Donate Join Email List
Donate Join Email List

News & Blog

Kelsey Leonard Mobilizes Her Community to Keep the Ocean Free of Debris!

5/3/18 in Southampton, NY under Dreamstarter






Southampton, NY

Kelsey’s Dream

Kelsey’s dream “Sewa Stewards: Ocean Protectors Against Marine Debris” is to inspire indigenous youth to protect the ocean. She notes that marine debris is one of the greatest threats to the ocean and that within her home state of New York among the leading contributors to marine debris are non-biodegradable and toxic cigarette butts. 

“Tribal nations are large producers and sellers of cigarettes and can be valuable partners in disseminating educational materials for this leading cause of marine debris,” said Kelsey.

Kelsey’s Home and Community

Kelsey, 29, of Southampton, New York, is an enrolled member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. The tribe’s reservation sits on a peninsula, surrounded by Shinnecock Bay.

“It is our ancestral home,” says Kelsey. “Sometimes it feels as if Shinnecocks were born from the sea. As children, we often learn to swim before we can walk. Clamming, crabbing, canoeing, oyster shucking are also staples of our lives. We live off the land and adapt to the environment.

“Innovation is an indigenous value engrained in our way of life, because our survival depends on our resiliency,” she added.

What motivated Kelsey to develop this dream?

Shinnecock means “People of the Stoney Shore” and Kelsey believes strongly that protection of the shore and ocean resources is integral to her tribe’s survival.

“The public is generally unaware that cigarette butts are the leading contributor to marine debris in New York,” she said. “Moreover, Tribal Nations in New York have a long history of selling tobacco and as the first peoples of these lands and waters we have a responsibility to ensure they are protected.”

The idea to address the problem came from her current efforts to protect her tribe’s shores; every summer the Shinnecock youth council hosts a beach clean-up on the reservation to reduce marine debris.

“The proposed project is an evolution of Shinnecock youth programming to combat marine debris,” said Kelsey.

The Dream as a Solution

Kelsey’s solution to the problem is two-fold: first, to educate consumers and the public of the massive problem of cigarette butt and marine debris pollution in New York, and second, to address the lack of waste receptacles and signage for combating marine debris on Shinnecock Indian territory.

With the knowledge that education alone is not the solution, her plan is to utilize social marketing tools to change public behavior to stop throwing cigarette butts on public open spaces – including securing pledges from tribe members to stop littering their cigarette butts.

In addition, she plans to encourage local businesses to include prompts in store windows reminding customers to properly dispose of their cigarette butts, and also by distributing free reusable ash tray bags to make it convenient for members of the public to properly dispose of cigarettes.

The Potential Impact in the Future

“This campaign will be unique with a focus on cigarette pollution,” explained Kelsey. “Additionally, this will be the first campaign that is designed by indigenous youth to work in collaboration with tribal smoke shops.

“Overall, the project aims to raise awareness of marine debris among cigarette purchasers and smokers, indigenous and non-indigenous, to change behavior and reduce cigarette butt litter in the environment.”


Learn more about Kelsey!

More News View All

Support Running Strong!

We invite you to make a difference in the lives of American Indian youth today by donating to our cause.