Updated: Nov 7, 2020
Indigenous people make up 5% of the global population, yet protect 80% of global biodiversity. Despite the clear success of Indigenous people in protecting the planet, they’re rarely given control over and financing for environmental projects. Native voices continue to be disproportionately sidelined, although they are often on the front lines and are the most affected by the climate crisis. This November, during Native American Heritage Month, we want to recognize several young indigenous activists working tirelessly to protect our planet.
1. Xiye Bastida
Xiye, 18, is an NYC-based climate justice activist, a lead organizer of the Fridays for Future movement, and sits on the administration committee of Peoples Climate Movement. Bastida was born and raised in Mexico as part of the Otomi-Toltec indigenous peoples and believes that if you take care of the Earth, it will take care of you. She says "[the Earth] gives you air, water, and shelter. Everything we need. All it asks is that we protect it." She co-founded Re-Earth Initiative, mobilized 600 students from her school to attend the March 2019 climate strike, and received the "Spirit of the UN" award in 2018. Follow her inspiring work on social media @xiyebeara.
2. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez
20-year-old activist and hip hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez was raised in the Aztec tradition and was aware early on of the connection between people and nature. He made one of his first public speeches on the environment at age six and has been an environmental activist since. As Youth Director of Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl uses art, music, storytelling, and civic action to inspire and mobilize young people in the fight to protect our planet. He is also a plaintiff in the Juliana Vs. United States lawsuit and a public speaker at venues around the world, including at the UN General Assembly on Climate Change. Follow him on social media @xiuhtezcatl.
3. Autumn Peltier
Autumn Peltier, 16, is a water advocate and the chief water commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation. She’s a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation in northern Ontario, and she lives on Lake Huron. “We keep seeing and hearing that there’s First Nation communities that can’t drink their water, that it’s contaminated from pollution and pipelines breaking,” she told a reporter at CBC. Since learning about this, she has become an environmental advocate, meeting with Canada's prime minister and speaking at the UN General Assembly on World Water Day when she was just 13. Follow her work @autumn.peltier.
4. Helena Gualinga
For Helena Gualinga, 18, advocating for the rights of the Sarayaku community to maintain custody over their land has been a life-long battle. The Sarayaku community in the Ecuadorian Amazon is just one of many communities fighting off Big Oil's attempts at exhausting the environment for private gains. The Ecuadorian government-supported oil companies and together, they entered the indigenous territory along with the military, she says. Helena co-founded a campaign called Polluters Out, aiming to remove the influence of the fossil fuel industry from climate negotiations and indigenous lands. She is on social media @helenagualinga.
5. Quannah Chasinghorse
Quannah, an 18-year-old Han Gwich’in and Oglala Lakota youth recently helped win protections for Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the desecration of oil drilling. The refuge is not only a vital ecosystem, but it has been home to local indigenous communities for millennia, and their lives, culture, and identities are inextricably tied to the well-being of the land. Since she was 17, Quannah has spoken with senators on Capitol Hill as a member of the Youth Council. She credits the teachings of elders and women in her life for her sense of purpose: “My mom has always taught me to remember who you are and where you come from.” Follow her @quannah.rose.
6. Artemisa Xakriabá
Artemisa is an indigenous climate activist of the Xakriabá people who has worked to bring together four organizations from Brazil, the Amazon Basin, Central America, and Indonesia to combat environmental destruction across indigenous peoples’ lands. “We fight for our Mother Earth because the fight for Mother Earth is the mother of all other fights,” Xakriabá says. “We are fighting for your lives. We are fighting for our lives. We are fighting for our sacred territory. But we are being persecuted, threatened, murdered, only for protecting our own territories. We cannot accept one more drop of indigenous blood spilled.” She is on Instagram @artemisa_xakriaba.