- By Native News Online Staff
Yesterday, nonprofit media organization Grist Grist released its annual list of 50 leaders in climate and justice, and seven Indigenous climate activists have made the list.
Called The 2023 Grist 50 Fixers, the list features leaders — referred to “fixers” — across the United States who are working on fresh, real-world solutions to our planet's biggest challenges.
The list is compiled from thousands of nominations solicited from Grist readers, field experts and the public at large.
Meet the seven Indigenous Fixers on The 2023 Grist 50.
Nicole Horseherder, Executive Director, To Nizhoni Ani
Nicole Horseherder (Dine) helped create Tó Nizhóní Ání, an advocacy org whose name means “sacred water speaks” in her native Diné language. She began working with her community to oppose the coal companies that were draining groundwater to support their mining operations. After many intense years of campaigning, their organizing led the Navajo Nation to stop supplying water to the Mojave Generating Station in Nevada — and, ultimately, the station’s shutdown in 2005. More recently, she helped retire the Navajo Generating Station and the Black Mesa and Kayenta mines in 2019. She did that work as a volunteer for 17 years, while working a day job in the local school district.
Tanksi Clairmont, Managing Director, Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund, GRID Alternatives
Tanksi Clairmont (Sicangu Lakota and Sisseton-Wahpeton) attributes her interest in climate work to lessons learned from her tribal community. Still didn’t see herself earning a living in renewable energy. That career path grew from her commitment to working with her community. While traveling to over 100 communities as a champion powwow dancer — specializing in a dance called Fancy Shawl and, more recently, Jingle Dress — she developed deep relationships with the people of many tribes. When Clairmont landed at GRID Alternatives four years ago, it brought an opportunity to continue working with Native communities in a way that aligned with her values. Clairmont’s work has helped expand solar power and clean energy jobs on Indigenous lands nationwide. Her efforts have supported more than 65 tribes and secured $12 million to bring 2.58 megawatts of solar energy to tribal communities across the country, and to advance higher education in tribal nations. And she’s only getting started.
Azuré Kauikeolani Iversen-Keahi, Urban Grower, Worker/Owner, Capital Bookkeeping Cooperative
Azuré Kauikeolani Iversen-Keahi (Native Hawaiian) always felt a connection to land. But with developers greedily devouring the islands and driving up prices, Iversen-Keahi was also told they would never be able to own anything. Moving to upstate New York nine years ago changed that perspective. They started working with The Sanctuary for Independent Media to reclaim previously vacant lots in Troy, New York, for things like a community orchard, a climate-hardy vegetable garden, and a citizen-science lab for urban soil testing. Then, when they became a mother, Iversen-Keahi wanted to work from home. That led them to an aspect of farm management they never imagined being passionate about: bookkeeping. Through that position, they began working with Soul Fire Farm, an Afro-Indigenous-centered community farm, and eventually became its business manager. They implemented a values-aligned approach to budgeting, looking beyond the financial health of the organization to ensure money was spent in ways that uphold its mission and priorities.Iversen-Keahi’s work pivoted yet again at the start of this year. Although they’re still a worker-owner at Capital Bookkeeping Cooperative, they left Soul Fire Farm to renew their focus on hyperlocal food and climate resilience projects, like starting a seed bank at their local library and building a water-secure garden with clay-pot irrigation systems. They are also beginning to look toward a move home to Hawai‘i.
