Courtesy of Grand Canyon Trust
Native youth pose for a photo at Grand Canyon airport in July 2022. The group flew over the Little Colorado River to learn more about the culture and eco-system of the area, including sacred sites.

By Kayla Yazzie

My internship work at the Grand Canyon Trust was a learning experience about advocacy during the summer of 2022.

Two goals of my internship included the following: Recruit up to 12 Native youth for Native Youth Overflight over the Little Colorado River July 22. Attend in-person and virtual meetings to spread awareness about threats to the Little Colorado River.

The purpose of the overflight was to get youth inspired and to help spread awareness that the Little Colorado River is a sacred place and how development will affect tribal cultural sites, which are significant to the tribal communities. I wanted people to know development will affect tribes, who have lived in the area for millennia and my goal is to stop proposed projects from happening.

To achieve my goal, I targeted a diverse group from different tribes and ranged in age between 15 to 30 years old. We focused on youth, who planned to share the overflight experience through posts, blogs, or other social media platforms.

For my outreach process, I set up a booth at Hopi’s Farmers Market, attended the Cameron Chapter House Meeting, and posted flyers in Flagstaff, Hopi, and Window Rock.  I found a diverse group of 12 Native youth who were Diné (Navajo), San Carlos Apache, Hopi, Zuni Pueblo, Pima, Cheyenne Arapaho, and Hualapai.

EcoFlight offered three different flights over the Little Colorado River, Red Butte, and the Canyon Mine uranium mine. The tribal youth were amazed to see how close uranium mining threats and dam proposals are to their homelands. Some identified other sacred locations along the Grand Canyon and Little Colorado River

After the overflights, we had three guest speakers. They included Delores Wilson-Aguirre, with Save the Confluence, Troy Honahnie Jr. from Hopi Tribe and James Uqualla from Havasupai Tribe. The group spoke about tribal issues and how Native youth need to be more involved.

Each speaker offered background about their own culture, how to get involved, and work together to help protect all Tribal lands

I achieved my goals because I received feedback from Native youth about their experience.

Darrien Benally, a Navajo Nation member, walked away with a new perspective about advocacy against threats on the Colorado Plateau.

“Seeing the above area and realizing how close mining operations are to the Grand Canyon and, in reality, Flagstaff, gave me a new sense of urgency to advocate for protections surrounding the canyon,” Benally said. “The Big Canyon Dam proposal would have immense impacts on the region’s ecosystem and many Native cultures within the area. The area is no longer abstract to me. I feel I can better educate community members about the threats to the Grand Canyon and the Little Colorado River.”

I enjoyed visiting and meeting Tribal community members because it made my internship meaningful. I realized how sacred the Little Colorado River is to many tribes and how we need to protect the land. It has also encouraged me to connect with my Native heritage roots and learn about my culture and other traditional cultures.

I also learned about the Big Canyon Dam proposal and how Phoenix developer wants to build a hydroelectric dam near the Little Colorado River.

I met with tribes along the Grand Canyon and Little Colorado River. Each had its own cultural emergence stories that connect them to the canyon and river.

(Kayla’s last day as an intern for Grand Canyon Trust, working on issues of importance to Save the Confluence, was Aug. 5).