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'Every Decision, Every Step, Has Dominoes Behind It'

Tara Houska

Tara Houska

Activist Tara Houska talks climate justice, finds hope in education

Video by Stephen Munchel; text by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

During an intensive, two-week residency at Dickinson, a leading environmental and Indigenous-rights activist discussed her upbringing in rural Minnesota, the urgency of her work and the role that a liberal-arts education can play in the fight to protect the Earth, its people and its natural resources.

Tara Houska is the 2023 recipient of Dickinson’s Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism at Dickinson College. The prize honors Houska’s work as a tribal attorney, land defender and founder of the Giniw Collective, an Indigenous women and two-spirit-led movement that prioritizes land defense, traditional knowledge and divestment to protect the Earth. Houska, a citizen of Couchiching First Nation, also is heavily involved in the movement to defund fossil fuels, has worked as a tribal attorney and advisor on Native affairs in Washington, D.C., and is co-founder of Not Your Mascots, a nonprofit promoting positive representation for Native Americans in the public sphere.

In an on-campus interview, Houska acknowledged that environmentalism is only one of many issues worthy of the public’s attention and advocacy. She also noted that we cannot progress on other fronts without a habitable place to live.

One of the biggest challenges we face in the fight for environmental justice, she explained, is that we have reached a critical juncture in that journey. “I think if you ignore nature for too long, nature will assert itself,” Houska said. “We’re trying to play catch-up, right? We are here, in this moment, where every decision, every step, has dominoes behind it.”

Houska also reflected on the need to think critically about the complex issue of global environmentalism and the ways that a liberal-arts college like Dickinson can help spark positive change. “I'm really grateful to be in a community of folks who, it seems to me, are really deeply committed to thinking critically, informing students [and help them] really think through ‘What could I do?’ ” she said.

Tara Houska

As part of her two-week residency at Dickinson, Houska also spoke to students in several classes. Photo by Dan Loh.

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Published October 11, 2023