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Heart of a Warrior – Indigenous Youth Initiative

By Isabella Zizi, Movement Rights National Organizer
Photo Credit: Deanna Alcala

A lot of times “youth” can be seen as its  own category or group, but they are experiencing everything happening everywhere alongside everyone, but with a fresh set of eyes and fresh minds. And for some, they are born right in the experience or in Movement spaces and receive  powerful teachings right off the bat. I wanted to share some takeaway thoughts from my time spent with Earth Guardians and their Indigenous Youth Initiative Program that I was fortunate to participate in back in March.

What are ways that you’ve made connections with youth? 

With technology quite literally in our hands and world news at the touch of our fingertips, the younger generations have easier access to be in the know of things. They have found many ways to express themselves and their concerns about environmental injustice, social justice, colonialism, water and land pollution, mental health, addiction, war, police violence and more. To others, it may seem like a way to escape reality, but deep down, they are tapping into their gifts and talents that sustain themselves and those surrounding them.

What were ways that you expressed your passion as a young person?

Photo credit: Delmar Uqualla

I was in community with 14 of the most amazing young, Indigenous, women warriors and Two Spirit peoples on 125 acres surrounded by maple trees at a place called Roots to Sky Sanctuary near the Potomac River in Oakland, Maryland. We were either returning youth or new participants in the Earth Guardians Indigenous Youth Initiative (IYI), and for me, it was my first time attending this kind of program. IYI was a four day training that taught us more than we anticipated. I’ve always imagined or thought of the kind of world that I want to live in where people are reciprocal with each other and the land, and this opportunity truly offered a glimpse of that. We learned how to live as a community, each offering our own skills to the table. We created group agreements and a system that allowed everyone’s input to be heard and valued. In our down time, we shared our teachings, whether that be songs, meditations, prayer, crafts, or stories, and offered our full attention. We shared common goals and understandings about how we see our daily actions reflecting what future generations will inherit. We came together to work on a collective campaign, and left with a deeper responsibility as future elders and ancestors.

“This program is a response to Indigenous youth who are looking for infrastructure and support in building youth environmental and cultural preservation crews, campaigns, and projects in their respective communities.” – Earth Guardians Indigenous Youth Initiative

We were led by 24 year old Alethea Phillips who is from the Omaha Nation and the Earth Guardians IYI Program Director. She was supported by Heather Milton Lightening and Teena Pugliese as facilitators during the training, offering  their tremendous knowledge on Indigenous activism and storytelling through the lens of a camera.

Although we were between 18 to 30 years of age, we still resonated with the term “youth” because of the shortness of our experiences in climate Movements and movements in general. As we shared extensive introductions about our Nations, our communities, and levels of “activism” we revealed  amazing truths about ourselves. Our existence as young Native people is our experience in not only the Movement, but exactly what our ancestors prayed for as part of the seven generations teachings. Each one of us shared our talents and skills such as tribal language teacher, prayer runner and walker, Miss Indian World runner up, being a mother and a doula, chef, dancer, poet, author, singer, artist, clothing designer, weaver, frontline organizer and more.

“All participants will celebrate, honor and share their traditional ways of life, while honing and developing their leadership skills and inherent wisdom around social and environmental justice issues directly impacting their communities.” – Earth Guardians Indigenous Youth Initiative

Photo Credit: Delmar Uqualla

Each day we were tasked to put the teachings led by Heather into action and create a campaign that aligned with our values. After many deep conversations and time to reflect, we came up with Indigenous Futures. A mutual aid campaign that primarily focuses on creating a space for Indigenous Peoples who are bridging the intergenerational gap between elders and wisdom keepers in tribal communities that are being impacted by climate change, colonization, fossil fuels, water contamination, and so forth. The drive is to look deep into the traditional and cultural trade route systems that our ancestors once used and which are still being used, and utilize those same practices in our current world. Examples could be providing bundles of basket materials, teaching young ones traditional songs and ceremonies, providing safe housing, and exchanging seeds, roots or saplings during planting seasons.

Teena’s teachings allowed us to be creative with ourselves and our surroundings and this is where the fun happened. The land played a huge part in the process and we felt its support. The weather changed daily, almost as if we pushed fast forward and received all four seasons in those four days. Beautiful sunshine, wind and clouds, rain, and even a fresh snowfall that offered so many elements to each of our videos. We learned that when we play with videos, we are also playing with sound, which in itself is very important to the person’s point they want to get across to the receiving audience. You can watch my video on Indigenous Future here as well as the other IYI participants.

Indigenous Future campaign is not yet public, but Indigenous Youth Initiative is dedicated to meeting bi-weekly to discuss and plan for that moment. There is already momentum for learning grant writing to help create mini campaigns in our local communities, as well as creating materials to share both on social media and as zines for when the campaign is officially ready to launch. This is only the beginning of such a wonderful outcome and I am honored to have witnessed and experienced such a training.

Movement Rights is founded on the idea that we must align human law

(and culture) with the laws of the natural world—the future of humanity depends on it. Since our inception in December 2014, we have established our work as a vital and respected piece of the climate

justice mosaic. We know no single part of our movements for justice can win on its own—we believe in the power of frontline leadership and true solidarity, sharing and integrating strategies, tactics, resources and learning from each other. We are strategically small, because it allows us

to support the communities we work with in ways that ensure the leadership and our resources stay with and empower them. While we are proud of our many accomplishments, one of the benefits of our size is that we do not need to focus on branding our work, which allows us some freedom to work in quiet ways when it serves the greater good.

We are in the streets, in the news and in the courts, providing research and reports, convening strategic gatherings large and small, speaking at the UN, community meetings, regulatory hearings, and more. We work with national and global climate allies, sovereign Indigenous nations and communities. We have helped thousands of people connect the dots between the critical time we find ourselves in and the solutions that Indigenous people have always known: human activity must take place within the natural system of laws that govern life on Earth.

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