Photo from the Flathead Indian Reservation showing rolling green hills with pine trees and a blue sky.
"These views always remind me how important it is to be proactive in the fight against climate change so that we can continue to enjoy our ancestral lands and all that they offer for generations to come." - Amerra Webster-Yaqui (Photo courtesy of Webster-Yaqui.)

Editor’s Note: This interview first appeared in Path Finders, an email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Each week, Path Finders features a Q&A with a rural thinker, creator, or doer. Like what you see here? You can join the mailing list at the bottom of this article and receive more conversations like this in your inbox each week.

This week we’re spotlighting Amerra Webster-Yaqui, enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and Lead for America Hometown Fellow. Amerra serves her tribal government as a Climate Change Policy Fellow, seeking to quantify and mitigate major sources of greenhouse gases on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

Enjoy our conversation about imposter syndrome and the job search “back home,” below.

Olivia Weeks, The Daily Yonder: You graduated from Dartmouth College in 2019—at what point in your college career did you know you wanted to try to go back home after graduation?

Amerra Webster-Yaqui: I actually knew that I wanted to come home and serve my community as a high schooler. I went to college with the aim to garner the knowledge and skill sets needed to serve my tribal community and that focus really helped me through the long and winding path that is being a first-generation college student.

DY: How did you find Lead for America? How difficult would it have been to do the work you’re interested in on your reservation without your fellowship?

AWY: I found out about Lead For America in the fall of my senior year of college, which was perfect timing! At that time I was searching for potential jobs back home and I seemed to fit the job description of very few of those or they felt like they wouldn’t be good fits for me or my skills. I was hoping to do policy work in some capacity and Lead For America posed the perfect opportunity to co-create a fellowship plan that I likely would not have been able to pursue otherwise.

DY: You’re currently performing a Greenhouse Gas Inventory for your tribe. Can you describe the difference between “adaptation” work, which the tribe was doing before, and the kind of “mitigation” work that you’re doing? What do those terms mean in practice?

AWY: For the past several decades my tribe has been at the forefront of several environmental projects that are assisting our landscape and the beings that inhabit it to prepare and adapt for the effects of climate change. Tribal programs have implemented trailblazing projects such as habitat restoration, wilderness area designations, and white bark pine restoration to name a few of the expansive and diverse tribal adaptation projects. Climate mitigation work centers around addressing the causes of climate change with the aim to slow climate change. Climate mitigation projects can relate to renewable energy development, energy efficiency projects, waste reduction, and the like that all address the greenhouse gasses emitted by particular sources. Currently, CSKT has begun a government operations greenhouse gas inventory to account for and understand our contributions to climate change.

Amerra Webster-Yaqui stands against a grassy field wearing a white dress printed with horses.
Climate Change Policy Fellow, Amerra Webster-Yaqui. (Photo courtesy of Webster-Yaqui.)

DY: What does your day-to-day look like? What do you hope to accomplish by the end of your fellowship?

AWY: Because the greenhouse gas inventory is my primary focus currently, my day-to-day involves a lot of data collection and input spreadsheets and eventually the software we use for the final calculation. By the end of my fellowship I hope to complete the greenhouse gas inventory as well as an internal inventory management plan that outlines key carbon reduction strategies to reduce our contribution to climate change.

DY: You’re taking on this really huge project that hasn’t been attempted before in an environment where your colleagues sometimes have decades of experience. As someone still relatively fresh out of college, how do you remain confident and avoid getting overwhelmed? Has that been an adjustment process over the past couple years?

AWY: Working as a young person amongst seasoned and well experienced individuals can feel intimidating. Initially I experienced increased imposter syndrome and from time to time I still do, but an accomplished tribal employee I admire deeply told me that regardless of how high up you get, imposter syndrome can feel very potent but the important thing is to keep that in perspective and continue to do your best. So far that advice has served me greatly and has also helped me flourish in my work.

DY: Lastly, what are you reading lately? Any recommendations?

AWY: Honestly, the majority of reading I do currently is over energy usage data and GRE prep questions but a book I always suggest to others is, “As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock” by Dina Gilio-Whitaker.

This interview first appeared in Path Finders, a weekly email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Each Monday, Path Finders features a Q&A with a rural thinker, creator, or doer. Join the mailing list today, to have these illuminating conversations delivered straight to your inbox.

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