Seeds of Renewal

Agents & Architects March 25, 2021

Seeds of Renewal: Faith-based and Indigenous Leadership on Climate Justice 

March 25, 2021 | 7 p.m. | Register

Nikki Cooley will share and discuss the spiritual and intimate relationship Indigenous people have and are still trying to maintain with human and non-human relatives on Mother Earth and Father Sky. In her work, she has visited with many Indigenous communities across the country learning about the unique and disproportionate climate impacts affecting their livelihoods. This includes the impact on cultural, spiritual, and subsistence ways of life. The leadership displayed by Indigenous communities and their spiritual faith have and are still contributing to their resilience. They persevere in the face of climate change and its devastating impacts. Ms. Cooley will talk about her own upbringing on the Diné reservation and how the leadership of her family’s matriarchs and Elders have motivated her to continue her faith.

Dekila Chungyalpa will discuss her work doing faith-based organizing for the environment. Over 85% of the world subscribes to a faith. Collectively, faiths are the 3rd largest category of financial investors. Over half of the schools worldwide are run by faith institutions. And yet, for the most part, they are not recognized as a stakeholder group by most environmental and climate efforts, let alone as a crucially important one. For the last 12 years, Dekila Chungyalpa has been working with a diverse group of faith leaders around the world, helping train and design faith-based environmental and climate responses and advising strategies that encompass everything from Buddhist monasteries building solar-powered kitchens in the Himalayas to the Catholic Church messaging on the importance of saving the Amazon. She will speak on the power and promise of faith-led environmental and climate action and the art of finding common ground not only between different faith traditions but also between religion and science in order to build the resilience of people, communities, and of the planet.


Agents and Architects Speaker Series

This event is part of  Wake Divinity’s Spring 2021 speakers series. Discover more events.

About the Speakers

Nikki CooleyNikki Cooley serves as the co-manager for the Tribes and Climate Change Program at the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP). She is of the Diné (Navajo) Nation by way of Shonto and Blue Gap, AZ, and is of the Towering House Clan, born for the Reed People Clan, maternal grandfathers are of the Water that Flows Together Clan, and paternal grandfathers are of the Manygoats Clan. Nikki received her Bachelor’s and Master’s of Forestry (emphasis in ecological restoration and traditional ecological knowledge) from Northern Arizona University (NAU). For her undergraduate and Master’s studies, she has worked extensively with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina and now works at ITEP with tribes across the nation, including Alaska, on climate adaptation and mitigation planning. In addition, as a river guide and cultural educator working on the Colorado River-Grand Canyon and San Juan River, Nikki is the co-founder of the Native American River Guide Training Program and Fifth World Discoveries, was the first Native American President and Vice-President of the Grand Canyon River Guides Association (GCRG). She is very passionate about advocating for and educating about the protection and preservation of the environment and its resources. Nikki fluently speaks her Diné language and studies her culture, and is committed to encouraging people to continue the path of holistic respect and knowledge towards the care of our relatives on Mother Earth and Father Sky.

Dekila Chungyalpa

Dekila Chungyalpa is the Founder and Director of the Loka Initiative, a capacity building and outreach platform at the University of Wisconsin – Madison for faith leaders who work on environmental and climate issues. Dekila began her career working extensively on community-based conservation in the Himalayas and led the development of regional climate change adaptation and sustainable solutions for hydropower in the Mekong region for the World Wildlife Fund. In 2008, she helped His Holiness the Karmapa establish Khoryug, an association of over 50 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries implementing environmental projects across the Himalayas. In 2009, Dekila founded and led WWF Sacred Earth, a 5-year pilot program that built partnerships with faith leaders and religious institutions towards concrete conservation results in the Amazon, East Africa, Himalayas, Mekong, and the United States. She received the prestigious Yale McCluskey Award in 2014 for conservation innovation and moved to the Yale School of Environmental Studies as an associate research scientist, where she worked with partners and designed the prototype for the Loka Initiative. Dekila is originally from the Himalayan state of Sikkim in India and the daughter of the late Ani Dechen Zangmo, a Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher.