Alberta Nells Wins Brower Youth Award
Alberta Nells, a 16 year old Native American activist from Flagstaff, Arizona, is being honored by the Brower Youth Awards. Alberta is being recognized for her work in Youth of the Peaks, an environmental action group supported by Seva that is working to protect the sacred lands of Arizona's San Francisco Peaks.
Earth Island Institute established the Brower Youth Awards in 2000 to honor David Brower and to call forth a new generation of leaders. This annual national award recognizes six young people for their outstanding activism and achievements in the fields of environmental and social justice advocacy. Each winner is awarded $3000 in cash and flown to San Francisco for the award week and a backcountry camping trip. The Awards not only promote the accomplishments of these new leaders but also invest in their continued success by providing ongoing access to resources, mentors, and opportunities to develop their leadership skills through Earth Island Institute's New Leaders Initiative.
Congratulations to Alberta and to Youth of the Peaks for making a difference!
Supporting a New Generation of Native Leaders
You can see them from miles around. Reaching up 12,000 feet in the sky, just north of Flagstaff, Arizona, are three volcanic mountains known as The San Francisco Peaks. For thirteen Native American tribes in the area, it is a sacred, spiritual place — a place for healing and ceremony.
Now, those thirteen tribes are joined by a broad coalition of other groups, including the Sierra Club, in an effort to block a ski resort's plan to expand its operation on the Peaks and use treated sewage effluent to make snow.
One of the groups in the coalition is Youth of the Peaks, a grassroots campaign started by Native American youth in the Flagstaff area. Youth of the Peaks is a great example of a small organization making a difference — both in its work to protect the environment and sacred lands, and in the way it builds leadership skills among youth. It's also a great example of the kinds of projects that Seva Foundation is supporting through its Native American Grants Program.
Save the Peaks!
Despite the objections of Native Americans, Arizona Snowbowl has operated a ski resort on the Peaks for many years. In 2004, the U.S. Forest Service approved Snowbowl's expansion plans, which involve building new ski runs by clear-cutting 74 acres of rare alpine ecosystem and using treated wastewater to make artificial snow — even though many scientists say such wastewater contains harmful contaminants that pose a risk to natural ecosystems and human health.
The Save the Peaks Coalition was quickly formed in response to the expansion plan. It's a diverse group including business people, religious and spiritual leaders, skiers, snowboarders, conservationists, students and several Native American tribes and organizations. Ultimately, the issue may be resolved in the courts, as six tribes and several environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service seeking to prevent the project from going forward. In September, the case was heard before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California, and is currently pending a decision.
Although Arizona Snowbowl asserts that the ski area is "only on one percent" of the mountain, Native Americans hold the entire mountain sacred. Caleb Johnson, former Vice Chairman of the Hopi Tribe stated, "You cannot divide spirituality into little pieces — you have to honor and respect the whole thing." Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. stated that if the expansion is allowed, it will cause "...the desecration of the essence of our way of life."
The Power of Youth Activism
Youth of the Peaks operates with the support of Native Movement Collective. Native Movement provides an administrative umbrella for a variety of projects focused on developing Native culture and protecting the environment — and a small grant from Seva is helping them do their work.
"We are there to support youth activism," says Klee Benally, the Youth Media Project Coordinator at Native Movement and a volunteer with the Save the Peaks Coalition. "We provide everything from leadership training and media production workshops, to technical services like website management, to mentoring and guidance as the youth plan their activities."
Youth of the Peaks has been producing educational events at high schools and colleges, and staging rallies and vigils throughout the region to raise awareness about the cultural and environmental issues at stake.
"A lot of the work being done by Youth of the Peaks is through artistic expression," says Klee. "Last year they sponsored a poetry series where young writers had a chance to work with mentors to refine their poems and practice doing presentations before an audience. That kind of skills transfer is a really important part of what we're doing."
Bringing the Generations Together
"One of the most inspiring things about Youth of the Peaks is the way it brings generations together," Klee told us. "The youth are gaining a new appreciation and respect for their ancestors and elders who have done so much to keep traditional culture alive. And it's giving adults a new respect for the value and power of youth voices. To me, that's the most encouraging thing. There's a feeling that the circle that had been broken for quite some time is now being mended by the hands of youth."
To learn more, visit these websites:
Save the Peaks