“We’re the physical proof of the love and resilience of our ancestors.” – Maka Monture Päki

Portrait by Miss Tino – Jess Collins (Te Whānau a Apanui, Ngāti Porou, Taranaki)

Image Description by Manuhaea Mamaru-O’Regan (Kāi Tahu)

Interview & editing by Kera Sherwood-O’Regan (Kāi Tahu) 

“Young people who are land defenders aren’t necessarily activists–we are survivalists. We are the physical form of the land fighting for itself.”

Maka Monture Päki is a Tlingit, Filipina, and Kanien’kehá:ka activist, storyteller, designer, and ceremonial performer dedicated to environmental and social justice. Residing in Anchorage, Alaska, her advocacy focuses on Arctic and Indigenous communities and cultures, human rights, and biodiversity, with a particular concern for the rights of Indigenous Women and Youth. 

In 2020, Maka established Indigenous design studio, Moonture, with her husband Aorere. Their artistic practice draws from both their cultural heritages, and works towards a reality where all Indigenous Peoples thrive. 

Maka is a member of Native Movement, where she works on Always Indigenous Media and Data for Indigenous Justice initiatives. She is a well-recognised Indigenous youth leader within the global climate movement, and her work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Reformation, and World Wildlife Magazine.

Kia ora Maka, could you please tell us about yourself?

“I am a Tlingit, Filipina, and Kanien’kehá:ka woman, born into the Raven moiety, Copper River Clan, and House of the Owl. My Tlingit name is Keixé Yaxtí, meaning Morning Star. 

I was raised in the small village of Yakutat, Alaska – a rural coastal town in the Southeast. My ancestors migrated to Yakutat over a thousand years ago from the North. After I graduated high school in Yakutat, I received my Bachelors of Science in Indigenous Studies and my Masters of Public Health. 

Currently, I reside on Dena’ina Land, also called Anchorage, Alaska, where I dedicate my professional time to environmental and social advocacy to sustain the Arctic and Indigenous communities, cultures, human rights, and biodiversity in the face of modern change while developing my art practice.”

Could you please tell us about your activism and what drives you to do this important work?

On land: 

“It’s important to help the world see that young people who are land defenders aren’t necessarily activists–we are survivalists. We are the physical form of the land fighting for itself. We’re the physical proof of the love and resilience of our ancestors. This is why we need to create our narratives and host our own spaces.”

On human rights: 

“Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) is a social issue on both sides of the North American border. There are systemic causes of the violence that results in the disproportionate amount of missing & murdered Indigenous women and girls, a majority of whose cases have never been solved.This is a war against native women – a war directly tied to historical trauma and colonization.”

Why is climate change such an important issue for you and your community?

“In my upbringing, there were stories of our culture that were passed down to my brother and I, surrounding the traditional practices of relationship with the environment and health. We understood that the foundation of a strong person began with the mental qualities of self-discipline, humility and courage, and resilience. This was tied to the land, as the land is necessary to learn these traditional practices and values. Sustainability was always present in these cultural teachings, we just have a different word for it. This foundation became important for my journey.”

Could you tell us about Native Movement’s mission?

“Native Movement supports grassroots-led projects that align with our vision, that dismantle oppressive systems for all, and that endeavor to ensure social justice, Indigenous Peoples’ rights, and the rights of Mother Earth. We are dedicated to building people power, rooted in an Indigenized worldview, toward healthy, sustainable, and just communities for all.”


As part of her diverse advocacy work, Monture Päki has joined delegations of Indigenous youth in attending multiple meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, including COP25 in Madrid, and, more recently, COP26 in Glasgow. As a member of the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, or International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, Monture Päki has worked collectively with Indigenous representatives and activists from around the world to hold state parties to account in international climate negotiations. She has consistently spoken out on the need to center Indigenous Peoples’ leadership, stories, and solutions in the pursuit of climate justice, and has become a well recognised voice for Indigenous youth at the COPs. 

“Indigenous Peoples’ leadership must be recognised and heard on climate kaupapa. 

Our communities in Alaska have been facing large destructive change in my young lifetime. Temperatures have risen 2.5-5.8°F, depending on the region, since the 1970s. Some of the changes we are seeing include our melting sea ice; intense winter and fall storms; thawing permafrost; and an increase in raging wildfires – all of which are affecting our rural communities first.  

The average amount of ice covering ocean water around Alaska in September has gone down 13 percent over the last 40 years. One way to see this in perspective is to think of Alaska losing a hunk of sea ice the size of Scotland.”

“This is a large part of why I have been engaging in the Indigenous Caucus at COP 25 and COP 26. With the US opting out of the Paris Agreement in the past, we wanted to engage in ways that assert our visibility and allow us to learn on the complex operations of global policy.” 

“It is also incredible to witness the friendships and mentorships that blossomed out of working together at the COP gatherings. One ongoing project that has come of these relationships is a mini-series and short film I am beginning in Summer 2022 with cultural exchanges between Indigenous youth across the Pacific.” 

