Indigenous activist awarded Stanford’s top environmental award

Oct. 28, 2021, 8:44 p.m.

Stanford awarded Māori environmental activist India Logan-Riley with the prestigious Bright Award earlier this month. Logan-Riley, is the co-founder of Te Ara Whatu, a group of indigenous Māori and Pasifika youth working to spur climate action and promote Indigenous sovereignty.

The award comes with a $100,000 prize and is given out annually by Stanford Law School and recognizes exceptional contributions to “environmental preservation and global sustainability.” 

Logan-Riley’s group has attended a number of United Nations Climate Change conferences and holds training sessions for Indigenous youth to bring grassroots activism to their communities. 

Logan-Riley said that they “caught the bug of making change” after meeting other young people involved in the climate activism scene in college. Their first major moment of climate action was attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2017. 

“I think I was the second young Māori to ever go since youth delegations have been going from New Zealand,” they explained. Logan-Riley’s desire to attend was driven by “the lack of solutions that would speak to the needs of my people.”

Law professor Barton Thompson, who leads the Bright Award nomination committee, explained that the committee was drawn to Logan-Riley since “they are able to meld climate advocacy… with an Indigenous perspective that we thought was both relatively unique, and even more importantly, inspirational.” 

The nomination committee viewed Logan-Riley as a “uniquely compelling and inspirational” individual, Thompson said. Logan-Riley will be invited to speak at Stanford in the spring, when an award ceremony will also be held at the law school.

Thompson explained that “the world is increasingly recognizing that many of our environmental and social problems stem from our colonial history,” meaning that Indigenous communities must be centered in activism work. 

“I think partly because of India’s Indigenous perspective, they understand the linkages among all environmental issues and social issues,” he said.

For Logan-Riley, two critical aspects of activism are that it is intersectional and youth-led. Activism, they said, must be centered around various social ills since “different pieces of oppression… mesh together and protect each other.” 

Furthermore, Logan-Riley said that it is essential that movements push against the status quo. 

“It’s about ambition, being repeatedly told by older people to stay more realistic, or be more pragmatic,” they said. “And to me, that just sounds like language that is asking me to be okay with suffering, and I can’t, and I won’t.” 

Logan-Riley admitted that it can be hard not to fall into a cynical state of mind: “I think I swing between being really hopeful, and being really in the headspace of we’re all gonna die,” they said.

They are motivated to keep working, however, when reminded that if there is a possibility of surviving the climate crisis, “it better not just be the rich people who helped create this problem in the first place,” they said.

Logan-Riley had not heard of The Bright Award prior to receiving it — news they said is still “sinking in.”

“That kind of thing doesn’t happen to people like me from the communities I’m from,” Logan-Riley said, adding that activist work related to Indigenous rights as opposed to directly reducing admissions tends to be overlooked.

The Bright Award is funded by a gift to Stanford Law School from Ray Bright J.D. ’59 and Marcelle Bright.   

“We are proud to be stewards of such a generous gift from Ray and are grateful to the Bright family for continuing to entrust Stanford with locating these unsung heroes of environmental conservation and providing them with an international platform to showcase their critical work,” Stanford Law School Dean Jenny Martinez said in a statement. 

Logan-Riley said they hope to use the $100,000 prize money to fund paid roles in their organization, contribute to Indigenous land campaigns and continue to hold training sessions for activists. Next on the horizon for them is attending COP (Conference of the Parties) 26, the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference beginning Oct. 31 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. 

Attendance at these conferences is as important as ever, “to be there to do storytelling, and to continue to be present, and to be… the annoying mosquito that is relentless,” they said.

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