Three women standing outside, one holding a video camera showcasing why is environmental justice important.

2023 Dreamstarter Update Answering: Why is Environmental Justice Important?

The conversation around environmental justice is more critical than ever and understanding why environmental justice is important becomes a cornerstone for initiatives aimed at creating a sustainable future. A huge supporter of this movement is Running Strong for American Indian Youth®, a shining example of hope and empowerment for indigenous communities. Through its innovative Dreamstarter program, Running Strong is not just addressing immediate survival needs but is also paving the way for a future where American Indian youth can thrive with self-sufficiency and self-esteem. 

The 2023 Dreamstarter class, with a dedicated focus on Environmental Justice, stands as a testament to the organization’s commitment to nurturing young leaders who are ready to tackle environmental challenges head-on. This campaign is more than just a grant; it’s a launching pad for young dreamers to turn their visions for their communities and the environment into reality. 

The 2023 Dreamstarters

Join us as we explore the inspiring journey of the 2023 Dreamstarters and delve into why environmental justice is not just important, but essential for the well-being of our planet and future generations.

Tillie Stewart’s Vision for Change

Tillie Stewart is not only pursuing a degree in Microbiology and Environmental Health at Montana State University but is also deeply committed to addressing environmental disparities affecting Native communities. Hailing from the Crow reservation in Montana, with roots in the Big Lodge and Piegan clans, Tillie’s vision extends beyond academia.

Her passion for empowering Crow women has led to the formation of the Biawaatchaache (Good Woman) Collective, in collaboration with the Bridge Foundation and JoRee LaFrance. This initiative aims to amplify the voices of young Apsáalooke women, connecting them with their culture and the environment through educational workshops and activities.

Update on Tillie Stewart

Tillie is steadfast in her commitment to the Biawaatchaache Collective while working towards completing her degree. Balancing her academic ambitions with her responsibilities as a mother, she continues to be an inspiring figure for her daughter Serena and the community. Her determination to create a better future for the next generation of Crow women remains unwavering.

Autumn Harry’s Commitment to Environmental and Social Justice

Autumn Harry is a formidable force in the realm of community organizing, Indigenous rights, and environmental protection. With her heritage rooted in both the Paiute and Navajo tribes, Autumn has grown up in a lineage dedicated to safeguarding the environment. She is currently undertaking a master’s degree in Geography at the University of Nevada, Reno, focusing her thesis on the reclamation of Numu place names.

Her advocacy is driven by a deep understanding of the inseparable link between violence against the land and violence against tribal communities, particularly women and girls. Autumn highlights how resource extraction not only depletes the land but also escalates violence against Indigenous women. Through the Great Basin Nation Building initiative, she aims to bolster environmental and social justice efforts, nurture future Native activists, and facilitate healing for tribal communities affected by these dual violences.

Update on Autumn Harry

Autumn Harry is fervently pushing forward with her projects amidst a year filled with activism. Despite challenges, such as finding a venue for her mural project, her dedication remains unshaken. With her graduation from the University of Nevada, Reno with a master’s degree anticipated in April, her journey is an inspirational one. Her relentless activism and passion for her community’s well being make us eager to continue our support for her multifaceted advocacy work. 

This summer, she will amplify her impact by hosting her annual conference, “Journey of a Water Protector.” At this event, water protectors and community members will convene to discuss future initiatives and share their experiences in the ongoing fight for environmental justice. Her multifaceted advocacy work, enriched by such significant gatherings, makes us all the more eager to continue our support for Autumn Harry’s endeavors.

Loren Waters: A Filmmaker with a Mission

Loren Waters stands out as a visionary filmmaker and storyteller from the Cherokee Nation. Her upbringing in Norman, Oklahoma, and time spent on the reservation imbued her with a profound connection to her community, a zeal for storytelling, and a commitment to environmental activism. With a B.A. in Environmental Studies from the University of Oklahoma, Loren has skillfully merged her passions through the art of filmmaking.

Determined to address the scarcity of Native voices in media and the lack of coverage on environmental injustices, Loren focuses on bringing Indigenous environmental activists to the forefront. Through her work, including the documentary “ᏗᏂᏠᎯ ᎤᏪᏯ (Meet Me At The Creek),” she shines a light on Cherokee elder Rebecca Jim’s efforts to rehabilitate Tar Creek. Loren’s films are more than just stories; they are calls to action for clean water rights, increased visibility for Native issues, cultural revitalization, and self-representation.

Two women are holding a sign saying, my dreams is to protect the environment through storytelling, showcasing why is environmental justice important.