Melanie Kirby, Cofounder, Zia QueenBees
Melanie Kirby (Tortugas Pueblo) Melanie Kirby never set out to be a beekeeper. She always figured she’d finish college, leave Santa Fe, and do a stint in the Peace Corps like her parents, then hit San Francisco to pursue her dream of becoming a DJ. But the Corps sent her to Paraguay to be an apiarist. Captivated by the innovation and wisdom of the farmers she worked with, Kirby committed herself to learning from them. The experience deepened a belief that Indigenous perspectives are not antiquated, but essential to preserving the land and navigating a changing climate. That perspective informs everything Kirby has done since founding Zia QueenBees in 2005. Beyond providing sustainable beekeeping supplies, Kirby works with the Institute of American Indian Arts to quantify farmers’ observations and hold the door open for future generations on a quest for consilience between art and science. She also is facilitating discussions between apiarists, state agricultural officials, and lawmakers to amplify regenerative land practices. When she isn’t doing that, Kirby is developing programming to teach Indigenous youth about traditional ecological knowledge, and preparing to pursue a doctoral degree.
Princess Daazhraii Johnson, Director, Writer, Producer
Growing up on tribal lands in Alaska gave Princess Daazhraii Johnson (Neets’aii Gwich’in), an appreciation for the symbiosis between humans and the natural world. It also taught her that most people lack an understanding of that relationship and too often portray her people in a racist and stereotypical light. Her creativity and drive to recast narratives drew her to filmmaking, where she celebrates the Indigenous value systems she grew up with. As the creative producer of, and writer for, the PBS animated program Molly of Denali — the network’s first kids’ show to center Indigenous peoples and culture — Johnson sought to instill what she believes are critical environmental values while providing Indigenous creative spaces for the next generation. She pursues similar goals with the short films she has written or produced, including Walking Two Worlds, Pow Wow Dreams, and a film in the Gwich’in language focused on reciprocity called Diiyeghan naii Taii Tr’eedaa. She is also currently in development for her first feature film, an adaptation of the book Two Old Women by Velma Wallis.
Julian Aguon, Human Rights Lawyer, Author, Founder, Blue Ocean Law
Julian Aguon (Chamorro) went into law to be a voice for people on the front lines of climate change and injustice, including his own community in Guam. Still in his 20s, he started his own law firm. Blue Ocean Law works throughout Oceania to maximize legal protections for Indigenous people trying to thrive on their ancestral lands. One of his firm’s first objectives was battling multinational corporations exploring deep-sea mining, which threatens to disrupt lifeways for Pacific Islanders and release methane buried in the seafloor. In one of its biggest cases, the firm is lead counsel for the Republic of Vanuatu, asking the International Court of Justice in the Hague to clarify what legal obligations all countries have to act on climate change. In March, the U.N. passed a resolution seeking an opinion from the court; when it’s released, the decision could impact lawsuits against governments for climate inaction. Aguon is also a writer. His recent book, No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies, explores his personal journey with loss, as well as themes of colonialism and climate justice.
Haunani Hi‘ilani Kane, Assistant Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa; Scientist, The MEGA Lab
Growing up as a surfer and voyager in a coastal town on the windward side of O‘ahu, Haunani Kane saw firsthand how climate impacts like erosion threatened the places she loved. “It led me to have a lot of questions about what is going on, what is happening to my home,” she says.
She wanted to pursue those questions in an academic setting, and in 2018, she became the first Native Hawaiian woman to earn a PhD in geology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Her dissertation focused on how islands in Micronesia and Samoa were influenced by a period of sea-level rise 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, which could offer lessons for present-day adaptations.
“I think right now is a really exciting time for many of us island people — because for many of us, we are the first islanders in our field,” Kane says. “We not only have the Western teachings of, say, how our climate systems work, but we also come into these spaces with the values of the places that we come from — the perspectives that have been shared over multiple generations.”
When she was a university student, none of her teachers were Hawaiian. She became a professor at the University of Hawai‘i in part because she wanted to teach other young people like herself.
Among other offerings, Kane teaches an online, asynchronous course, reaching students who may not be able to work within a conventional classroom setting and schedule. She’s also a lead scientist at the MEGA Lab, a Hawaiian nonprofit that aims to engage underserved communities in science and ocean conservation.
Kane often begins her days with a surf, which allows her to observe things like the seasonal shift of the shoreline, or the direction of the waves. And, she adds, “You get to ride them as well.”
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