Editor's note: This article was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
When I asked Chayton Remle (Lakota, Hunkpapa) to describe the mission and work of the Clear Sky Native Youth Council of which he is part, his response perfectly captured the spirit of personally accountable activism: “We teach people about important issues and then try to fix them — that’s what it’s about. My role in the organization is to say that we should do this or we should do that — and then, we do it.”
Remle, who is a 16-year-old junior at Edmond Heights K–12, has been active in efforts to protect the environment and steward Native rights, treaty rights and ancestral lands for most of his life. He has engaged in these efforts in various ways, from attending rallies and marches, to creating petitions, to speaking out about issues in public forums. Through his involvement with Clear Sky, a unique volunteer- and youth-centered program of the Urban Native Education Alliance (UNEA), he has participated in projects and advocacy work that directly benefit urban Indigenous learners, educators, families and the wider Native community.
Principally guided by a mission to promote educational achievement for Indigenous youth through mentorship, leadership, college readiness and Native arts programming, Clear Sky exists to enhance tribal identities, advance personal and collective growth and wellness, and advocate for justice, equality and visibility in the broader Seattle community.
You should step up, try to find some people who will support you — and then do it.
These core values were manifested through environmental action in a big way in 2019 when Clear Sky, along with UNEA and the Native Warriors Athletics, successfully advocated for a Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board designation of Licton Springs in North Seattle as a site of historic and cultural significance for protection, restoration and preservation.
“We got sad after a trip there, because of all the trash that was around the spring. So, basically, we all decided to make it a sacred site so it couldn’t get destroyed,” says Remle. Considered an ancestral place of spiritual and healing power for the Duwamish People since time immemorial, Licton Springs will now continue to serve as a unique ecological site for environmental learning for adjacent public schools Licton Springs K–8 School and Robert Eagle Staff Middle School as well as a place of gathering for the urban Seattle intertribal community. As a Clear Sky youth leader, Remle not only helped with the restoration of the site but participated in the production of a short video, “Saving Licton Springs,” that documented the project.
More recently, Remle helped spearhead the development of an anti-smoking public education campaign. (“Native people have a higher chance of smoking — we start younger smoking and therefore do it for longer,” he notes.) “I just like how we get a feeling that we can make change. Saving Licton Springs was nice — now it can’t be destroyed. Doing stuff like that and the anti-smoking campaign — all of it makes me so happy,” says Remle.
And what is his advice for other young people hoping to make change? “I would tell them that every single person has a gigantic change for the world. I think it’s important, because otherwise there would be no change, things would just stay the way they are. So, you should step up, try to find some people who will support you — and then do it, get it done and make a change.”