Guest post by Emily Gillit, who wrote about Uplift for a journalism assignment this spring:

Emily Gillit has lived in Northern Arizona for the majority of her life. She is currently attending Northern Arizona University to study Photography and Journalism so she can share the beauty and wonder hidden in plain sight here in Arizona.

Over the weekend of April 17-19, 2015 at Camp Colton, the Grand Canyon Trust hosted Uplift, their first climate conference for young people, by young people. The goal of the conference, according to the Grand Canyon Trust website is “to empower and unite young leaders to address climate change on the Colorado Plateau.”

The Grand Canyon Trust’s mission is “to protect and restore the Colorado Plateau — its spectacular landscapes, flowing rivers, clean air, diversity of plants and animals, and areas of beauty and solitude.” A youth conference was the perfect way for the Grand Canyon Trust to connect to young and young-at-heart people to inform them of the issues within the region and help them understand what they can do to help.

In explaining the name of the conference, Claire Martini, coordinator for Uplift and for youth engagement for AmeriCorps, said, “we called ourselves Uplift, after the geologic phenomenon that defines the Colorado Plateau. For us, home lies within the elevated contours and aridity that define this broad sweep of high desert.”

The Grand Canyon Trust used Camp Colton to set the tone of the conference, by getting all of their participants to connect with the outdoors. Camp Colton is “a residential environmental education center that is owned by the Flagstaff Unified School District,” according to the Friends of Camp Colton website.

The Colorado Plateau is a region that encompasses a wide range of natural features spanning across the four corners region. The plateau takes up the majority of Northern Arizona, Southeast Utah, West Colorado and the Northwest of New Mexico.

The conference made itself available to everyone. The fee for Uplift was a minimum donation of $5. The Grand Canyon Trust also offered the opportunity for registration fee waivers and travel scholarships.

Uplift attracted people from across the country, including students from Washington, from all types of backgrounds and ethnicities, drawing them into the conversation about conservation of the Colorado Plateau. The variety of backgrounds lent itself to expanding the conversation.

The first panel attended by all participants discussed the state of the land, water and politics in relation to the Colorado Plateau. The general goal of the panel was to spark the discussion that would be at the center of the conference, informing all of the participants of the current issues facing the region.

Discussions and workshops took up the majority of the three-day conference. The Grand Canyon Trust gave participants the option of choosing the workshops he or she wanted to attend. Options ranged from ‘Wilderness and Wildness’ to ‘Black Mesa Water Coalition: Just Transitions and Restorative Economy’ and ‘Save the Confluence’ to ‘Passion for Place: Photography in Conservation’ among many others.

In reflection on Uplift, a conference attendee said, “ I now feel empowered with knowledge to carry forward and make actual change. It was so important to bring people together from diverse backgrounds so we can learn from each other...also, [I was] so inspired to see an event this effective organized by people my age!”    

Approximately 90 young and young-at-heart people attended the conference, working together and participating in discussions and workshops.

Each Uplift participant left Camp Colton with a greater understanding of the Colorado Plateau, with connections to people who were as passionate as they were and with the knowledge of how to make a difference in issues facing the region.

Uplift laid the groundwork for future conferences by the Grand Canyon Trust as well as expanding the network of people interested in the issues relating to the Colorado Plateau. The 2015 conference was planned over six short months by 10 coordinators. The Grand Canyon Trust is already working on Uplift 2016, currently planned for August 18-20 in Durango, Colorado. The Grand Canyon Trust and Northern Arizona University’s Landscape Conservation Initiative make Uplift possible.

From concrete to ethereal: lessons from the road


The Uplift team has returned home from the first round of community conversations. We owe a big “thank you” to those who contributed to the discussion, and we’re inspired to see the broad range of youth-led climate work happening already across the Colorado Plateau!

In Prescott, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Durango, Moab, and Salt Lake City, the climate priorities communities identified were fairly consistent even as the organizing approaches and individuals varied. Young people spoke with care about water use and protection, curbing fossil fuel extraction, protecting wild and sacred spaces, and supporting sustainable communities. Many expressed concern about a non-receptive political climate at a local, regional, and national level. Read more about Uplift’s community conversations, from a reporter’s perspective.