What do you think about the current status of Indigenous rights and inclusion in the “global climate movement”? Are there any dynamics that make meaningful participation a challenge for Indigenous folks?

“Indigenous youth know and understand the value of coming together to share solutions to create movements to support our communities.

At COP 25, I worked with diverse youth from vulnerable communities from all over the world, but it was clear that in today’s world, climate activists of color are left out of the world narrative – we found ourselves, as people of color, constantly criminalized and escorted by police, while famous light-skinned bodies were protected by thirty bodyguards.

From my experience, I do feel that there is a disconnect between the needs of communities at the grassroots or frontlines of climate change (especially from rural Alaska), and what large NGOs or the “international climate movement” focus on. 

Some of the more pressing issues in rural Indigenous communities include our food security and loss and damage. 

The large international climate movements never address the cultural loss that Indigenous communities face because we are the closest living relatives of the lands we are stewards of.” 

“Often, photos of us are used in Climate Change advocacy campaigns – without these organizations having a real human connection with us. One of the ways that climate campaigners can be in better solidarity with Indigenous Peoples would be to pave the way to make space with us.” 

One example [of inclusion] that I experienced was at COP 25, the activist Greta Thunberg hosted a press conference that garnered a lot of attention. Then she gave the floor over to the Indigenous youth activists that were also at the table alongside her. 

“The question that comes after that is “What comes next? How do we continue these relationships- beyond one press conference, one event- in a meaningful way? “

What can we learn from Indigenous leadership on climate to inform our approaches to climate change campaigning? 

“I think that the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change has excellent resources to learn more about how Indigenous Peoples are most impacted by climate change. 

A few key points are that given our widespread reliance on natural resources and ecosystems, Indigenous Peoples and local communities are especially vulnerable to, and disproportionately impacted by climate change. Changes in temperature or rainfall can have an outsized effect on our communities. This can result in loss of land or resources, or in the worst of cases, even violent conflict.  

The Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus Opening Statement for COP26 has excellent points to help inform Western approaches to climate change campaigns. There is a need for our allies to help assert that:

  • Any market based ‘solutions’ like carbon markets uphold human rights, and specifically, Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, and that they actually lead to real emissions reductions. 
  • Indigenous food sovereignty is centered in all agricultural discussions, and particularly the Koroniva dialogue. 
  • Equitable and long-term climate financing directly to Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations across all seven regions.
  • A permanent SB agenda item is established on Loss and Damage. Any outcome must safeguard Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and address non-economic losses to our communities.
  • The Gender Action Plan is advanced, and upholds land rights, including those of Indigenous women.
  • Persons with Disability are meaningfully included in UNFCCC processes as a formal constituency.”

What do you think is the most impactful action climate campaigners can do to be in better solidarity with Indigenous Peoples?

“One of the ways for climate campaigners to have impactful action in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples is to spend real time in relation with us – in our communities so that they can truly understand what is at stake beyond our physical environments.” 

Are there any issues you think need more recognition within the global climate movement?

“Our clans, our genealogy -or whakapapa- end with our women.

Indigenous climate warriors that are women are murdered at higher rates across the world, and in North America, Indigenous Women (girls +) are murdered at a rate 10x higher than all other ethnicities. The protection of our women is connected -and is essential for- climate justice. Our wombs carry the genealogy of not only our lines – but the environments around us. 

“Our DNA is a direct reflection of the food systems and human adaptations over millennia to Indigenous places.”


What would be your message to climate and environmental activists who want to decolonise their activism?

“My message to climate and environmental activists who want to decolonise their activism is to listen with an empty cup.  Environmental activists need to not only be more inclusive of Indigenous communities, but use their powers to elevate our human rights to the front.” 

The Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus Opening Statement for COP26 said it best: “COP26 and future COPs must ensure the participation of Indigenous Peoples, including those of us with multiple intersections of identity. Colonialism caused climate change. Our Rights and Traditional Knowledge are the solution.”

How can other organizations & Climate Action Network members meaningfully support you and your work?

Use your platforms to help educate and amplify our native and Indigenous grassroots movements. Donate to them. Follow them–share their content, and not only on days of action. Invest in our youth to get them to spaces like the COP or Global Activating convenings. 

“We’re also often asked for free labor on panels or events or workshops–compensation is needed for our time so that we can continue to support our families and communities.” 

Caring about future generations is for everyone. It is important to make a space that can allow for that–for people from all generational and cultural backgrounds. An inclusive space invites and ensures access. A safe and welcoming environment allows us to explore intentional partnership opportunities and creates opportunities to learn for people of all backgrounds, communities, and identities.

You can support Maka’s work, and the work of Native Movement by following and amplifying on Instagram at @alwaysindigenousmedia; and by checking out the Data for Indigenous Justice project here.

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