Xiuhtezcatl Martinez: An Earth Guardian Comes of Age
A fierce voice for the environment since childhood, MAPS supporter and Earth Guardians Youth Director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez has been hailed by Bill McKibben of 350.org as “an impressive spokesman for a viewpoint the world needs to hear.” Now 19, this multi-talented Indigenous activist is also a hip-hop artist and author; he recently published his book “We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement that Restores the Planet”. He’s also part of Juliana v. United States, a lawsuit filed by 21 youth plaintiffs against the United States government for not taking stronger action to protect their life and liberty in the future by preventing environmental harm. We talked to him about his work with Earth Guardians and what keeps him motivated.
Parvati Magazine: You got started with environmental activism when you were six years old. Can you tell us how that happened?
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez: I’ve always been super passionate about life and the outdoors. As a young kid I was in nature all the time. My dad raised me in the Aztec/Mexica (Meh-sheeh-kah) tradition and instilled in me that all life is sacred and that we have a responsibility to be caretakers of the land. When I saw Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary “The 11th Hour”, I told my mom that I want to do something about this, I’ve got to talk to people, I want to make a difference.
PMAG: When did you become the youth director for Earth Guardians?
XM: My mom started Earth Guardians in 1992 as an accredited high school that focused on environmental awareness. I got involved in 2009 when I saw that pesticides were a big problem in our community and I decided that I wanted to do something about that. I was super stoked to be a part of something bigger than myself and use my voice and engage with other young people.
PMAG: What would you say is Earth Guardians’s mission?
XM: I would say Earth Guardians’s mission is to empower young people all over the world to be active leaders in their communities, and use their passions, their voices to address some of the most important issues of our time. And to build solidarity around a global youth movement to unite everybody to make a better world for future generations.
PMAG: Can you highlight a couple of Earth Guardians’s environmental successes?
XM: In Maui in 1992 Earth Guardians helped plant 10,000 sandalwood trees. They’ve helped organize hundreds of people across Togo to begin to look at living an environmentally sustainable life. Here in Colorado, we helped get bans and moratoriums on fracking in four municipalities across the state. Our Protect Our Future program gives mini-grants to different communities around the world to help foster action and organization, and give them the tools that they need to be really successful Earth Guardian crews.
PMAG: You are a part of a lawsuit against the US government. Can you tell us a little more about that?
XM: I am one of 21 youth plaintiffs in a lawsuit to hold the US federal government accountable for violating our constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. We are saying that inaction on climate change, and knowing about the climate crisis, and the impact that carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases has on our climate for several decades now, and failing to take adequate action is a violation of our constitutional rights. It is a violation of the public trust doctrine that holds our resources in trust for present and future generations that is written into the Constitution. It is very critical that we get acknowledged that not only has the US government failed to take action, to protect the environment, to protect our climate, but that they are supporting the very industries that are creating this crisis, like blocking progress to mitigate greenhouse gases, supporting the fossil fuel industry, and overstepping laws like the Clean Air, and Clean Water Act. So all the 21 plaintiffs have their own stories and their own reasons for being part of this lawsuit.
PMAG: What gives you hope that we can turn things around?
XM: Just engaging with other young people, that are also super empowered because it’s very hard to do this kind of work alone but when you have so many other people that are on your side that are willing and ready to support this action, this change, it’s very exciting. To see how much power we have when we work together, when we are united, it’s very inspiring.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (“She-u-Tez-Caht”) is anIndigenous climate activist and hip-hop artiston the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement. At the early age of six, Xiuhtezcatl began speaking around the world, from the Rio+20 United Nations Summit to the General Assembly at the United Nations New York. He is the Youth Director of Earth Guardians.