What to do about it? Solutions may lie in ideas ranging from concrete to ethereal: education, networking, creativity, art, protest, community, uncertainty, democracy, affordable housing, restoration, language, traditional knowledge, and more.

Myriad young people are already fighting the good fight. For the people we spoke with, work to address the climate conundrum ranged from protesting at BLM lease auctions to building affordable and sustainable housing. They’re already using innovative ways to reach people, from putting art and creativity at the center, to enhancing inter-generational collaboration.

Here's where Uplift comes in: as a connector between various groups and individuals working across the expanse of the Colorado Plateau.

Meetings were best attended when we had personal connections or made contact with existing networks, and we learned about the areas where we have more work to do building relationships and community. As a group, we aim to highlight and support the amazing work already taking place on the ground, and weave it into a larger story for our region. If you have meaningful opportunities for young people to speak up and engage, whether organizing events, campaigns, rallies, or something else, please let us know and we’ll send it out to our networks! To stay connected on social media, you can find us on Facebook and Instagram.

Looking forward, we’d love for you to join us at the conference August 18-20 in the San Juan National Forest outside Durango, Colorado.

As you probably already suspect, this isn’t your typical “conference.” It’s a celebration of what’s at stake. Uplifters can plan on camping amidst the ponderosa pines for three days of panel discussions, storytelling, and regional break-out groups to help strengthen the work you’re doing, or give you the tools and connections to dive in. We hope you’ll share your presence and ideas at Uplift this August. Please get in touch, because we can’t wait to work together and build community across this wild home of ours.

(If you need support to attend, please let us know, as limited scholarships for registration or travel are available.)

Story: The Most Powerful Renewable Energy

by Brooke Larsen

Storytelling is easier at Kane Ranch—an old homestead nestled in the vast House Rock Valley on the North Rim. The Vermilion Cliffs urge you to speak from the heart, welcome vulnerability, and respect deep time. At the Uplift planning retreat this past November, oil lamps flickered as the Uplift leadership team shared the origins of their love for the Colorado Plateau and an unyielding passion to protect their home.  Story was the focus: we grew closer by sharing our  story of self, the story of us and the story of now.

Recognizing the importance of storytelling for the climate justice movement, Uplift seeks to share climate stories from young people across the Colorado Plateau. In preparation for the Uplift Climate Conference this August in Durango, Colorado, a group of young organizers from Uplift will be traveling from April 29-May 16 holding community conversations across the Colorado Plateau. We want to learn, what does this region mean to you? What agitates you to act on climate?  What are your hopes? What do you love too much to lose?

My climate story is one of self-preservation. My family has called the Colorado Plateau home for six generations. The forests of the Wasatch and the red rock of Southern Utah are my spiritual refuge and teacher of humility. What do I love too much to lose? Burnt orange sand. Rivers that run red. Coyote tracks. Sticky sandstone beneath my soles. Slot canyons with unknown stories. Forgiving aspens. Pink skies at dawn and dusk. Solitude. Vulnerability. Wildness. My self.

A dear friend once told me he could see it in my eyes—they come alive in the red rock wilderness. As the lands and people around me grow increasingly tamed, I fear I will lose my own wild, human spirit. Every new cut, spill, scathe on the red rock leaves a scar on my heart. Every year we tolerate air quality along the Wasatch Front that puts children and the elderly in the hospital and blurs the view of the peaks that ground us in place, I feel trapped in a much more deadly smog—the smog of apathy, greed and injustice.

However, story has power to clear the smog. Our personal stories motivate us, but our shared story sustains us. Climate justice is deeply personal yet so universal—we all have a climate story even if we haven’t articulated it yet. In Uplift, young people find a community that dares to speak from the heart. We howl. We howl with the understanding that we are the daughters and sons of the Coyote Clan.

The organizers of Uplift feel a fierce sense of urgency. As Uplift Coordinator Claire Martini says, “Climate change is the biggest threat to a livable future in the region.” We seek to create a united climate action community across the Colorado Plateau that demands youth voices be heard. We see story sharing as a critical first step. Because it is story that unites us. It is story that makes us a movement, a community, a force.

