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Kid Warrior: The Accidental Activist

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About the talk

This February, ACMI hosted a sold out talk and Q&A with “Kid Warrior” Xiuhtezcatl Martinez as part of the Sustainable Living Festival. The 16 year old came to prominence when his collective of youth activists sued the government for inaction on climate change.

This is a recording of his conversation with Amelia Telford, co-director of Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network.

Background to the talk

Here at ACMI we believe in environmental sustainability and leaving the smallest footprint possible.

We have an active Green Team whose job is not just to encourage environmental awareness in our day-to-day activities, but also to support events that encourage our audiences to do the same. Because we can all be overwhelmed by bad news stories that leave us feeling powerless, the Green Team seeks out events and speakers who inspire us with messages of action.

Sixteen-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, also known as the Kid Warrior, has been sharing a positive message about environmental action since he was six years old. As the Youth Director of Earth Guardians, he is on a mission to educate young people about climate change and environmental degradation, eschewing fear and despair in favour of building hope and inspiring action.

On the 10th February 2017 Xiuhtezcatl delivered his message to hundreds of students from schools across Victoria. The event began with a welcome to country by Wurundjeri elder, Auntie Georgina Nicholson.

Xiuhtezcatl, who had arrived that morning from Auckland, was introduced by Amelia Telford, co-director of Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network. Amelia, who is herself an inspirational youth leader, also hosted the lively Q&A that followed Xiuhtezcatl’s talk.

The Kid Warrior has the charisma of a hip hop star (one of his many claims to fame), the gravitas of a community leader (who has spoken at the UN and been an adviser to Barack Obama) and the optimism of someone who believes that by connecting young people around the globe, he and they can make the world a better place. He is perhaps best known for being one of twenty-one young Americans suing the US government for inaction on climate change and thereby infringing their “fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property”.

Relying on a simple PowerPoint and the strength of his message, Xiuhtezcatl addressed his audience directly and clearly. He described phenomena like the melting polar ice caps, the Dakota Access Pipeline, fracking, and rising sea levels in Kiribati, but it was a journey that ultimately led back to the students in the audience. Despite laying bare the grim legacy confronting future generations, Xiuhtezcatl offered this vision of the future as a chance for young people to act. He told the audience they have the power to lead positive change by connecting with others and taking action no matter how small. They could decide not to eat meat one day a week, or plant a vegetable garden or just use less plastic.

Kid Warrior Addressing the Schools Forum in Cinema 2

When it was time for questions, the young people in the audience were eager to find out more about Xiuhtezcatl’s life as an eco-warrior and it was clear that they had taken his message on board. Alongside questions about youth action, Donald Trump and Xiuhtezcatl’s Indigenous heritage, a young girl shared her horror at finding out about concentrations of plastic in the Pacific ocean and how it motivated her to create a poster featuring a sad whale mired in plastic and a happy whale free to swim in an unpolluted sea. The whole audience burst into applause.

Xiuhtezcatl delivers his powerful message with his heart on his sleeve, and we encourage our visitors, whatever their age, to feel inspired by the his story. The lesson of Xiuhtezcatl is that we can all make a difference by making small, local changes; together these will add up to one monumental wave of change.

By Susan Bye, Anna Kuch and Richard Greenhalgh