When we invest in ourselves – whether our leadership abilities or our educational journeys – we are making a promise to our community and future generations that we will build a better world. We can imagine and create a different future where we can not only survive, but thrive.

McKalee Steen


McKalee Steen, 25, comes from a long line of Cherokee storytellers and protectors of the environment. Raised on a rural farm in Oklahoma to a family of educators, the importance of education and environmental justice was ingrained in her. Currently, she is a third year PhD candidate at UC Berkley studying Environmental Sciences, Policies and Management. Consequences of colonization and land theft, and the resulting intergenerational trauma, include the institutional barriers Native youth face in pursuit of higher education.

McKalee’s passion for Indigenous sovereignty is reflected in her work to reclaim tribal lands and natural resources and to secure the futures for Native youth, which includes increasing Native representation in academia and both training and supporting young Native advocates in their reclamation efforts. 

The Indigenous Youth Perspectives and Action on Landback  conference is the first of its kind at the University of California, Berkeley. McKalee will bring Native youth together to discuss Landback efforts in their communities and to give them the knowledge and resources to effectively engage in those efforts, empowering them to fight for the rights of their tribes. By partnering with the UC Berkeley Native American Studies Department on campus, she will demonstrate the next generation that there is a space for them in higher education too.

“Reduction of Indigenous lands was near total. This has caused real harm to the health of our people and our ecosystems by at times disrupting our connection to place. However, we are resilient people and have persistently worked to regain access, stewardship, and authority over our lands. One of the biggest successes in righting this historical and environmental injustice is the Landback movement.”


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