To share your climate story and connect with other young desert dwellers, find a climate conversation near you. For more information, email or follow us on Facebook for important updates! 

Dancing towards a Different Future

Originally published on February 29 2016 at

By Marcel Gaztambide

Growing up in the Utah Basque Club, I was raised among the high kicks, pointed toes, and spirited lunges of the Utah’ko Triskalariak—a beautiful bunch of bullheaded Basques bent on inflicting their silly clothes, strange ways, and traditional dances unto the world. Through participation in everything from small, local get-togethers to large, international festivals, I learned that being Basque is largely about celebrating your culture as loudly and as often as possible. Herein lies the secret to Basque longevity: our communities still exist largely because we make a point of celebrating our existence, and since traditional dance is central to most Basque celebration, it’s an important way that we grab hold of our cultural identity and shimmy it along into the future.

Stepping forward and back

Another consequence of this excessively Basque upbringing (besides always having a back-up Halloween costume) is the understanding that celebration plays an important role in preservation, and that dance, like other art forms, can be mysteriously powerful.

Terry Tempest Williams offered an important sentiment when she told me that although conservation is often considered a fight, she prefers to think of it as a dance. She explained that the problem with calling something a “fight” is that it presupposes the need for winners and losers. In fights, people end up wounded, feeling slighted, possibly seeking revenge. Dancing, however, requires balance, partnership, and trust, and it implies a willingness to step forward and back while recognizing that everyone is occupying the same space and moving in the same direction.

The organizers of Uplift 2016, a climate conference for young activists on the Colorado Plateau, recognize this idea as crucial in an increasingly polarized world. It’s something that we hope to employ in a new kind of conservation effort.

The climate dance

At a time when the world’s wildest, most authentic landscapes are at their most vulnerable, perhaps the lessons of Basque perpetuation and thinkers like Terry have something to offer. Imagine, for example, that when changes to public policy threatened the loss of our public lands, the reliability of our water resources, or the quality of our air, an energetic group of dancers would appear in practiced formation, persistently causing a ruckus in celebration and defense of their homes.

The organizers of this year’s Uplift conference plan to set the stage for this new kind of “climate dance,” choreographed and performed by a diverse community of youth that are capable of both emphatic celebration and substantive discussion. We envision the myriad young voices of the Colorado Plateau being uplifted in a way that allows us to voice our concerns, declare solidarity in our principles, and demand that our ideas for the future be taken seriously.

In preparation for our main conference held August 18th-20th, Uplift will soon be hosting a series of community meetings across the plateau, inviting young people to join the dance and share their ideas. The leaders of Uplift first became involved with this project because we recognized the need for better, more inclusive conversations. We can no longer afford to allow the implementation of policies that ignore the realities of climate change, the finite nature of resources, or the constant diminishment of wild spaces. It’s our hope that these meetings, and the conference in August, will allow for previously excluded voices to be included in the crafting of policies affecting our future.

So please join us! For more information, contact the Uplift organizers at or follow us on Facebook for important updates.

In wildness,
The Uplift 2016 team

*Marcel Gaztambide is an editorial assistant at the Journal of the American Chemical Society who moonlights as a part-time ranch hand, and Basque dancer.


Young Organizers Plan Regional Uplift

Originally published January 12 2016 at

By Claire Martini

Ten of us shivered in unison, gazing out over the House Rock Valley towards Marble Canyon. Though we’d gathered to talk about the warming world, November in northern Arizona was—clearly—still cold.

For the second year, young leaders convened at Kane Ranch (on the North Rim) for an intensive planning retreat focused on the future of Uplift, an annual conservation conference for young activists.

In just over four full days together, we dove deep. Our goal? To orchestrate a summer 2016 gathering of young residents of the Colorado Plateau. At the innagural summit in April 2015, our conversations were foundational. In 2016, we’re growing from last year’s roots, galvanizing climate action and moving toward climate justice.

Now is certainly a scary time to be young. Seeing Kane Ranch shrouded in snow one winter, my thoughts took on a historic air when I began to wonder—if my hypothetical children returned to this place in 2040, when I’m 50, would they experience this blinding white? Being young and chronically concerned is sometimes like this: a vague, constant gnawing anxiety. It’s one of my main motivators to organize.

