As concerns about wildfires and superstorms, water and air quality, and the impact of fossil fuels proliferate, environmental concerns are becomingly increasingly common in national as well as regional discussions. In a number of areas, marginalized communities are on the front lines of this climate crisis and an 2021 EPA study found that “the most severe harms from climate change fall disproportionately upon underserved communities who are least able to prepare for, and recover from, heat waves, poor air quality, flooding, and other impacts.”
The Flint water crisis (still unresolved after eight years), the Standing Rock protest movement, and a number of other emergencies across the country have demonstrated the growing urgency of the situation—and the need to acknowledge the impact that environmental disasters are having on communities of color. In many of these cases, Native Americans and other Indigenous communities have been the first feel this impact—and often the first to respond.
In this special Earth Week edition of Reframing the Conversation, we’ll explore the number of ways Indigenous communities are being affected by environmental crises, why these problems continue to occur, and how many are becoming involved and pushing back.
Reframing the Conversation is a monthly hybrid series. Attendees can join in person at the Hinckley Caucus Room (GC 2018) or virtually on the Reframing the Conversation webpage.
Heather Tanana is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and Assistant Research Professor & Wallace Stegner Center Fellow at the S.J. Quinney College of Law. She holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of Utah and a Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. Heather is experienced in state, federal, and tribal courts and clerked for Judge Nuffer at the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. Heather’s research interests include exploring the overlay between environmental and health policy in Indian Country. Much of her work focuses on tribal water issues, from climate change impacts to Colorado River management. She leads the Water & Tribe Initiative’s Universal Access to Clean Water project. The project seeks to bring awareness to the lack of clean, safe, and reliable drinking water in Indian country and to make tangible progress on securing water access for all Americans.
Maria (she/her) has spent much of the last decade organizing regionally and nationally with youth-led climate justice groups including Uplift, Utah Youth Environmental Solutions (UYES), and the Power Shift Network. Before moving to Utah in 2020, she managed the Rising Leaders Program at the Grand Canyon Trust and facilitated political education and community organizing workshops for young environmental justice advocates. She recently graduated from the University of Utah’s Environmental Humanities graduate program and currently works as the Lands and Water Programs Coordinator at the Sierra Club, where she combines legislative advocacy and grassroots action to protect Great Salt Lake and other life-giving waters across Utah.
Alastair Lee Bitsóí (Diné, he/him) is from the Navajo Nation community of Naschitti, below the Chooshgai Mountains on the New Mexico–Arizona state line. He has been an award-winning news reporter for The Navajo Times and The Salt Lake Tribune. He also formerly served as a communications director for the Indigenous-led land conservation nonprofit Utah Diné Bikéyah. His consulting business, Near the Water Communications and Media Group, trains media, nonprofits, businesses, and governments in cultural sensitivity. Alastair is co-editor with Brooke Larsen of the Torrey House Press anthology New World Coming: Frontline Voices on Pandemics, Uprisings, and Climate Crisis. Along with being a 2021 Public Voices Fellow on the Climate Crisis with the Op-Ed Project and Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, and being a 2022 Explore Fund Council member with The NorthFace, he has a master’s degree in public health from New York University College of Global Public Health and is an alumnus of Gonzaga University. He now writes as a correspondent for High Country News and other media outlets.
Leah Richardson-Oppliger (she/her) is currently a distribution engineer at the Utah Division of Water Rights (Division). In 2015, she received her undergraduate degree at Northern Arizona University in civil engineering and in 2018, received her master’s degree at Utah State University where she specialized in in-situ water sensor data analysis. Leah worked as a drainage engineer and then a river engineer before joining the Division. At the Division, she works with commissioners and other distribution engineers to develop system specific models that relate water rights to actual water usage. Her goal is to make water rights data more accessible to the public to create more transparency and, in turn, more accurate water records.
Jeff Rose, Ph.D. (he/him) is an assistant professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism and an affiliate faculty with the Global Change and Sustainability Center at the University of Utah. Jeff’s research agenda uses political ecology to take a social and environmental justice approach to nature-society relations. His research tends to leverage qualitative and spatial methods to examine systemic inequities expressed through class, race, political economy, and relationships to nature. He has pursued a diverse set of questions that critically examine issues of public space, productions of nature, connection to place, neoliberalism, and various non-normative behaviors. A primary focus of Jeff’s research is exploring the social and environmental justice elements of homelessness across the urban-wildland interface.
Reframing the Conversation brings together experts from across campus and the community to spark important conversations around racism, othering and safety. While continuing to identify and remove barriers and bias incidents targeting our campus community, persistent strides towards an institution where every member is given the opportunity to be educated on equity, diversity and inclusion efforts will remain at the forefront of our work.