Earth Guardians is built on three pillars – authenticity, spirit, and family. By realizing our connection to oneself and the earth, we find spirit there, in the intersection. I’m most effective when I take action from spirit. Guided and protected by spirit, we stand in our truth with strength. Mia Eastman, one of Youth leaders, speaks clearly about this when she describes authenticity: “Authenticity is where we find our sense of Self and realize the true essence of our power.”
As an organization, Earth Guardians encourages Youth leaders to show up with authenticity and let authenticity inspire our work. Earth Guardian’s work is anchored in these three qualities, authenticity, spirit, and family or community, and these qualities are the reason we have affected the change that we have. Tamara, our Executive Director, envisioned Earth Guardians out of a recurring dream she had of hundreds of thousands of youth collaborating and pouring into the streets, together. With this vision, she began the Earth Guardians school in 1992, in Maui, Hawaii.
When I was in 6th grade, my parents took me to see a screening of Chasing Ice, and I remember leaving the movie filled with a desire to do something, but didn’t know where to start. I attended a Green Star School®, where we were committed to zero waste, we recycled and composted, and celebrated Earth Day by planting gardens and cleaning up our school grounds. That was all good, wonderful really, but being in middle school it felt like the adults were telling us not to worry, that with our private school, our hybrid and electric cars, and our “consciousness”, we would be fine. I got used to hearing about how “progressive and ahead” we were in Boulder, Colorado. Little did I know that a few miles away, the expansion of unconventional oil and gas development, “fracking” was negatively affecting kids my age and the Clean Colorado air we all breathe.
My freshman year I changed schools – where not everyone drove hybrids and recycled – and I realized that not everyone learned about or even believed in climate change. My eyes were opened, and I discovered that our politicians and elected leaders weren’t taking every measurable step to protect us from it. I had more information and could teach others about our impact on the environment. We could do more if we came together to act on climate together. But like so many of my peers, I was afraid to speak up and act, for fear of judgement in my new community.
It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to go to Standing Rock in North Dakota, to bring up supplies and help build winter homes for the water protectors there, that I realized the power of people working together. I have to give a big shout out to my mom who took me to Standing Rock. She had been fighting for a more just and sustainable world for years, and shared with me that it was important I meet and know the people on the front lines. It is because of her that I am in this work and continue forward. She is my rock and the fire she passed on to me at birth lights in my belly and drives me forward when my work get hard. Her humble determination has sparked momentum and strength in all she touches with her presence and words.
Momma, thank you for holding me and this world in one. You are the reason I fight and believe in a better world. Together we shine the light the world needs more of.
It was at Standing Rock that I realized all I need to take action is to show up. All it takes is the courage to stand up. As Xiuhtezcatl always says, “The Power of the People is more powerful than people in power,” and I came to this realization, first hand, at Standing Rock.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe made headlines in 2016 when the Dakota Access Pipeline, a pipeline to transport crude oil, was proposed to run north of Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, near predominantly white neighborhoods. After an uproar the pipeline was rerouted further south, adjacent the reservation. Despite the same concerns being raised on the reservation, the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, with State and Federal approvals, kept building closer and closer to the reservation and the Missouri river. So what happened? Tribal youth called the people to action. The One Mind Youth Movement, a youth group started by Standing Rock youth for the youth on the reservation, set up the original “prayer camp” at Standing Rock in April 2016.
At Standing Rock, I was welcomed as a white woman, and taught to enter Indigenous spaces with selflessness and and a willingness to serve, because everyone’s talents and help were needed. It didn’t matter your background, level of experience, or how much you knew, if you were willing to do your part you were welcomed. Everyone supported one another. I slept to the sound of praying and ceremony, and we were welcomed in an all nations gathering, shaking everyone’s hands around the circle in a clockwise direction.
When we left Standing Rock, I was on fire and needed to do something, anything! I began to dream of graduating early from high school to get a head start towards becoming an environmental lawyer… or putting my body on the line to protest for environmental justice… anything… something. I felt the pain of separation from our mother earth and what, we, as a planet are experiencing. It was intense and hard to handle as I re-entered my day-to-day high school experience, with windowless classrooms, and mind numbing textbooks, surrounded by youth who expressed such hopelessness and despair. I did not let this stop me, and instead became ever more motivated, and I signed up to be an Earth Guardian.
A few months later I took another step and applied to the Earth Guardians National Council (also known as the RYSE “Rising Youth for a Sustainable Earth” Council) and was accepted. I was invited to the RYSE Training in the summer of 2017, where 25 current and future Youth leaders gathered to learn about the issues we face as a world, how climate change and industrial pollution were affecting our communities, how to share our experiences and effectively collaborate, and how to tap into a purely authentic practice of leadership. At our RYSE training I realized what a difference it made to wake up each morning excited to learn, surrounded by other youth, all of us together, engaged and inspired. We were learning a new way – to build each other up, despite our differences, instead of tearing each other down. It is no exaggeration to share that RYSE changed the course of my life.
That fall, two and a half weeks into my sophomore year, I made a serious decision. With my parents’ support I decided to return home to homeschool, because I wanted to DO something with my time while in high school. I became heavily involved with Earth Guardians, attending conferences, speaking at local area schools, showing up for press conferences, speaking at state and local government legislative hearings, and speaking to Youth leaders across the nation to orient them as they worked to set up new Earth Guardians crews in their communities. Collaboration became my mantra, as I represented Earth Guardians, plugging into the national and international Youth coalitions as part of Fridays for Future and the US Climate Strikes.
I’ve grown up in the Earth Guardians home office, and my closest friends are Earth Guardians. The core team of women at Earth Guardians have become like mothers to me, nurturing me to become the young woman I am. My mom likes to say that Xiuhtezcatl is the powerful and inspirational face of the organization, and together I and the core team of women are its beating heart. I am who I am because of this organization and everything that we have done together. Together, we have fostered selflessness, community service, and raising our voices for a more just and sustainable future. Our school systems are struggling to guide our youth to adulthood. My generation has experienced devastating hopelessness and its violent effects. Mass shootings and youth suicide are at epidemic levels. Pressure to conform makes us feel weak and incapable of changing anything. But, there is hope. I feel it. I know it.
The youth of my generation are rising. As our social and economic systems fail us, we will not be silent. We persevere, like seeds waiting for our time to shoot up, out of the soil. We have a longer and larger vision than you might think. We do not want to leave our children to solve our problems, as previous generations have left us the problems we face now. Our time is now. You have the power to act and be a part of the change you wish to see in the world. Will you answer the call?