Other Uplift organizers are motivated by preservation of cultural vitality, love of wildness and wilderness, the desire to build community, or the fundamental goal to protect inheritance of a livable future in this place.

Over coffee on the last morning, I cracked the spine on a writing manual by Anne Lamott that I’d been nodding off to for a few days and found this anecdote:

“Thirty years ago,” Lamott wrote, “my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.”

It sounded like the climate crisis we’re currently in, though instead of three months, our predecessors have had three decades to work on sustainability. The deadline looms tomorrow.

Lamott continues, “Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

And I realized, that’s exactly how we’ll protect a livable future in the high aridity of the Colorado Plateau—person by person, place by place, and bird by bird.

For updates on Uplift 2016, follow us on Facebook and sign up for our mailing list!

Uplift 2015 Sneak Peek

Originally published on March 30 2015 at

By Ana Miller-ter Kuile, 2015 Uplift Coordinator

Have you registered for Uplift yet? Join us for an action-packed weekend full of workshops and awesome speakers. Learn how to use film for advocacy, hone your writing skills, and see how young activists are creating change on the Colorado Plateau.  Enjoy this sneak peek of the line-up!


Justin Clifton

Using film for advocacy

Flagstaff-based filmmaker Justin Clifton spent a decade curating film festivals before transitioning to advocacy-based filmmaking. Clifton knows film is a powerful medium for change, and his new documentary Our Canyon Lands calls attention to threats facing public lands in southeastern Utah. Learn how to create effective media with Clifton and enjoy a private screening of his film at Uplift. 



Nicole Horseherder

Protecting Navajo environmental heritage

Diné activist Nicole Horseherder works to protect water near her Black Mesa home and is co-founder of To Nizhoni Ani ("Beautiful Spring Speaks"), an indigenous environmental group. She has also worked with Black Mesa Water Coalition and other organizations to fight proposals like 2012 Arizona Senate Bill 2109, which proposed transferring water rights away from the tribes. She'll speak on the fight and more during Uplift.


Seth Muller

Writing as advocacy

Author and journalist Seth Muller's nonfiction and poetic work focuses on the Grand Canyon and Colorado Plateau. He plays with words, rhythm, and cadence to create powerful stories about the places he holds dear. As editor of Mountain Living Magazine, Muller has years of experience crafting powerful stories and will share this expertise with Uplift participants. Learn how to engage your audience and improve your craft in Muller's workshop!



Water & Energy: Taking ownership of and responsibility for our resources

Do you know where your drinking water and electricity come from? Who owns these resources? This workshop, led by Colleen Cooley and Janene Yazzie, will encourage participants to take ownership of and responsibility for their resources. 

 Join us at Uplift, April 17-19! See the full schedule of Uplift speakers here ›

Tired of the Same Old Climate Conversation?

Originally published at

By Claire Martini, Uplift Coordinator

Ready to innovate? Join a community of young conservationists building a platform to advocate for solutions on the Colorado Plateau.  We’re recruiting for the leadership team to plan the 2016 Uplift Climate Conference—apply now!

Here’s the backstory: last April, a group of young (or young-at-heart) activists and conservationists gathered outside Flagstaff to talk about the future of the environmental movement. About 90 people participated in discussions and workshops on a wide range of subjects, from direct action to writing and native plant propagation.

We called ourselves Uplift, after the geologic phenomenon that defines the Colorado Plateau.  For us, home lies within the elevated contours and aridity that define this broad sweep of high desert.

We grew up in the San Juans, or on the reservations; in Las Vegas, Portland, or Salt Lake City.  Our families hail from within a stone’s throw of Four Corners, New York City, and back East.  We were born as far away as Trinidad, Florida, and Santiago, Chile. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest but fell in love with the redrock canyons and sagebrush steppes I found here in the Southwest. I wanted more. Shortly after starting an AmeriCorps position coordinating citizen science volunteers at the Grand Canyon Trust, I was asked to help plan the gathering that would become Uplift…and I jumped at the chance.

