BLM participates in Native Youth Climate Adaptation Leadership Congress

Story and photos by Brooke Wheeler, Management and Program Analyst

For the past five years, BLM Arizona has sponsored Native American college students to attend the Native Youth Climate Adaptation Leadership Congress (NYCALC) held at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. NYCALC is a week­long environmental conference for Native American, Alaskan Native, and Pacific Islander high school and college students interested in addressing environmental, natural resource conservation, and climate change issues in their communities. 

From left: Brooke Wheeler (BLM Arizona Youth, Volunteer, and Environmental Education lead), Jacob Henry, Shandiin Yessith, Brawnson Gould, Janet Ady, Deandra Jones, Chance Begay, Lance Tubinaghtewa, and Derrick Baldwin (from the HQ Division of Education, Cultural, and Paleontological Resources).
From left: Brooke Wheeler (BLM Arizona Youth, Volunteer, and Environmental Education lead), Jacob Henry, Shandiin Yessith, Brawnson Gould, Janet Ady, Deandra Jones, Chance Begay, Lance Tubinaghtewa, and Derrick Baldwin (from the BLM HQ Division of Education, Cultural, and Paleontological Resources).

For one week, students participate in activities, presentations, workshops, and social gatherings focused on climate change, environmental impacts on tribal communities, leadership development, and sharing ideas.

Lance Tubinaghtewa, a 2018-2019 junior faculty member said, “One wouldn't expect that the same way a problem was solved in Hawaii could solve a similar problem on the Hopi reservation. Even the youngest members of the Congress were able to contribute in a way I had only dreamed of, and in doing so, they made indigenous communities that much more connected and resilient.”

2018 Junior Faculty Members from left: Summer Kirk, Grant Navakuku, Lisa Robbins, Lance Tubinaghtewa, and Isaiah Nelson.
2018 Junior Faculty Members from left: Summer Kirk, Grant Navakuku, Lisa Robbins, Lance Tubinaghtewa, and Isaiah Nelson.

As the BLM’s representative at NYCALC, Brooke Wheeler, the BLM Arizona Youth, Volunteer, and Environmental Education Lead, not only attends the conference every year, but also selects the junior faculty members who mentor, guide, and inspire the high school students. 

“NYCALC is one of the few federal multi-agency native youth training programs that teach the necessary leadership principles and conservation skills for students to address conservation issues within their communities. My commitment to Native youth and my indigenous community has always been a running theme throughout my career, so I am honored to represent the BLM and work with such brilliant junior faculty members and high school students. They are truly inspiring!” said Wheeler. 

Grant Navakuku, BLM 2018 Junior Faculty Member, introducing NYCALC high school student presentations.
Grant Navakuku, BLM 2018 Junior Faculty Member, introducing NYCALC high school student presentations.

The junior faculty members are vital to the success of NYCALC. They assist the NYCALC faculty by mentoring, guiding, and inspiring the high school students throughout the week. Junior faculty members also attend career development and resume workshops with the opportunity to network with federal agencies and other professionals in the natural and cultural resource, land management, science, and engineering fields. Every junior faculty member comes away with a better understanding of federal natural resource and public land management.

Chance Begay, a 2019 junior faculty member, said, “I had minimal knowledge about the environmental aspects of the federal government as well as the federal agencies involved. I gained knowledge about the different job opportunities that the federal government offers in the fields of environmental science and sustainability, the qualifications needed to work for a federal agency, and the services that these agencies provide.”

Every Congress closes  with a cultural gathering where students share their traditional songs, games, dances, or stories around the ancestral fire. 

“I really enjoyed the cultural night because it was moving to see the youth very active in their songs, stories, and dances,” said Isaiah Nelson, a 2018 junior faculty member. “It was beautiful!  I realized that indigenous people all over the world have so much in common, especially pride in who they are and where they come from.” 

Wheeler also added, “We all come together for a common purpose that bonds us together, no matter our origins or ethnic background. By the end of the NYCALC, everyone becomes one big family.”

2019 Junior faculty members visiting Washington D.C. for the first time.
2019 Junior faculty members visiting Washington D.C. for the first time.

Due to the pandemic, NYCALC was canceled in 2020 and held virtually in 2021, but will be back in-person the summer of 2022. Wheeler’s goal is to recruit other BLM offices to participate in NYCALC.

“I’ve been working with Michael Brown, the BLM Headquarters Youth Lead, to promote the program across the BLM. We would love to see other offices attend and sponsor junior faculty members within their local tribal communities,” Wheeler said. “Many indigenous people are taught to live and work for the benefit of the seventh generation. NYCALC is one of those seventh-generation programs that will leave an everlasting impact on the lands we manage and the next generation of indigenous conservation leaders.”

For more information visit: https://www.nycalc.org/.