BLM sponsors Indigenous college students at leadership congress

The 2022 multi-agency Native Youth Climate Adaptation Leadership Congress (NYCALC) convened for a week this summer at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife training center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. More than 50 Native American, Alaskan Native, and Pacific Islander high school and college students came together to develop leadership skills and knowledge to help address climate change, learn about conservation issues in their communities, and focus on public service.

a group of people from the back watching a presentation. One person has their hand up in a wave.
Junior Faculty Member Kiana Etsate-Gashytewa waving to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as she addresses the NYCALC participants

For the past six years, the BLM HQ Division of Education, Cultural, and Paleontological Resources (HQ-420) has sponsored Indigenous college students to attend NYCALC as junior faculty members. Every summer, BLM Arizona State Youth Coordinator Brooke Wheeler recruits and selects the college student junior faculty members. This year Wheeler was joined by five junior faculty representing the Navajo, Hopi, White Mountain Apache, Akimel O’odham, Tohono O’odham, Zuni, and Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

large group of people standing on the steps of a building with a NYCALC banner overhead
NYCALC junior faculty and staff

Junior faculty members play a critical role in NYCALC by working to help mentor and guide the high school students as they complete projects and attend workshops. Together, the participants spend time uplifting and motivating each other, as well as finding solutions for building more self-sufficient and sustainable futures for their communities.

Indigenous teacher pointing to a plant with two NYCALC participants looking on
NYCALC students learning from local Indigenous teachers

“I’m extremely proud of the junior faculty we selected this year. Because of their involvement and voices, NYCALC will be able to adapt to the rapid changes and challenges Indigenous youth face in their communities,” said Wheeler.

Six NYCALC junior faculty members
BLM Arizona junior faculty at NYCALC cultural night (left to right: Kiana Etsate-Gashytewa, Sebastian Shaw, Steve Harvey, Taylor Coles, Ipa Dutchover, and Liz Riley)

NYCALC provides participants with the space to learn that their voices really matter, not only in terms of the environment, but also in other important community challenges.

Junior faculty member, Sebastian Preston (Tohono O’odham), explains, “My biggest takeaway from NYCALC is all the different types of issues many Native communities face, and how similar their experiences and feelings are. I talked to kids who experience drug abuse, fear of loss of sovereignty or land and mental health issues such as suicide. We do not always get to talk about these situations in school, but youth need the opportunity to talk in a way that is open and not forced, and now we feel like we are an important part of the larger Indigenous community.”

BLM intern and junior faculty members Ipa Dutchover (Akimel O’odham) and Kiana Estate-Gashytewa (Zuni) noted that they were inspired by learning more about how federal agencies and employees work with Tribal organizations to honor the federal government’s nation-to-nation relationship with Tribal Nations, strengthen Tribal sovereignty and self-governance, and uphold the government’s trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations.

Dutchover stated, “Including Indigenous people and their traditional practices on a large scale in land conservation can greatly impact the way the world takes care of the environment as well as provide Indigenous youth with examples of how they can contribute to land conservation in their own communities while simultaneously improving their career opportunities.”

Group of people standing on a stage with presentation on a screen overhead that says the impact of lack of indigenous knowledge.
NYCALC high school participants presenting their final projects

Etsate-Gashytewa expressed a deep gratitude and admiration for Wheeler’s support and mentorship, saying “Brooke Wheeler is the best person for the position and gives lots of care, thought and dedication to helping Indigenous youth. Her support and care comes from the heart.”

Three people sitting at a table with outreach materials
Junior faculty with Brooke Wheeler (center) at career fair