A trip to the White House, $175,000 U.S. and world recognition are all part of what Marilyn Baptiste has garnered after winning an international environmental award for grassroots activism.
The former Xeni Gwet’in (Nemiah Valley) Chief and present band councillor received the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership in protesting the proposed Prosperity and New Prosperity Mine projects.
Baptiste attended the award ceremony at the Opera House in San Francisco, California Monday eveing and said the prize money isn’t the main focus.
“Since 1989 the prize has been recognizing grassroots persons who are doing the work to protect Mother Earth around the world, one for each continent,” she said during a telephone call to the Tribune from the San Francisco airport while waiting for a flight to Washington, D.C. “It’s about the opportunity to make connections and help people around the world see what’s really happening.”
After Monday’s ceremony there was a reception where the recipients met tons of people, although very briefly, she said.
“My four-year-old granddaughter Madisyn looked up at me, smiled and said it was amazing,” Baptiste said.
In a press release congratulating Baptiste Monday, the Tsilhqot’in National Government praised Baptiste for her efforts.
The New Prosperity and Prosperity projects would have threatened Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) and Yanah Biny (Little Fish Lake) — a source of spiritual identity and livelihood for the Tsilhqot’in Nation, in the caretaker areas of Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in, the TNG press release noted.
“Marilyn worked tirelessly with the community and other Tsilhqot’in chiefs to protect Tsilhqot’in lands from the Prosperity and New Prosperity projects and this prestigious award is a great encouragement to all of us,” said Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William, who was the named plaintiff in the historic Supreme Court of Canada decision last summer on Aboriginal Title, declaring the right of the Tsilhqot’in to full ownership, benefit and control of their land, culture and way of life.
“This is a great honour to have one of our community members and leaders acknowledged for their work,” Chief Joe Alphonse said. “This is the first time that a member from our Nation has received an international award as prestigious as this — we welcome the positive attention it brings to our Nation’s ongoing efforts to protect our sacred sites.”
Baptiste arrived in San Francisco on April 14, and was kept busy every day.
“It’s been wonderful,” she chuckled. “We met youth from San Francisco who are doing great things.”
While in Washington, Baptiste will attend a luncheon at the White House, and meet even more people, but probably not the president.
“That would be cool, but with his schedule, not likely,” she said.
Baptiste has always called the Chilcotin home and grew up in Nemiah Valley.
Her father Marvin was elected chief just before she was born.
Now that she is a recipient of the Goldman prize she can also nominate someone for the award, Baptiste said, noting she’s also motivated to work more closely with other First Nations to protect B.C.’s coast and wild salmon.
“We have a lot of work still going forward. As we speak we are facing another mining exploration company Amarc Resources Ltd. wanting to come into the mountains south of Fish Lake and drill 50 more holes in 2015.”
Baptiste said the prize is a reflection of everyone’s work.
“It’s all about working together. We need to continue to move forward, united in our efforts.”