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How one Unalakleet teen is advocating for a green future

Maiyuraq Lauryn Nanouk Jones is the recipient of the Spirit of Youth Discovery Award, which highlights youth in science with a specific focus on environmental issues. Jones is majoring in environmental policy with minors in environmental justice, education, social justice and hopes to attend law school. Currently, she serves as a member of Western Washington Universities’ Native American Student Union (NASU).

Jones became inspired while working as an environmental policy intern through the Sitka Conservation Society. Through that internship, she became an Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA) member. Jones says the internship gave her the confidence to speak to state representatives about environmental policies in the state.

“I talked with Donny Olson, the senator from this region, and different senators from southeast [Alaska]. I became more involved with policy and talking to higher up people about different issues that I was passionate about.”

After her internship, she returned to her home community of Unalakleet and began working for Unalakleet Electric Cooperative. She recognized the high cost of living in rural areas, and how many families struggle.

“I realized how expensive it is to have electricity for people in rural Alaska. It opened my eyes to that. It’s really expensive to live out here in rural Alaska, especially if you have a family and you’re trying to pay for your house, your gas, food, and on top of that, electricity and providing for your family.”

Later, Jones became involved with Native Movement- an organization focused on community leadership and building, centering around social justice and healing foundations. Through the organization she had the opportunity to advocate for renewable energy projects on a statewide level. Jones reached out to Nome’s legislative representatives Sen. Donny Olson and Rep. Neil Foster. Her focus was on community solar, specifically using collective power to reduce electricity cost. She says when the community comes together, it helps everyone’s bills go down.

“If you buy into community solar, it helps reduce the prices for people who are paying for electricity. It’s also a way to help sustain our way of life. Renewable energy resources are great for the environment, and that’s something they care about.”

But renewable energy is just one of Jones’ focus.

Growing up in Unalakleet, a village of about 700 people, subsistence was a large part of her childhood and Inupiaq culture. She noticed that the caribou of the Western Arctic Herd were no longer visiting the community. Fish numbers and other subsistence food sources were less abundant. Jones blames resource extraction- like mining and oil drilling for the decline. Although development is often touted as a benefit to the economy, Jones says there are other alternatives.

“I really want to show people that if we do move away from resource extraction, there’s so many jobs for people to have revolving around renewable energy. We could move towards a different kind of future. What would our future look like if it were more oriented towards the greener option?”

Jones’ future goals are to help communities throughout Alaska deal with the effects of climate change, figure out how to combat climate change effectively, and understand the changing ecosystems. She also wants to help promote language revitalization and culture, especially in her community of Unalakleet.

Photo at top: Portrait of Maiyuraq Lauryn Nanouk Jones, used with permission

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