Gabriella Nakai is a Champion for Change
By Christian Chaney
May 1, 2023
Gabriella Nakai was selected as a 2023 Champion for Change by the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY).
According to the CNAY, one must reflect the cultures, diversity and resiliency of Natives in the United States to be a Champion for Change. In this role, the candidate must advocate for protecting sacred sites, tribal sovereignty, increased civic engagement, Native youth programming support and Indigenous food sovereignty.
Nakai, a Phoenix, Arizona resident, is one of five selected to represent CNAY.
She has accomplished so much at her young age and is passionate about her culture, environmentalism, and tribal sovereignty.
She is a junior in high school, looking for colleges and thinking about career paths while also being a powerful wellness advocate for Native Americans. Nakai spent time at the White House Tribal Youth Forum, where she was selected as a moderator for the USDA.
During her time working with the USDA, she observed Native chefs planting Native crops and learned valuable information to spark her wellness projects.
She took the information she learned from the USDA about food commodities, native crops, and what people could do to help the environment and started a garden in Phoenix.
Nakai discovered some crops were producing well and began considering ways this could benefit her culture. Arizona faces water scarcity issues, so she started planting drought-tolerant plants, like corn and potatoes, and she found a connection to her Choctaw culture.
“As people, we really have to focus on being drought reliant, especially during the time of the Dust Bowl,” said Nakai.
She began saving the seeds when they produced well to shuck them so the plants could grow in other seasons. She even saved seeds to send back to her family members who live on the Choctaw reservation.
Nakai says she plans to continue advocating for Native communities and is looking forward to continuing her work throughout her college career.
“Our Choctaw culture is what keeps us resilient, and saving our future requires us to remember our past,” Nakai said. “Choctaw Nation has made all of these opportunities and resources accessible to us all.”