This 21-year-old Native American activist got the nation to care about Standing Rock — and she's just getting started

(Photo courtesy of Jasilyn Charger; Artwork by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)

At the height of the controversy surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline, protests drew crowds of 10,000. But before reporters, celebrities, and police descended on Standing Rock in North Dakota, it was 21-year-old Jasilyn Charger who said enough was enough. Determined to protect her people’s water, she formed the International Indigenous Youth Council and helped to coordinate a 2,000-mile run from North Dakota to Washington. In doing so, she galvanized an entire nation, and proved that Generation Z is a force to be reckoned with.

Name: Jasilyn Mary Charger

Age: 21

Favorite app: Signal

What she does: I helped found the International Indigenous Youth Council, an organization that works to empower youth to become leaders of their indigenous communities.

Three words she’d use to define Gen Z: Strong. Resilient. Passionate.

What she wishes older people understood about Gen Z: I wish they understood the voice of the future—which means to really listen to what we, the youth, have to say and honor our vision. The future is saying different things to us, there are many voices to be heard and our voices are strong for a reason. Our futures are not a commodity and neither are those of the ones who will follow us. We want to be more involved in the conversations about our future, in making change that will allow us a future.

How she wants Gen Z to be seen: We want to be seen as people rather than young ignorant beings who don’t understand. My own perception is that the youth are really calling out the truth that our futures are dire—from fossil fuel destruction to immigration reform to gun control, these are just some of the issues we will continue to have to deal with. The young people are asking for the older generation to take the time and consideration to listen to us. What is happening to our lives and our futures has been out of our control. We want to take control of our own lives and participate in the decision making about our own future.


Her greatest accomplishment (so far): Running across the country for water in 2016.

Why she did it: It felt like taking power back over my own life… saying ‘Hey, this is my life, this is what I want to do with it, this is my future.’ I want to be a part of something beyond going to school, getting a job and simply contributing to the economy. But to actually be seen as a human being, alive here and living. My ancestors were here thousands of years before the colonization of this land, and I am still here, standing in protection. It made me feel very empowered. 

On whether the experience was frightening: Yes I was afraid, there were a lot of unknowns—things I hadn’t expected. I had never traveled, let alone ran, that far from home. A lot of fears arose. Not just for myself but for those running with me. I didn’t feel that the Army Corps of Engineers, the people we were appealing to, would be able to grasp what our message was. But we used our courage, and understanding of ourselves to understand and communicate with the people we were around.

On her next mission: Keep an eye out for indigenous grassroots movements, in North and South Dakota, speaking up about the impending KXL pipeline, uranium mining and other extractive industries threatening our communities. Youth are organizing to take Action and call for climate responsibility in July. Join us on Saturday, July 21 in Washington DC (and in other cities) for The Youth Climate March. Grassroots youth movements will continue to arise and stand up for our futures.

What she’ll be doing 10 years from now: Ten years from now, I will still be doing what I am doing now: working to make a better future for our children.