In college, I sought out more opportunities to work on environmental protection. I joined a research team collaborating with Ojibwe tribes in the Midwest to design strategies to become more resilient to environmental and legal challenges. Our Ojibwe partners confessed fear for their future because generations of people had abused and exploited the land. For years, these Ojibwe communities had been fighting massive oil companies constructing new fossil fuel pipelines on their protected lands. Some of these pipelines were now rusting and leaking. This threatened watersheds and estuaries that are crucial resources to the Ojibwe. One pipeline in particular began leaking toxic fumes, suggesting that its structural integrity had diminished. Located near it is one of the largest remaining freshwater estuaries in the world, home to abundant wild rice beds, vulnerable fish stock and endangered wildlife.
Working alongside our Ojibwe partners, I could not fathom how in 2021 we were still building new pipelines when we have abundant clean renewable energy sources that can power this country many times over. But the fact that we were up against powerful interests, corporations with more access to decision makers than we had, didn’t faze my team. Instead, by starting small, working incrementally, and setting bold value-driven goals, these communities have been able to make strides in the right direction.
Being a part of this research team and watching successful organizing in action made me realize I can do more than sign petitions and research renewable energy solutions. I can organize for the future I want to see. When I think about what brought me to environmental advocacy, part of me feels that there was never a classic “two roads diverged” moment. Having seen so much of the United States at a young age, I knew that the California landscape was beyond comparison. But I also knew it was vulnerable and, having claimed it as my home, I felt an obligation to protect it.
The moment I realized that I could work to protect the natural places I grew up exploring was also the moment I knew that I couldn’t, in good conscience, choose not to. By working with other environmental advocates to fight the encroachment of oil pipelines on their land, I learned a lesson in resilience and hope. But beyond that, I thought what better place to start than right here, where there is so much to fight for and so many fighting to change the way we produce and consume energy. I’m happy to be one of them.