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Navajo social justice, land rights activist wins prize


In recognition of Earth Day 2021, Janene Yazzie, a New Mexico environmental activist and member of the Navajo Nation, won a $2,500 prize in an online competition among climate activist innovators.

Former U.S. Congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney kicked off the “Lightning Round for Climate Action” with author/anthropologist Mark Schuller and a coalition including and the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network.

On April 23 via Zoom, the audience cast votes for one of the five three-minute pitches delivered in the Lightning Round.

Climate concepts ranged from expanding solar power in Kentucky to Appalachian renewable energy workshops to peatlands restoration in Alaska.

But the pitch garnering the most votes for a plan linking climate action with other grassroots concerns – such as race, gender and economic equity – was Yazzie’s “Calling Our Spirits Back: Restoring Our Responsibility to Self, Each Other, Our Communities, and Mother Earth.”

Yazzie, a Diné woman who cofounded Sixth World Solutions, concentrated her idea on the Hopi and Navajo Nations and rural communities of the Southwestern U.S.

Her pitch was to “build a model of holistic community development and resource management for climate change adaptation and resilience, that restores indigenous governance models that center Indigenous women, femme, non-binary and differently-abled relatives as leaders and healers of our imbalanced world.”

In addition to the seed money, Yazzie will receive an expenses-paid trip to an eco retreat in 2022, pandemic permitting, hosted by John Clark, Ph.D., at La Terre Institute for Community and Ecology near the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.

Yazzie said in her victory speech that future collaboration with the other contestants will be on her agenda going forward.

“Any way that we can continue to build this relationship and partner with one another to help realize each other’s dreams, I’m all in,” she declared. “The real prize is being connected with all of you.”

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