Update on Loren Waters

This spring marks a significant milestone for Loren Waters as she takes her short film through the festival circuit. Highlighted at our SACRED arts festival in April, her work continues to captivate and inspire audiences. That same weekend, she further extended her reach by premiering the film in a screening in her hometown in Oklahoma. 

The event was elevated by the presence of Quannah Chasing Horse, and together, they hosted a tabling event. This gathering allowed other local organizations to share resources and information, fostering a deeper community connection. Following the screening, she engaged directly with the audience through a Q and A session, offering insightful perspectives and further enriching the experience for all those in attendance. 

Loren is not stopping here; she remains dedicated to her craft in the film industry, with a steadfast commitment to elevating Native voices and narratives. Her journey is a testament to the power of storytelling as a tool for change and representation.

Anpa’o Locke: A Voice for the Unheard

Anpa’o Locke, a 24-year-old Afro-Indigenous (Húŋkpapȟa Lakota & Ahtna Dené) writer and filmmaker from Standing Rock Nation, embodies a unique intersection of cultures and experiences. Witnessing the marginalization of water protectors’ voices at Standing Rock and confronting the absence of Afro-Indigenous representation in mainstream media catalyzed her commitment to amplifying Native stories and perspectives. With a Film Studies degree from Mount Holyoke College, Anpa’o honed her craft in storytelling, focusing on using media as a powerful tool for cultural and environmental advocacy.

Her dedication extends beyond filmmaking; Anpa’o is passionate about mentoring Native youth, teaching them to harness media to highlight social and environmental injustices. Through initiatives like the Indigenous Youth Leadership Conference, she empowers young leaders to spearhead advocacy efforts, strategize campaigns, and build supportive networks for environmental justice endeavors within their communities.

Update on Anpa’o Locke

Anpa’o Locke is currently channeling her talents into creating a short film that delves into her life experiences growing up on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. The film, a personal narrative exploring her journey as a young Afro-Indigenous queer woman, promises to offer a poignant glimpse into the complexities of identity, belonging, and resilience. As we explore avenues to support her project, Anpa’o’s work illuminates the paths of those who navigate the intersections of multiple identities. 

Also this year, during her Youth Leadership Conference, Anpa’o and her mentor took an innovative approach by redesigning the conference into a hybrid format. The first half was conducted online over four days, concluding about a month before they gathered for another four days in person. This new structure was met with enthusiasm, as participants felt an increased sense of connection upon meeting face-to-face. Anpa’o was particularly moved by the initiative shown by the youth at her conference, who spontaneously began a grassroots movement during the event, underscoring the power of inspired collective action.

Sara Powell: Cultivating Connection and Health

At just 16 years old, Sara Powell, a member of the Kinyaa’aanii clan of the Navajo Nation from Springville, Utah, is already making strides towards bridging the gap between urban Native youth and their cultural heritage. Growing up in a closely-knit community but observing the disconnection many urban Native youths feel from their traditions, Sara has pinpointed a critical area for intervention: food sovereignty.

Learning about the stark realities facing the Navajo Nation—limited grocery stores, high rates of obesity and diabetes, and heavy reliance on imported food—Sara was inspired to take action. Her initiative, the Three Sisters Garden, aims to engage Native youth in traditional Navajo food systems. By growing indigenous plants and learning traditional recipes, participants gain access to fresh, healthy food, fostering both physical health and cultural connection.

Through this project, Sara envisions not only improving food access and sovereignty within her community but also strengthening the ties of urban Native youth to their culture and the land. It’s an effort to nourish bodies, minds, and spirits, ensuring that cultural practices thrive amidst modern challenges.

Update on Sara Powell

As Sara continues her journey through high school, her commitment to her community and cultural heritage remains unwavering. She plans to keep contributing to the Nebo programs and supporting younger students, embodying the spirit of leadership and service. While it’s uncertain whether the garden initiative on her parents’ property will continue in its current form or transition to a new space, Sara’s impact resonates beyond the physical garden. Her efforts symbolize a growing movement towards food sovereignty, health, and cultural reconnection among urban Native youth.

Corice Lieb’s Journey of Empowerment

Corice Lieb, a veteran and member of the Omaha Tribe, has navigated a path marked by resilience and a deep commitment to his community. His experiences, from growing up in Nebraska’s foster care system to serving in the Marine Corps, have instilled in him a profound understanding of the value of connection and the strength found in communal ties.

