Rising Voices: Representation and Empowerment

Rising Voices  is a program that facilitates “cross-cultural approaches for adaptation solutions to extreme weather and climate events, climate variability and climate change.” It brings together Indigenous community members and physical scientists, social scientists, and engineers to establish conversations and plans to help communities who are adversely affected by weather and climate impacts. However, RISING VOICES is much more than that. It is a place for Indigenous community members to speak of their struggles, their fights, and the need for Western science to acknowledge them and their knowledge. And for me, it is a program where I found the representation and empowerment from people of color who could be my mentors – people who I do not often see in an educational system that is predominantly white.

I was introduced to LiKEN and RISING VOICES through Julie Maldonado in 2017 when I was taking her course in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which focused on the impacts of governmental policies and projects on communities across the globe. This class is where I first learned about Shishmaref, Alaska and how this community is suffering from island erosion, and how our government is not supportive enough – if at all – of relocating or financially supporting this community. Later I became a research assistant for Julie and LiKEN and had the amazing opportunity to attend the 6th annual Rising Voices workshop in 2018, held in Duluth, Minnesota as a notetaker and aid in writing the workshop report. I say amazing because I found in RISING VOICES much needed inspiration, role models, and revelations that I had not quite realized I needed.

The majority of participants were Indigenous. They were people of color completing their Masters degrees, running for public office, working in STEM fields, running their own companies, and so much more. Most of all, they were people who were fighting battles against a system that has primarily aimed to colonize our minds and taught us that the Western way is the only way – that being light skinned is the only way to get ahead. And it was being in the presence of all these people that made me realize this was the first time I had ever been surrounded by so many people of color at once and see just how lacking all of our systems are of these kinds of conferences, discussions, and people to represent us.

RISING VOICES made me realize just how much I needed to see people who looked like me in higher positions so I could know just how much I am worth and how much I can do. We need to continue growing so we can have our voices heard; so communities of color can get the help they need and not be pushed to the back of the agenda because they are not considered important enough to put first; and so that the younger generation can have more role models who look like them and who can help them navigate the system. Especially given the current political context, programs like RISING VOICES are more important than ever.


Itzel Flores Castillo

B.A. Environmental Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara