Local (Native) Activists find an ally in Greta Thunberg: a Mother and Daughter Reflect

Published on: October 16th, 2019

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A Pair Of Views:  The October 10th Denver Climate Strike, with intro by De La Vaca

Colorado came to a buzz this past Friday, October 11th, as local Indigenous youth leaders organized a Climate Strike in Civic Center Park (stream the entire event here, Courtesy of 350 Colorado). It was organized as part of the ongoing #FridaysForFuture, the weekly protest Greta Thunberg began and continues to champion around the world. While much of the press has focused almost exclusively on Greta’s appearance in Denver, she was here to “stand in solidarity with communities in Colorado suffering impacts from fossil fuel development and climate change, including those facing neighborhood fracking.” It’s easy to confuse the primarily White communities of Weld and Boulder County as disproportionately impacted, given our outsized voice in this area, but climate catastrophe and impacts of oil and gas extraction have always dispropotionately affected communities of color and poor communities, here in Colorado and across the world.

 

Greta’s “visit aim[ed] to support the work of youth organizers leading local climate strike efforts,” according to a press release from 350 Colorado, one of the organizing entities. Colorado’s indigenous youth, and indigenous youth across the world, have been the clear face of climate change action, even while they are ignored or, worse, maligned by governments and media (Standing Rock is one recent example). Consider this fact: indigenous people control 5 percent of the land on earth, yet defend 80 percent of biodiversity, it has been reported. The work is important and supporting those doing the work – supporting activists of all stripes but especially indigenous activists – is critical. 

 

Local indigenous woman, new mother, and activist, Lexine Salazar (who was not involved with this event), expressed some interesting and grounded thoughts on Greta in advance of her visit to Colorado: 

 

Greta thunberg doesn’t impress me.

I’ve seen native kids on the front lines, eyes full of pepper spray and ready to die for this. I’ve seen native babies strapped up in cradle boards during direct actions for this. I’ve seen native girls sing to the land for this. I’ve seen native boys on their horses, watching over and protecting them for this. I’ve seen Indian families leave everything behind to fight at Standing Rock for this. We’ve got generations of warriors who have prepared us for this.

Get back to me when you’ve witnessed the strength and dedication I’ve witnessed. Until then? Don’t assume I’ll get too excited over someone who doesn’t uplift and center indigenous voices when it comes to environmental justice and protection.

Give credit to Indian kids. I’m tired.

 

Salazar is correct that Indian kids have been fighting this fight against greater oddss, much longer than anyone else. Greta did, however, center indigenous voices and issues in her Civic Center speech, which made it that much more powerful. She opened with acknowledgements that the land we were on is Arapahoe, Cheyenne, and Ute. She acknowledged the missing and murdered indigenous women and her speech was flanked by red and black dresses, a symbol of those women, as well as indigenous people and activists behind her. And she acknowledged the work local youth – and specifically indigenous youth – were engaged in. 

 

This moment, it turned out, was less about Greta and more about reminding Coloradans that we have no need of heroes from abroad, nor pop star activists, nor egos: we need to support those fighting in our own backyards, for our own backyards. 

 

The climate strike was moderated by Marlow Baines of Earth Guardians (who wrote a Voices piece for Yellow Scene this past January. You can read her piece here) & Thomas Lopez of International Indigenous Youth Council, and featured an opening prayer and remarks by  Ken Frost, Chief of the Cheyenne Nation. Opening Remarks were by Haven Coleman, 13, Co-Executive Director Youth Climate Strikes U.S. and panelists included Micaela Iron Shell-Dominguez -IIYC, Isata Kanu, Renae Milard-Chacon – Womxn from the Mountain, Ellory Boyd- Sunrise Colorado, Madhvi Chittoor, Wazhinguda Eli Horinek – IIYC, and Greta Thunberg – Fridays for Future. 

 

They also presented a list of demands to our state’s leaders – looking at you, Gov. Polis – which you can read here

 

In response to this event, we present a short piece written by local 13 year old, Zoe Cameron, who is inspired by Greta Thunberg and local activists, and who was attending her first climate action with a friend and her mother. Deborah Cameron wrote a companion piece mirroring her daughter’s experience. Their reflections are below.  

 

Zoe Cameron
13 year old  8th Grader at Erie Middle School

 

On Friday, October 10, I had the opportunity to drive with my mom and a friend to Denver and participate in the Denver climate strike. I’m so grateful to get to experience this and found the experience was really impactful. I had a second-row seat where I saw speeches by Greta Thunberg, Indigenous activists, and a panel of kids who, like me, left school for the day to talk about and support climate change. 

 

How it Affected Me

Before I found out about this rally, my friends and I talked about environmental issues a lot after school. I think it is an important problem that politicians won’t pay attention to. They left the problem to us and the rally is one step out of many that is being taken by my generation. 

 

The rally that I went to inspired me to try to make more change in my household like eating less meat, trying not to use as much plastic, and taking shorter showers. The thing is, climate chaos is happening now and I believe that society needs to make as many changes as they can before the world is too damaged. 

