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7 Young Indigenous Activists Standing Up For Their Communities
“The youth is going to stand. And that’s us today. That’s us here and now.”
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(From left to right: Anthony Tamez-Pochel, Autumn Peltier, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Charitie Ropati)

Earlier this year, thousands took to the streets of Washington D.C. for the Indigenous Peoples March, drawing international attention to the injustices that Indigenous communities experience. Integral to this movement for healing, empowerment, and justice is the new generation of Indigenous activists.

From saving sacred lands to fighting for climate justice to protesting race-based mascots, these young people are lending their voices to issues impacting Indigenous communities around the world. They’re connected by their determination in the face of generational obstacles resulting from centuries of colonization and exploitation. Thanks to support from IllumiNative and the Center for Native American Youth, meet the young changemakers resisting, demanding, and educating their way to social change.

Jasilyn Charger, 22

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (she/her)

A mental health crisis among teens at the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota inspired Jasilyn Charger and her friends to start One Mind Youth Movement. The group offered young people on the reservation a place to connect with one another, and they eventually began incorporating activism into their mission. Through OMYM, Jasilyn organized an anti-pipeline water run that brought together Oceti Sakowin youth from around the country to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. She went on to co-found the International Indigenous Youth Council to empower other young people to fight for their communities.

Charitie Ropati, 17

Native Village of Kongiganak (she/her) // Twitter

For Charitie Ropati, graduating from high school is an achievement she doesn’t take lightly. Charitie is a member of the Native Village of Kongiganak and a fierce advocate for Indigenous students, who have some of the lowest graduation rates demographically. Charitie is pushing for education reform that empowers Native students and supports them academically. So far, she’s been successful at getting her Anchorage school district to allow cultural regalia at graduation, and she’s continuing her quest to “decolonize education” at Columbia University this fall.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 19

Mashika People (he/him) // Twitter

At 6 years old, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez spoke at his first climate event. By 8, he organized his first protest. Now 19, he’s continuing to rise as a major voice within environmental justice. Xiuhtezcatl keeps busy as Youth Director of Earth Guardians, where he’s taken action on everything from fracking to pesticides with the help of art, music, and theater. The hip-hop artist was also recognized as one of DoSomething’s 2019 Youth Empower Players.

Naelyn Pike, 19

San Carlos Apache Tribe (she/her) // Instagram

Following in the activist footsteps of her grandfather and mother, Naelyn Pike considers the fight to protect sacred lands a generational one. Her family founded Apache Stronghold, an organization dedicated to defending holy sites and freedom of religion for Indigenous communities. Naelyn has been working with the group to save the sacred site Oak Flat from being sold to a foreign mining corporation. She’s spoken at schools and conventions around the world, advocating for the rights of her people and encouraging other youth to do the same.

Autumn Peltier, 14

Wikwemikong First Nation (she/her) // Instagram

Since the age of 8, Autumn Peltier has been advocating for the preservation of water for First Nations people in Canada. She’s spoken before Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the United Nations General Assembly about the realities of water pollution. Autumn was recently appointed chief water commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation, a political advocacy group representing 40 member First Nations across Ontario.

Anthony Tamez-Pochel, 19

Wuskwi Sipihk First Nations Cree, Sicangu Lakota (he/him) // Twitter

Through his community organizing, Anthony Tamez-Pochel unapologetically makes space for urban Native youth in his hometown of Chicago. He’s co-president of the Chi-Nations Youth Council, with the mission of raising awareness and cultural identity for Native youth. He’s spearheaded the creation of a Native garden and gathering space within the city, as well as protested the race-based logo of the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team.

EllaMae Looney, 18

Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation (she/her) // Instagram

Beginning with the Civilization Fund Act of 1819, legislation has been used to forcibly assimilate Native Americans to a more Anglo-European cultural identity; EllaMae Looney is attempting to heal this intergenerational trauma through language revitalization. As a member of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, EllaMae is learning three languages spoken within her community and helping other Native youth to do the same. She’s set to study linguistics at the University of Oregon in the hopes of better preserving these languages.

About IllumiNative

IllumiNative is an ambitious, bold and first of its kind Native-led initiative to change the narrative about Native Americans on a mass scale. IllumiNative’s mission is to illuminate the vibrancy and importance of contemporary Native voices, stories and contributions in order to shatter the pervasive invisibility and false narratives that adversely impact Native youth, families and communities. We seek to move the hearts and minds of a diverse sectors of the American public and key institutions to support equity, justice and self-determination for Native peoples.

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