At the University of Nebraska Omaha, Corice’s academic pursuits led him to discover the critical role of drone technology in addressing climate-induced disasters. Recognizing the potential for this technology to alleviate some of the administrative hurdles tribes face when seeking disaster assistance, Corice envisioned a future where tribal communities could more readily access Federal disaster relief funds. By obtaining licenses and undergoing training in drone operation, he aims to equip other Native youth with the skills to enhance their communities’ sovereignty and resilience.

Update on Corice Lieb

Life has recently taken a joyous turn for Corice Lieb with the arrival of a new baby. As he embraces fatherhood, Corice’s focus shifts towards nurturing a healthy and happy family. This new chapter not only adds to his personal story of resilience and growth but also stands as a testament to the ongoing journey of learning and community service that defines his life. While continuing to advocate for technological empowerment within tribal communities, Corice now also embodies the role of a parent, passing on the values of resilience, connection, and cultural pride to the next generation.

In line with his commitment to technological advancement, the University of Nebraska, also recognizes the importance and need for innovative technology. This alignment is evident in their efforts to integrate relevant technology into their curriculum. This collaboration underscores the shared vision between Corice and the University of Nebraska, highlighting the mutual understanding of technology’s pivotal role in education and community development. As Corice navigates the joys and challenges of fatherhood, his dedication to fostering technological empowerment remains unwavering, setting a powerful example for both his family and community.

Sheniah Reed’s Path to Advocacy

Sheniah Reed, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, embodies the spirit of environmental stewardship and advocacy for Indigenous rights. Pursuing degrees in Wildlife Ecology and Management as well as Biology, she is deeply engaged in both her academic pursuits and extracurricular activities. As an active participant in the Wildlife Society, Women in Natural Resources Organization, and various university groups focused on Indigenous representation and education, Sheniah is forging a path that blends her passion for environmental conservation with her commitment to advocating for Indigenous communities.

Her involvement in organizing the University of Wisconsin Native Nations “Water Is Life” Conference illustrates her dedication to creating meaningful dialogue around critical issues such as water quality protection, tribal food sovereignty, and environmental justice. This conference serves as a vital platform for raising awareness among non-Native people about the historical and ongoing social inequities and environmental injustices faced by Native communities. It also provides a space for Native people to come together, reflect, and strategize on continuing their fight against these injustices.

Update on Sheniah Reed

Currently, Sheniah continues her educational journey at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, where she remains committed to completing her degree. Her involvement with the Native American center and related organizations on campus is unwavering. Through her academic achievements and activism, Sheniah is not only advancing her personal goals but also contributing significantly to the broader conversation on environmental justice and the empowerment of Indigenous voices.

This commitment was recently highlighted through the successful completion of their “Water is Life” conference that concluded early in April. Despite the challenges posed by an unexpected snowstorm just days prior, the conference witnessed an impressive turnout. The event underscored the community’s support, with donations being made to local Native and environmental organizations, reflecting a collective effort towards meaningful advocacy. The university’s support was notably strong, with generous contributions coming from the College of Natural Resources and the campus events fund, adding to the organizers’ satisfaction with the event’s outcome.

As Sheniah continues her journey, her efforts to foster discussions on critical environmental issues and champion Indigenous rights are vital components of the collective effort to safeguard our natural environment and uphold the dignity of Indigenous communities.

McKalee Steen’s Legacy of Advocacy

At just 25, McKalee Steen is a leading advocate for Cherokee representation and environmental protection. Growing up in an Oklahoma farming family with a strong emphasis on education, she understood from an early age the importance of environmental justice. Currently a third-year PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, her research focuses on the impact of colonization and land theft on Native youth’s access to higher education, emphasizing Indigenous sovereignty and the reclamation of tribal lands.

McKalee spearheads efforts to boost Native youth representation in academia and supports their advocacy for land reclamation. She initiated the Indigenous Youth Perspectives and Action on Landback Conference at UC Berkeley, a groundbreaking event aimed at empowering Native youth in Landback movements. This conference, in collaboration with the UC Berkeley Native American Studies Department, serves as a platform for dialogue and reinforces the significance of Indigenous leadership in educational contexts.

Update on McKalee Steen

McKalee Steen’s journey continues as she remains steadfast in her academic pursuits at UC Berkeley, working diligently towards her PhD. Her involvement with the Native American Center and related activities on campus is unwavering. By balancing her studies with her commitment to activism, McKalee embodies the role of a scholar-activist, bridging the gap between academic inquiry and community engagement. Her ongoing efforts to empower Native youth and advocate for Landback initiatives exemplify her dedication to fostering a more inclusive and just future in academia and beyond.