 

Preparations

On Thursday night, my friend came over and we researched what we wanted to put on our posters. We both found ideas that we thought represented our opinions on climate change, global warming, and how we can make a difference even though we are young. I was super excited and nervous for the next day. 

 

Before the Climate Rally

 

When I woke up on Friday, I couldn’t wait to go to a rally that kids my age were speaking at. They were all fighting for a cause that they didn’t feel was being taken as seriously as it should be. 

 

We got to Civic Center Park early, before many people were there. There were news reporters everywhere interviewing kids and families who had come to show their support in the fight against climate change and talk about the harmful things that have been happening in our planet. There were also people on stage preparing for speakers.  

 

Indigenous Peoples 

One of the groups onstage at the rally were the groups of Indigenous people. They were there to fight against  fracking issues in Colorado, global climate issues that needed to be fixed and for raising awareness of missing and murdered indigenous women.

 

The speakers showed how their social issues, especially for women and climate change, were connected. One of my favorite panelists, a woman who was a member of the Indigenous tribe, had an extremely inspirational speech. The poetic elements she included captivated the crowds. 

[Editor’s note: the poet mentioned is Esperanza Soledad Garcia, a current college student and the poem she recited is titled Dear Jerika Amada. In it, she writes, powerfully, “On behalf of this system that has no respect for air, nor earth, nor water, I apologize. I apologize that those who contribute the least, pay the most,” and, later in the poem, “Dear Jerika Amada, you’re so soft for someone who must be strong, you give my courage to fight for you, me, and our future.”]

 

Other Youth Activists

 

The rally also included speakers and a panel of kids who talked about climate issues and the dangers to our planet. I believe that the youngest girl there, who was 8,  inspired me the most as she talked about reducing plastic use. She proved it doesn’t matter how old you are or how small you are, you can always take action to support a cause you care about. 

 

Greta Thunberg’s Talk

 

After the panel of youth, the crowd in audience was anxious to hear what the 16-year-old activist had to say. She talked about how important it is that we were striking,  and especially during school since the youth was how this all started. I was inspired to hear her talk about how she and other young people will continue to work to get the attention of adults in power. It is amazing to me to see how much she had done since starting with such a limited base of support. Her actions give me hope that, though I am young, I can do things. I can make a difference, too. 

 

Deborah Cameron
Mother, Erie CO

My daughter and her friend regularly come to our house after school. Once inside, they drop their backpacks somewhere between the front door and our living room and stand around our kitchen island reviewing their day. Thanks to Greta Thunberg, more of these conversations lately have been about activism and the environment.

When I heard that the 16-year-old activist was coming to Denver for a Friday climate strike, I didn’t want my daughter to miss the chance to understand more of what she was talking about after school. She and her friend jumped at the chance to go and the enthusiastic intensity of their preparation the night before surprised me. They were completely engaged in researching slogans, reading about rallies, scrolling through Greta Thunberg’s Instagram account,  and creating their signs.

First Impressions

The rally was all I had hoped for in regard to my daughter’s first exposure to civic involvement and there were  moments during the day where I was amazed at how ready she was to participate. As Civic Center Park filled up with groups of kids and some adults, she was relaxed, comfortable, and stimulated by the event’s energy. She and her friend were even willing to be interviewed by a reporter from the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Her earliest reactions of the day were to the cold and crowds. We had arrived well ahead of schedule  and were rewarded by places near the stage, but as people pressed in behind us it became harder for the girls to retain their view. She held her own, employing the same skills she’d used fifteen months earlier when she had to push through crowds at Broncos training camp to get three versions of Bradley Chubb’s autograph. Once she held her spot firm, she chanted, cheered, and listened. She also learned. 

Response To Speakers

As speakers took the stage, Zoe was exposed to teens her age and younger who were accomplishing things she had thought she was too young to try. One of the speakers who inspired the girls, Haven Coleman, was just 13 years of age and already serving as a co-executive director of Youth Climate Strikes U.S. As part of the youth panel, an 8-year-old activist took the stage to ask the crowd to lobby politicians to ban single-use plastics. She had already met with former Governor John Hickenlooper and current Governor Jared Polis on the issue. 

My daughter was also exposed to issues she hadn’t considered before. She listened as Indigenous speakers talked about missing and murdered indigenous women and their culture’s experience with the effects of fracking, in addition to forms of racism. An indigenous teen at the end read a poem that Zoe was especially drawn to. 

Watching Greta Thunberg 

As the culmination of the rally, Greta Thunberg spoke. Like the rest of the audience, both my daughter and her friend were riveted by the impression of someone so small who was their age and was powerful enough to face the supportive but intense energy of the crowds. They were as close as 50 feet to her and they listened with respect and energy. 

Leaving The Rally

The girls left the rally eager to have more contact with some of the speakers. They went behind the stage to take photos and as I asked them what they learned afterwards, they talked to me with a fair amount of detail about what they’d heard.

The girls also wanted to go to a future climate strike, set to take place on November 29th, Black Friday. The want to get involved in something they feel is important, where they can make an impact. They want to take family and friends and we plan to do whatever we can to support them. —

 

Images by Christopher Cleary for Yellow Scene Magazine

 

 

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  1. Such a powerful piece, from the writing to the photos.

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