Wild Woman: Navajo Native Shaandiin Cedar
Shaandiin Cedar (pronounced “ShawnDean”) (@shaaandiiin) grew up in northern Arizona on the Navajo reservation. A Navajo tribal member, the 28-year-old uses her status to elevate native and indigenous issues, justice, and sustainability and is also an ambassador for Natives Outdoors, a clothing brand that empowers native and indigenous communities through their products and storytelling. While for many, being passionate about the outdoors is a hobby, for Shaandiin, it was ingrained in her at a young age as a part of her identity. Today, though she is currently “funemployed,” Shaandiin works to advocate for a clean energy future.
What was your relationship like to the outdoors growing up? How did being Navajo play into that relationship, if it did?
Shaandiin: As a Diné (Navajo) child growing up, being outside was something ingrained into everything I did. With my grandmother and extended family, we cooked outside, herded the sheep, fed the animals, rounded up horses, explored the high desert and learned about the indigenous plants to make sunscreen and shampoo solutions. Being outside was not solely a means of recreation, but part of one's identity. Only through being on could one learn the language and understand the context for cultural teachings. It's during this time that the concept of stewardship was instilled in me — that we all have an obligation to foster a reciprocal relationship with and protect the land we live on.
What is your relationship like to the outdoors now?
Shaandiin: Today, I've strived to build on the traditional teachings of my elders, blending science and data to help protect our natural spaces and address the collective challenges in front of us including climate change, pollution, and the fossil fuel resource development on public lands. I've also learned to use the outdoors as a critical mental health tool, making sure I prioritize time outside for gratitude and reflection.
What are some of your hobbies (both outdoors or otherwise?):
Shaandiin: Some things that excite me are climbing, hiking, writing, sci-fi, and having meaningful conversations about a clean energy future, one that addresses environmental racism and builds on principles of justice and equity work.
I read in your Save the Redwoods article that you left home about a year ago to move to a tiny house in New Zealand. What inspired that move? How long do you plan to stay? Why New Zealand?
Shaandiin: From Jan 1st, 2020 - Dec 15th, 2020, my partner and I traveled New Zealand in a small van. We decided to quit our jobs in the Bay Area, sell all of our possessions, and experience something totally new and different. It was scary as hell at first but ended up being the best thing I've ever done. For outdoor enthusiasts, New Zealand is a Mecca. We backpacked, camped, climbed, swam, mountain biked, boated, and lived in 55 square feet for months on end. The Maori people, the original people of New Zealand, were incredible to get to know. They share several similarities in valuing land that my people hold so it felt like I had family members there 7,000+ miles from home.
Tell me about getting involved with NativeOutdoors?
Shaandiin: As a Native person, I wanted to connect with other folxs like me in traditionally non-Native sports like climbing and skiing and in spaces like outdoor industry events. There are a ton of missed opportunities at the intersection of tribal work, indigenous people and outdoor recreation and I wanted to help make those connections while at the same time inspiring other Native people to enter white-dominated spaces. NativesOutdoors accelerates this work while also celebrating the opportunities of embracing traditional teachings.
What do you do for a living?
Shaandiin: Currently, fun-employed! Looking for the next challenge now :)
What are some of the biggest issues facing indigenous communities right now? What do you wish more people knew in this regard?
Shaandiin: Right now, there are several urgent threats that directly impact Native communities as well as the land we all enjoy. I'd encourage everyone to familiarize themselves with the fight to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and Oak Flat in Arizona from oil and gas development. Additionally, the erasure of Native people and culture in everyday life is extremely damaging. We are still here and ask allies to educate themselves on why it's important to give land acknowledgments, remove offensive terms from use, and understand the history of the land you live, work, and play on — for it is all stolen land with a story that needs to be heard. Taking these actions allows us as an outdoor community to heal and be better prepared to move forward collectively.
What does climate and environmental justice look like to you? What does elevating these and native/indigenous issues look like?
Shaandiin: Justice work in climate and environmental issues is essential. We must address the climate and biodiversity crises, but in a way that acknowledges and forms strategies around the fact that climate change disproportionately impacts low-income communities and people of color. This works means building a future that empowers disenfranchised communities and those that feel the first, and worst, impacts of climate change. This means working with companies that have the ability to commit resources and investment to shift to a clean economy. It means being vocal, politically active, and holding your leaders accountable. It means amplifying the messages and words of Indigenous leaders on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Addressing climate in a just and equitable manner requires many different multi-pronged approaches.
What’s your favorite trail/crag snack?
Shaandiin: Sardines, lime-corn chips, craisins and an orange. Oh and lots of chocolate!