Our diverse leadership team for Uplift 2015 included farm girls who grew up to be scientists and fossil fuel “divestistas” who’d worked with in college, to advocates for wilderness, community organizers and community gardeners. For months, we dreamed, planned, and schemed what the inaugural gathering would look like. From our various offices, homes and colleges, we kept in touch with email and weekly conference calls. “What are we doing?” Someone would invariably moan. “This is too big! Too much. Too ambitious,” another would complain. Someone else would invariably provide encouragement, and, lo and behold, we crafted a mission, recruited young folks and workshop leaders, and made it happen.

In 2015, Uplift began a dialogue. Looking forward to 2016, we’re continuing the conversation and building a community of young conservationists to focus on climate change and the Colorado Plateau. Through this year’s planning process, we’ll structure the weekend (slated for August 2016) around meaningful outcomes and actions. We aim to change the way we talk about conservation and to use this platform to voice concerns of young activists and environmentalists to listening environmental organizations.

We’re looking for the dreamers, the wild ones, the folks who aren’t afraid to make a change.  Have an idea to bring to the table? Join the Uplift leadership team and help direct the conversation. It’s time to address climate head-on.

The Uplift wikiHow: Three Easy Steps

Originally published at

By Ana Miller-ter Kuile, 2015 Uplift Coordinator

I never dreamed I’d plan, as one Uplift attendee (“Uplifter”) stated, the “primary conference of sustainability-focused young minds on the Colorado Plateau.” Here's what I learned.

The Goal: Host a gathering that inspires young activists and strengthens a network of young conservation-minded people on the Colorado Plateau.

1. Find a group of nine young people to plan Uplift with you

They’ll be passionate and driven. They’ll help you take care of all the logistics, outreach, and programming for Uplift.

2. Spend five months planning

Actually, don’t inflict that on yourself – give yourself at least nine months to plan. You’ll hit a lot of roadblocks: where do we hold Uplift, is anyone coming, do we have speakers and workshops that draw a crowd and inspire? Keep charging through; all the pieces fall into place eventually.

3. Host the inaugural for-youth, by-youth Uplift event at the base of the San Francisco Peaks!

Don’t worry too much about technology failures (i.e. projectors failing to connect to computers that die as you tangle yourself in every extension cord at Camp Colton). Enjoy the community of young activists conversing at the dinner table with you. They are changing the world.

Note: If you’re lost, confused, anxious, frustrated, stressed, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, and more at any point(s) in this process, don’t worry. Say, for example, you planned the event before all the venues in Flagstaff opened for the season, and you don’t know how you’ll feed eighty people, and you don’t have a recruitment flyer until three weeks before the event, and you wake up the morning of the event to an inch of snow on the ground? According to an Uplifter, you’re “not alone in the struggle.” Your leadership team (see Step 1) will be right there sharing those emotions with you! 

I studied ecology in college so I could measure trees, catch spiders, crunch data, and spend my days in the woods with a GPS unit, waterproof notebook, and my own company. But I felt something lacking. What’s the use of studying the world’s ecosystems if no one else knows or cares about them? Would I be alone in the woods watching species disappear and food webs fall apart?

Commence my three-year journey to find my niche in science and conservation education. My journey led me to the most amazing place in the world – the Colorado Plateau – where I’ve gotten dirty working with high school and college groups in springs, meadows, forests, and canyons of the plateau in the name of conservation. I’ve worked with coworkers and volunteers who have lived and toiled in this place for decades. And I’ve dreamed the Uplift dream – bringing a group of young activists together to strengthen a young, intersectional conservation movement on the Colorado Plateau.

Uplift has come and gone, but my adventure to find my place between education and ecology isn’t over. That’s the journey of my whole life, but Uplift informed what this path looks like in the future. I need to be a fighter; I need to find communities of passionate folks to join forces with, and I need to team up with people of all ages who care about the planet.

When that Uplifter said she was energized knowing she wasn’t “alone in the struggle”, she wasn’t actually talking about the struggle ten people went through to get eighty-five Colorado Plateau movers and shakers up to Camp Colton on April 17. She was talking about the struggle for the future of our Colorado Plateau region and the world. After Uplift, I know I’m not standing in the woods, or in the desert, or on the rim of a canyon, by myself watching ecosystems disappear; I’m part of a band of young fighters who will always take a stand.

