Our First Angel
Updated: Feb 10
A first-hand account of Astrid Tuuli Grace Determan's journey to becoming an Arctic Angel.
When I was really young I fell in love with the arctic wolf! I dreamed of these playful majestic creatures who roamed free and brought balance to their habitats. I wanted to be just like them, and I wanted to protect the wolves and all living creatures. That’s why I started EPIC-Animals. It stands for Every Person Initiate Change. It’s a call to action.
As a five year old pup living in Washington DC, my habitat was different. I witnessed the power of advocacy and lobbying to protect nature. I quickly learned to roam the halls of Congress myself and to stand my ground before the strange creatures on The Hill. By age six I testified for animals before the Maryland State Legislature and made a difference. This experience awoke me to the idea that all kids’ voices have a magic in them, a grace.
In the months after, I worked closely with Catoctin Wildlife Preserve in designing a habitat that kept the wolves very happy and healthy. I recruited many classmates and even college students to help.
My interest in the Arctic was further developed when I met Anne Mette, an art teacher from Greenland. She told me about her inuit students and how they felt forgotten. It seemed sooo crazy and unjust to me that these young voices at the epicenter of climate change, kids the whole world are talking about, didn’t realize their powerful place in the story of our generation. I knew I needed to change that if I could.
Every single child and especially a first nations child, has this power. We kids simply need permission to tap into it and the tools to project it. That’s where I focus the efforts of my non-profit EPIC-Animals, we empower kids to speak up for animals and our environment and to help them translate their voices into lasting cultural political and institutional change.
Soon after, I found myself lobbying beside Bernadette, a leader of the Gwich’in people of the Arctic. She talked to me about her people’s relationship with the caribou and how they fight to protect the sacred caribou breeding grounds from the effects of the oil industry.
Paul Soloman, a Gwich’in elder, invited me to address their nation’s sacred gathering in Arctic Village, 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It was an amazing trip. I got really close to a few new young friends and began to feel the deep spiritual bond these people have with the land, plants, and animals. I came to believe that it is more than institutional change we need to promote at EPIC-Animals, we need to encourage a change in how we all think.
In the years that followed I spent most of my time interviewing influential legislators and speaking out in the media for Animals and their habitats.
It was an amazing few years. I met with top animal experts like the famous Pan Wenshi, known as the father of the Giant Panda, in order to gather best practice and set partnerships in place to build a global network.
I was also invited to speak alongside the founder of the UNEP and Earth Day. They talked about the past and I looked to the future with a focus on the Arctic. It was thrilling and a little intimidating but led to great things.
Skipper Darlington, the president of AfricaASAP, approached me after my speech and told me of his brilliant eye-in-the sky airship solution to protect enormous habitats including the Arctic. In his plan, I could see my goal to ROLL BACK the endangered species list was possible. I proudly accepted his offer to become spokesperson and team up my EPIC-Animals project with his on this initiative.
(Click on the image to watch Astrid speaking out for the protection of elephants with AfricaASAP)
And then, this past year, Cardinal Turkson invited me to the Vatican to speak before world religious leaders at a conference on faith and sustainability. He also agreed to form a partnership for me with the Vatican and adapt for kids of all faiths LAUDATO SI, the Pope’s seminal document on the environment. This opportunity to align my mission with Pope Francis and awaken the youth voice globally is beyond belief.
I actually met our Inge Relph at the Vatican where she invited me to join the Arctic Angels. Just a few months later, Sally Ranney came into my life and she and Inge invited me to make the first presentation of their Arctic Angels program at the United Nations Nexus Summit. It is so exciting to be close to these two change makers and to really see their openness to the input of young people.
In fact, Sally, Inge and I agree that what is needed to transform our planet is a change in consciousness and we three believe that kids must lead this. Already GlobalChoices is teaming up with my non-profit, EPIC-Animals, to build a world-wide speakers bureau of young leaders... and this is just our first step!
It has been an exciting ride so far and we are just beginning. Please come join us.
Wildly yours, Astrid
By Astrid Tuuli Grace Determan