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Activism is a word that has grown in popular use since the social justice movements of the 1960’s and can happen in various forms, that range in scale and impact. From lobbying on capitol hill and wide-reaching social media movements to grass-roots and community-based efforts, all the way down to educating others or donating to charity. Indigenous people have always been at the forefronts of activist movements. Unfortunately, many times out of necessity, having to advocate for equal rights and environmental protection of their lands against harmful practices and oppressive policies. In 1969, Native American activists occupied the land that became Alcatraz Island to bring awareness to the dismal conditions on reservations. In 2016, the Dakota Access Pipeline and Native American Activists made national headlines for months as they fought for Environmental Justice. Now, in 2023 our Dreamstarters are Environmental Justice advocates in their own way, three standing out with grass-roots movements of their own; Tillie Stewart, Anpa’o Locke, and Autumn Harry.
Autumn Harry (Paiute and Navajo) has a dream to equip the next generation of Native community organizers to fight violence against Indigenous homelands, and Indigenous women. Autumn’s community, the Paiute Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, is located less than 50 miles outside of Reno, Nevada, a rapidly growing city whose expansion is encroaching on the reservation by taking advantage of the land, depleting natural resources, and threatening the safety of the residents. Autumn has been working hard developing a mural that will be located in the heart of Downtown Reno to honor Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples, which is a problem that coexists when there is violence against Indigenous lands. She is currently in the process of securing wall space, and drafting drawings of her mural. Beyond her Dreamstarter project, Autumn continues to be an activist by hosting fundraisers to support the families of victims in her community and raising awareness of similar issues in neighboring communities. Recently, Autumn has been asking for support to protect sacred burial sites of the Paiute– Shoshone Tribe just across the Nevada-California border. To read more about this issue, and to support Autumn’s work visit: https://chng.it/z7rY48477V
Tillie Stewart (Crow Nation) has a dream to elevate the voices of young Apsáalooke women, reconnect them with the land, and strengthen their participation in environmental justice work. Tillie’s community on the Crow Reservation in Montana has had a long battle against outsiders and the U.S. government to protect their lands and resources. In response, Tillie co-founded The Biawaatchaache Collective, a group dedicated to educating and connecting with other young Crow Women, preparing them to be the next generation of activists. In July, Tillie kicked-off her collective with a two-day retreat in Crow Agency where the cohort gathered to learn from Crow elders, experts on Crow water rights, and connect with their homelands. One of the most impactful events of the weekend, the group gathered on pontoons on the Little Big Horn River, listened to guest speakers share on water rights and cool off in the water on breaks, for some members it was their first time on the waters that run through their ancestral home. The collective will continue to meet monthly sharing knowledge, discussing how to continue their activism, and hosting public events to engage their community.
Anpa’o Locke (Húŋkpapȟa Lakota & Ahtna Dené) has a dream is to teach Native youth to leverage media, and use storytelling to create more awareness of social and environmental injustices faced by tribal nations across the country. Born and raised in Standing Rock, South Dakota (home of the movement against the Dakota Access pipeline) Anpa’o understands firsthand the importance of protecting indigenous homelands, how to leverage media, and the real impacts of activism. With her mentor organization, Earth Guardians, Anpa’o is planning the fourth annual Indigenous Youth Leadership Conference set for next year. During the conference Native youth will hone their leadership skills, create strategic plans for their own grass-roots Environmental Justice movements, network with and support fellow youth leaders. Anpa’o is helping to reimagine the conference, opting for a 3-5 day in-person training with a new virtual element that allows participants to complete training online before the gathering, and add more virtual meetings through the year post conference. She hopes the new virtual elements will allow participants to connect more easily and frequently, fostering a strong, lasting network of support for the next generation of leaders. Apart from her work with Dreamstarter and Earth Guardians, Anpa’o is also in pre-production of her own short film called Kawa, based on her experiences growing up as an Afro-Indigenous person on the reservation. To learn more about the film and follow her progress, follow Anpa’o on Instagram @anpa.o
Do you know a Native Youth with a dream? 2024 Dreamstarter applications are open now! The 2024 class is encouraged to undertake projects that focus on Native Storytelling that will help uplift Native voices and allow Native perspectives and stories to be heard. Learn more about applying at: indianyouth.org/dreamstarter-apply/