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St. F.X. student inspired by climate change retreat

Third year St. F.X. student Neely MacBurnie took part in a special three-day retreat over the summer, which involved 20 “youth thinkers” from across Atlantic Canada, gathering at Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash, Cumberland County.
Third year St. F.X. student Neely MacBurnie took part in a special three-day retreat over the summer, which involved 20 “youth thinkers” from across Atlantic Canada, gathering at Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash, Cumberland County. - Richard MacKenzie

“Best weekend of my life”

ANTIGONISH, N.S. —

It was a mid-summer experience but one St. F.X. student Neely MacBurnie is still, very much, absorbing and being inspired by.

“I hope to start a society here at school to get people together to talk about climate change and take action … that’s one of the things [I would like to do],”

MacBurnie, a participant in a three-day retreat July 25-28 at the Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash, Cumberland County, is in her third year at St. F.X. where her focus has been on phycology and sociology courses.

It was sociology associate professor Riley Chisholm who turned MacBurnie on to the retreat which, in a release from organizer Centre for Local Prosperity, was described as a “gather for intense and brave discussions.”

“About the intersectionality of climate change with social and economic justice, the roots of climate change in systemic oppression of marginalized communities, incorporating art into the climate justice movement, approaching climate justice through a lens of decolonization, and learning from each other to build relationships and a stronger climate justice movement,” the release continued, noting it was attended by 20 youth thinkers from across Atlantic Canada.

MacBurnie, a Kentville native, was actually in southern Ontario for the summer and had to make the extra travel arrangements to attend; ones she is glad she did.

“That, guaranteed, was the best weekend of my life,” she said. “So life-changing; it just made you want to be that positive vibe that everyone knows.”

Everyone knows and, sometimes, chuckles at or shakes their heads. That’s OK MacBurnie said, illustrating a common occurrence with her Antigonish accommodations and roommates.

“My roommates make fun of me because I shut the lights off all around our house all the time but, you know, it’s something that small that could [help] change,” she said. “And people see you do it and think, maybe I should do it too.”

MacBurnie talked about the activities over the three days which began with a smudging ceremony, performed by a Mi’kmaw participant.

There were other First Nation activities too, such as a spirit name ceremony which participants could have done in the group setting or in private, and a blanket exercise.

The days concluded with a special tree planting exercise near the lodge. A red oak tree was planted as, according to the release, “a symbol of their [the participants] commitment to fighting climate change and protecting the planet for the next seven generations.”

Neely MacBurnie presenting her poem during the retreat.
Neely MacBurnie presenting her poem during the retreat.

In talking about the retreat, MacBurnie used the words “interesting,” “cool” and “emotional” often.

She had the same reaction to the setting.

“I would wake up around 6 a.m. each day just because it was such a beautiful spot,” she said.

“It was, basically, just a spot for deep conversation and you could just feel that when you walked in.”

In light of Hurricane Dorian happening just a couple of days

Getting back to Chisholm believing she would make a good candidate, MacBurnie noted it may have come from all the videos she would direct Chisholm’s way regarding climate concerns.

“Sociology has a lot to do with how your health is effected by your environment; we talked a lot about that, had a pretty good connection that way,” MacBurnie said.

She added she feels that connection throughout St. F.X., adding “I love it here.”

“I can’t wait to come back to school,” she said.

“I’ve been to other universities, visiting; it isn’t like it is here. I know we’re considered to be partyers, but, really, we’re like a big family … you’re not afraid to go up to somebody you don’t know.

“People are polite here, the atmosphere is so positive for me.”

As for career goals, MacBurnie said definitely phycology is her route but, more and more, the environment is of interest.

“It’s hard because I want to make them all come together, but they’re completely separate paths,” she said, with a chuckle, of her career goals.

“I definitely want to go into phycology and be a phycologist; because I think phycology is good for anybody in this world. Everybody should know a part of phycology … I think that’s important.

“I’m also very interested in the environment and climate change, so I want to look into environmental studies as well. So some sort of environmental studies and psychology, and try to make them come together.”

There were a lot of smile moments for Kentville native and St. F.X. student Neely MacBurnie during the four-day retreat in late July at the Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash, Cumberland County.
There were a lot of smile moments for Kentville native and St. F.X. student Neely MacBurnie during the four-day retreat in late July at the Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash, Cumberland County.

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