The C Word

Originally published March 27 2015 at

By Collin Smith, 2015 Uplift organizer

There’s no word for “conservation” in Navajo

I just returned from a week-long trip to Black Mesa, a region of the Navajo Nation known for its remoteness, traditional herding lifestyle, and rich cultural spirit. It’s also known for a strip mining operation run by Peabody Coal that has been at the heart of a controversy over forced relocations, water and air pollution, and politics that have complicated traditional life on the mesa. 

A fellow member of the Uplift organizing committee, Adrian Horseherder, grew up on Black Mesa and invited a group of Whitman College students to stay on his family’s property for a week during our spring break to help with projects while learning about politics, history, and conservation issues at Black Mesa.

Understanding the Issues

As part of our education, we attended a meeting of the Little Colorado River Water Committee, a group of Black Mesa leaders working to find ways to replenish the Navajo aquifer. The aquifer is a pristine pool of water that underlies Black Mesa, and, in the past, fed the springs that made life on Black Mesa possible. 

That all changed in the early ‘70s when Peabody began using millions of gallons of water to slurry coal from their mines on the mesa down to the Mohave Generating Station over 200 miles away in southern Nevada. During its operation, the pipeline was labeled the most profligate use of water in the entire West. The end result of pumping all that water was the catastrophic drawdown of the aquifer, leading to dry springs, empty wells, and sinkhole collapses across the region. 

Black Mesa Leaders in Action

Instead of waiting for Peabody or the U.S. or Navajo Nation governments to fix the problem, this committee of Native leaders decided to take matters into their own hands, drafting community plans to increase groundwater recharge on Black Mesa.

As the committee members discussed plans, they slipped between English and Navajo, using whichever language most conveniently expressed their ideas. One English word kept coming up -- conservation. 

Many of the projects they discussed, like building small dams to halt arroyo formation or restoring water catchment structures, were familiar conservation strategies. So I was surprised later when one of the younger Navajo members told me she felt irritated that the members kept using the c-word. 

There’s no word for conservation in Navajo. It’s part of everything we say in the language. 

She elaborated. Conservation is how the Navajo people traditionally described and interacted with the Earth. No single word could capture their understanding since it flowed throughout their culture. 

Listening to her, I aspired to steep conservation so deep in my actions and worldview that naming it in isolation became redundant.

Sharing the experience

At Uplift, we’ll be sparking the conversation between the conservation fights and indigenous rights struggles happening on reservations across the Plateau today. As young people, we have the incredible opportunity and solemn responsibility to build a relationship between these two worlds in order to bring a unified front against the powers of globalization that threaten the Plateau. I can’t wait to meet everyone at Uplift and get started! 

Calling Young Leaders!

Originally published March 19 2015 at

By Claire Martini, Uplift Coordinator

Want to be the next Ed Abbey, Winona LaDuke, or Terry Tempest Williams? Come to Uplift and get the tools to make it happen!

This April 17-19 in Flagstaff, Arizona, meet fellow movers-and-shakers, network with other young leaders, and learn tools to be more effective activists. The jam-packed weekend is tailored for conservation-minded young activists, Native youth, writers, scientists, and others. Together at Uplift, we will forge a network to enable change in communities across the region. See the full schedule  ›

We believe conservation must include young voices and encompass social, racial, and environmental justice. Be one of 100 young leaders gathering this spring to make the conservation conversation bigger. Geologically speaking, Uplift defines the Colorado Plateau; let’s organize and lift up a movement to protect wild places, preserve cultural traditions, and support responsible economies.

Have an idea like Wangaari Maathai, Bill McKibben, or Vandana Shiva? Let’s bring it home to the Colorado Plateau.

Learn from passionate Black Mesa activist Nicole Horseherder, hone your advocacy writing in workshops with desert poet/writer Seth Mueller, and grow into a guerrilla gardener with Flagstaff’s own TerraBIRDS. Check out our schedule of workshops, ranging from ecofeminism and traditional knowledge to climate science for activists!