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Environmental Justice Leadership Spotlight: Pah-tu Pitt

Pah-tu Pitt G. is the Co-Chair of the Environmental Justice Committee and currently works on advocacy for indigenous climate change resiliency, sustainable economic development, and grassroots organizing at regional and local levels in the Pacific Northwest and Seattle.

What motivates you in your work in the environmental justice sphere?
More broadly, I think people often think of environmental justice as the connection between marginalized people and their experience of environmental pollution. But I think it goes beyond that, into our relationship with the land and the beings within it. I noticed that you’d need credentials to have any type of stature in advocacy, because too often environmental work doesn’t address environmental justice, like the health of people in an area. Once when I was young, I went to the senior center at my tribe, where a woman from the Yakama Nation spoke with us. She recounted how many times she had beaten cancer. I knew that at some point, she would not beat it. This moment was very impactful for me. I felt it would be important to do work to make sure that this would never happen to our people, especially her being from one of our sister tribes. I felt a very strong commitment to her story, and I wanted to promote the health of our people through environmental work.

What does environmental leadership look like to you?
When I was in college, I made a webinar about Billy Frank, Jr. from the Nisqually tribe. He’s famous, but many people in his movement worked collectively. The issues we’re facing now are global ones, one individual alone isn’t going to solve them. I think looking for silver bullets is a very Western idea; whether it’s one idea or one person. As far as environmental leadership, being able to see beyond yourself, thinking about the future but also looking to the past, are all great qualities of real environmental leadership. I also think not enough people are being called environmental leaders, when they do make small actions toward helping the environment. These steps often go uncredited.

How has your background prepared you for a leadership role within the EJC?
I think part of my background is the education I have, but more than that is my own life experience. I’ve lived in polluted spaces, and my tribe experienced the collective trauma of the damming of the Columbia River. I know what it means to be hurt by “progress,” or “the greater good of society.” All of these things have helped form me into someone who can stand for my own truth, while also recognizing that within this space, I stand up for other people as well. Within the EJC, there is that sentiment that though we all have our own individual community issues, we won’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

How do you see your community coming together in response to COVID-19?
Because I have a baby and my husband’s an essential worker, I’ve been keeping to myself more than usual. But through my environmental justice professional connections, and Daybreak Star, I was immediately offered assistance. Daybreak Star has a doula program, and they’ve done organizing around making sure that folks have access to groceries and baby essentials; then Unkitawa, an Indigenous cultures nonprofit, also offered me medicine bundles. I’m seeing community really coming together in the online realm, even if we can’t be together in person. At home, I’ve been doing a lot of gardening, native plants and some abundantly producing crops so we have some to share. I’ve seen a lot of generosity happening within the BIPOC farming community, and by the family or household level, of connecting with and helping heal our landscapes. We’re all part of a larger fabric, and the more we can all see beyond ourselves, the better. 

What do you hope to see EJC accomplish in the next year?
We’re trying to create more visibility for issues identified through our own analysis, pushing community-driven solutions and finding support for them. There’s amazing environmental justice work being done in Seattle, and they unfortunately don’t always receive enough visibility. The EJC can shine a spotlight on these efforts. It’s exciting for me to see how all the different communities in Seattle are able to come together to create these solutions, and I’m glad to be a part of it.