Noah Proctor’s Commitment to Cultural Revitalization

Noah Proctor, a Piscataway Conoy student at Towson University, is deeply rooted in his commitment to his community and heritage. Majoring in Criminal Justice, Noah understands the critical intersection of legal rights, land sovereignty, and cultural preservation. His dedication goes beyond the classroom, focusing on tangible ways to support and uplift the Piscataway Conoy people, a tribe that faced centuries of challenges yet was only recognized by the state of Maryland in 2012.

Through the establishment of the Piscataway Community Garden, Noah aims to tackle pressing issues such as hunger and limited access to healthy foods within his tribal community. However, his vision extends further; he sees the garden as a vital tool for reconnecting youth with traditional Piscataway foods and growing practices. This initiative is not just about food security but also about nourishing a sense of identity and pride among the younger members of the tribe.

Update on Noah Proctor

As Noah continues his academic journey at Towson University, pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice, he remains deeply engaged in his community work. With unwavering support from the community, the Piscataway Community Garden is set to flourish for years to come. Noah’s efforts exemplify how individual commitment, supported by collective action, can lead to meaningful change. Through education, advocacy, and the simple act of gardening, Noah is sowing seeds of hope and identity for the Piscataway Conoy people, ensuring a richer, more connected future for the next generation.

Cruz Collin’s Visionary Blend of Tradition and Technology

At just 19 years old, Cruz Collin stands as a testament to the power of combining Indigenous wisdom with modern scientific approaches. A proud second-generation Oglala Lakota scientist and activist, Cruz has cultivated a deep connection with nature, guided by the cultural knowledge and sustainability practices of the Lakota people. His mission is not only to protect the natural beauty of his homelands but also to forge a path towards global sustainability in the face of climate change.

Cruz’s passion for integrating Lakota science with Western methodologies is driving his innovative work in renewable energy. Focused on developing a sustainable and cost-effective solar panel solution, he aims to create technology that is not only more environmentally friendly but also more accessible than current market offerings. With two provisional patents already filed for alternative energy systems, Cruz is at the forefront of a movement that seeks to blend tradition with innovation for the betterment of humanity and the planet.

Update on Cruz Collin

As Cruz embarks on this exciting new chapter at college in Oregon, the confidence in his potential to affect meaningful change is palpable. His journey underscores the importance of nurturing young talent and the transformative power of combining cultural heritage with scientific innovation. With his continued research and academic pursuits, Cruz Collin is not just on a path to change the world. He is redefining what it means to be a scientist and an activist in the 21st century. As he continues his research in a private lab space off campus, his commitment to education is as steadfast as ever. He dreams of creating a space where he can blend the wisdom of traditional beliefs with the breakthroughs of modern science, sharing this rich tapestry with future generations.

Empowering Future Generations through Dreamstarters

The journey and achievements of the 2023 Dreamstarters have been nothing short of inspirational. Each story, from Corice Lieb’s innovative use of drone technology for disaster relief to Sheniah Reed’s efforts in organizing the “Water Is Life” conference, highlights the powerful impact of integrating traditional knowledge with modern solutions to address environmental justice. These young activists, rooted in their communities and driven by a commitment to the land and its preservation, are leading the way toward a more sustainable and just future.

The success of the Dreamstarters is a testament to the importance of amplifying Native voices and ensuring that Indigenous communities are at the forefront of environmental discussions. Their projects not only contribute to immediate positive change but also set the stage for ongoing activism and education. As these young leaders continue to grow and learn, their unwavering dedication to environmental justice promises to inspire and mobilize future generations.

Your Support Matters

As we reflect on the remarkable contributions of these Dreamstarters, it becomes clear that supporting initiatives like Running Strong for American Indian Youth and the Dreamstarter program is crucial. These platforms provide essential resources and mentorship, empowering young Indigenous activists to bring their innovative solutions to life. By supporting these programs, we contribute to a movement that values and uplifts Native voices, ensuring they are heard in the conversations that shape our collective environmental future.

Donate Now!

We urge our readers to stand with us in support of Running Strong for American Indian Youth and the Dreamstarter program. Your contribution can help fuel the dreams of young Native activists committed to environmental justice and community empowerment. Together, we can ensure that the voices of the next generation are not only heard but celebrated and supported in their quest to protect our planet for future generations. Let’s invest in a future where every young activist has the opportunity to make their dream a reality and continue the vital work of safeguarding our environment.

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