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Teenaged crusader passionate about the environment

Nelson teenager Keegan Kemp is volunteering for the Dogwood Initiative as their community organizer. - Will Johnson
Nelson teenager Keegan Kemp is volunteering for the Dogwood Initiative as their community organizer.
— image credit: Will Johnson

Keegan Kemp had an epiphany last summer.

“I was thinking to myself ‘here I am in this body, living this life, and what do I have to show for it?’” the 16-year-old told the Star during a recent interview. “We all have a duty, you know? To do something.”

Kemp’s particular passion has led him to become the community organizer for the local chapter of the Dogwood Initiative, a province-wide organization working to enact legislative change and protect the environment.

Kemp decided to join after being encouraged by David Russell-Loewen, a teacher at SelfDesign High. He said he’s receiving social studies credit for his work, which currently includes a citizen’s initiative to oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

“My role is being a kind of mediator, making sure everyone is heard. I basically facilitate the meetings and keep the conversation flowing and the information going easy,” he said.

Kemp said he’s been passionate about the environment since he was a child. He grew up in the woods, spending a lot of time in solitude. Then the Johnsons Landing mudslide occurred in 2012.

“That’s when you realize everything that seems static isn’t really. I knew a family that their kids had been visiting from the states and his girlfriend was visiting from across the road and they all died,” he said. “That place for me had always been super pristine and the most perfect place. It was a shock, for sure.”

He said living in the Kootenays makes it easy to forget about the trouble going on elsewhere.

“This whole area is like a bubble from the outside world and all the intensity,” he said. “Seeing all the turmoil, the videos of stuff happening, oil spills and everything, it kind of burst that bubble for me.”

Kemp said the Dogwood Initiative is currently approaching their petition’s goal of reaching 10 per cent of the voters in every riding in BC. And whether or not he’s successful, his main concern is making sure he was actively involved.

“You realize at some point that no matter how much you think about stuff, and I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff, nothing’s going to happen until you actually do something,” he said.

So he’s been studying his predecessors work, and has been gleaning a lot of valuable information, he said. In researching the recent initiative to legalize marijuana, Kemp was trying to figure out what exactly went wrong.

“The problem with the marijuana petition, the reason it didn’t succeed, is they launched right before the winter. There’s not as much communal culture in northern ridings, people mostly stay at home, so they couldn’t get those ridings,” said Kemp. “We’re not going to make the same mistake.”

The Dogwood Initiative will be present at the upcoming Marketfests. June was their busiest month, and at one point they had 30 volunteers collecting signatures at Lakeside Park.

“After that big push we’re super close if not finished in getting those signatures,” said Kemp.

He said even though community support is strong in Nelson, there’s still work for him to do.

“In a riding like this where there’s all kinds of awareness, we’re working towards making our team stronger, getting our voices out there. Now we have room to experiment with how we can play with and engage the community, maybe help other ridings,” said Kemp.

For more information on the Dogwood Initiative visit dogwoodinitiative.org

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