Michael has developed a love for the world through many years of exploring Mother Earth’s beauty, respecting her gifts, and interacting with cultures across the globe. Hailing from the Southwest, Michael’s family is from both the Navajo reservation in ...
Michael has developed a love for the world through many years of exploring Mother Earth’s beauty, respecting her gifts, and interacting with cultures across the globe. Hailing from the Southwest, Michael’s family is from both the Navajo reservation in northeast Arizona and also northern Colorado. Michael identifies as Dine’ or Navajo and describes himself as an “Urban Indian”, Michael spent all his vacations on the reservation with his grandmother, aunts, and other close family members. This changed after he graduated high school.
Out of high school, Michael moved to Ithaca, New York to attend Cornell University, studying chemical engineering with a minor in music. At Cornell, he developed a strong sense of his own cultural identity, a passion for serving underrepresented students in the STEM fields, and began questioning how sustainability issues affect different communities. Currently, Michael is a chemical engineering Ph.D. student at The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH.
Indigenous Culture and the Environmental Movement
As Michael progressed through his PhD, he began to question what his role was in giving back to his community. With a desire to use his education to help his community and future generations of indigenous youth, the Standing Rock protest was a pivotal moment in time. Although the movement was uplifted and greatly supported by environmental NGOs all over the nation, the conversation was derailed from a focus on Native American injustices to the war between oil and renewable energy. Michael encourages these protests to “highlight the humanity” of a movement, so the voices who are being directly affected can have the loudest say.
According to the World Wildlife Foundation, areas managed by indigenous peoples and local communities hold as much as 80% of the Earth's biodiversity. Further, recent studies have shown that when the rights of indigenous communities to their land and natural resources are respected, deforestation rates are lower and that local participation in conservation management can improve biodiversity outcomes. It is essential to protect human rights and in turn, indigenous communities can continue to protect the environment.
Inclusion of Indigenous Culture
Indigenous communities are often left out of large scale decision making processes. Although the United Nations has a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the inclusion of indigenous voices across all UN Conventions is scarce. Very few indigenous individuals represent the voices of hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from communities across the globe. At the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the indigenous representatives have the difficult task of bringing voices and specific issues from different geographic regions to the broader convention as one global indigenous voice, diluting the many sovereign indigenous identities and experiences.
A wonderful discussion is had this week with Michael, with topics ranging from the indigenous youth environmental movement, to the importance of carrying the ancestral torch, to how to guide a movement based on change, and so much more. We will leave you with a prophecy Michael shared with us from a Dené Elder of the first nations people of Canada:
“We’ve expected people to come and our ancestors have known, ‘the white man’ will basically come and take. They’ll be looking for gold and oil and they’ll get it. Time will pass and we expect them to come back again, looking for food and water… and we will be happy to welcome them back.”
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