earth is in danger.”

Blaney was chosen as one of 20 We Canada Champions, an organization putting pressure on Canada to show leadership at the UN Earth Summit 2012 in Rio De Janeiro. The summit, which happened in June, will review and set  goals for a future that is sustainable and promotes social justice. Blaney also travelled to Indonesia with her mother and other We Canada Champions where she met other like-minded children. She gave three workshops for 10 to 14-year-olds and sang at the closing ceremonies.

Blaney spoke and sang at several rallies this past year including the KinderMorgan Plant in Burnaby where tar sands pipeline expansion will mean more oil tankers in Burrard Inlet and more recently at the Enbridge environmental hearing in Comox.

While she hasn’t quite narrowed down what she wants to do when she becomes an adult — a long list that includes singing, speaking out on the environment and playing the violin — she does know it will involve her passion for the environment. That was confirmed after meeting one of her biggest environmental influences, David Suzuki.

“It is like reading about a superhero in a comic for so long then finally getting to meet the hero,” said Blaney. “It was just an amazing experience.”

Blaney will be performing at the opening ceremonies of the Aboriginal Cultural Village on Friday at noon and at Okanagan Lake Park at 3:20 p.m.

Following Blaney under the big tent at Gyro Park will be a traditional pow wow until 7 p.m. Also performing on Friday is Warren Hooley, Aimee Lezard, Niska Napolean, Takida, Skookum Sound System dance party.

At 9:05 p.m. in the bandshell Rob Sawan, a.k.a Kasp, who is from Penticton, will be performing. Kasp has won numerous awards including several for Hip Hop group of the year at the Okanagan Music Awards and Best Hip Hop album at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards.

From noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday is the traditional pow wow. Performances start at 7:10 p.m. at the bandshell with Maddy McCallum followed by Aurora, Billy Walker, Ann Doyon, Golden Eagles Band, Toni Gallicano-George and the Floyd Vedan Band.