Fighting the climate battle
A local woman's dedication to family traditions, community service and social justice has led to what she describes as her dream job. Madras resident Katherine Quaid, 28, who also goes by KJ, has been working for a prominent international environmental organization for the past year.
Quaid is the communications and outreach coordinator for the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network, International. Known as WECAN, the nonprofit with headquarters in Mill Valley, California, has an impressive roster of international advisors that includes Jane Goodall, writer Naomi Klein, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jody Williams.
Like so many others, Quaid has been working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, but for her, it's business as usual.
"Zoom was not new to me," she said, laughing. "It's how I see everyone."
That's because her co-workers live all over the world, with some based in the United States and others in South America, Africa, and Europe.
WECAN is an environmental organization with a feminist twist. The organization's website explains why it focuses on women in particular:
"Indigenous women, women from low-income communities, and women from the Global South bear an even heavier burden from the impacts of climate change because of the historic and continuing impacts of colonialism, racism and inequality; and in many cases, because they are more reliant upon natural resources for their survival and/or live in areas that have poor infrastructure. Drought, flooding, and unpredictable and extreme weather patterns present life or death challenges for many women, who are most often the ones responsible for providing food, water and energy for their families. In many frontline communities, gendered and sexual violence against women is added on top of other dire impacts perpetuated by the extractive industries that bear down on their homelands."
Quaid and WECAN are a perfect match for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that Quaid herself is part of an indigenous culture with strong ties to the land.
Quaid grew up in Jefferson County, attending Warm Springs Elementary, Jefferson County Middle School and Madras High School. Her parents are Jim Quaid and Julie Quaid, who is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Quaid's maternal grandparents are Fred "Buddy" Kalama, Jean Halfmoon, who is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla, and Sam Danzuka; her paternal grandparents are Ben and Lillian Quaid of Illinois.
"My mom's side is all from Warm Springs as well as Umatilla. I'm an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla, but I grew up here in Warm Springs and Madras and have most of my extended family here as well, and I'm part of the Nez Perce and Paiute Tribes," Quaid said.
All her life, Quaid has participated in ancestral traditions, including the gathering of "first foods," and now feels those traditions are threatened, as they are in other parts of the world.
"You know, (we go) huckleberry picking every summer, going down to the river to fish or to watch my uncles and cousins fish, so I'm very accustomed to that," she said, "and I kind of had this realization maybe like five or six years ago about how much those seasons have been changing because of climate change.
"I feel so grateful for that connection to the first foods and that connection to my ancestors ... just imagining if my cousins didn't have that or my friends or children don't have those, and how they could feel isolated from the land and isolated from the culture ... It's really important to me to consider what needs to happen to keep these foods around and keep the mountains healthy and keep the rivers clean and to keep our foods fresh and coming back each year," she said.
Before she became passionate about protecting the environment, Quaid was focused on social justice issues, even in high school.
"I was definitely kind of crotchety," she said. "I don't know if crotchety is the right word, but I was definitely focused on women's rights and advocating for myself and speaking up for myself, and whether I was defining that as feminism or not when I was in high school -- I don't think I was -- but I was really focused on the rights of women and social issues, but I don't think I had the vocabulary for it at the time."
After high school, Quaid majored in sociology and anthropology at Lewis and Clark College in Portland. There, she acquired the vocabulary and the academic underpinning to understand and discuss issues such as social injustice, poverty, LGBTQ rights and women's rights.
Right out of college, Quaid got a job with the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of the American Indian in the fundraising department. Fundraising wasn't her cup of tea, but working in nonprofits felt natural.
"My mom has been working in nonprofits in social services, and similar with my dad, and so I always knew that was a path for me because it was modeled for me so well," she said.
"Most of the women in my family are fierce and have been serving the community in Warm Springs for a long time in a lot of different ways, so I never really imagined working in a business. I always thought I would be in a nonprofit, grinding and working hard, being a connector in some cases, being in that kind of community with people. I think I always knew that I would be in this position. I don't think I knew how it would look or what the issue area might be," Quaid said.
Through her work in a couple of different nonprofits, Quaid came to see that for indigenous people, social justice issues and environmental issues are one and the same because their livelihoods and cultures are inseparable from their land.
What makes her position a dream job for Quaid is that she can use her writing and communication skills to help the community she loves and advance the causes she cares so much about.
Climate change is a global problem with local impacts, so she feels that her work, though not focused on Central Oregon specifically, can make a difference here.
"I think being in service to my community in a specific sense and a larger sense is important in making my family proud, and having a job that I feel passionate about is really important to me. To combine my skills with my passion is just what I wanted to do. I'm grateful that I get to do that, and I've worked hard to be able to."
Quaid's day-to-day work includes writing press releases, producing newsletters, preparing content for WECAN's website, drafting letters to lawmakers, shooting video and taking photographs, and meeting electronically with her team, sometimes at odd hours because of time differences.
WECAN has several different program areas.
One is called Women for Forests, which Quaid said focuses on "how to support frontline women who are essentially protecting incredibly biodiverse ecosystems all throughout the world.
"We specifically work in three primary regions—in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador and Brazil, the Itombwe rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Tongass rainforest, which is in Alaska and is the largest remaining temperate rainforest in the world and the largest national forest in the country."
Because of her deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, Quaid is especially drawn to protecting the Tongass.
"I feel like I have a lot of connection to that because our forests used to be connected. The forest here all along Mount Hood, all along the Cascades, used to be connected to the forest up in southeast Alaska, so they have a lot of similar plants and ecosystems that we have or used to have here," she said.
The Trump administration is considering opening the Tongass to clear-cutting — a move which is opposed by the Tlingit and Haida Native American tribes whose people have lived in that area for thousands of years.
WECAN has led two delegations of indigenous women from the Tongass region to Washington, D.C., to advocate for themselves and their families.
In November 2019, Quaid participated in one of the delegations. The women were there "to discuss what's happening in their area and to call on lawmakers to support indigenous voices and to support the protection of these really important forests and biomes and all the wildlife that lives there, and call on senators and House representatives at the national level to take action," Quaid said.
As the communications coordinator, one of Quaid's responsibilities was to document the delegation's experience on video.
"With communications, it's about amplifying their voices through social media, through video creation, ensuring that their stories are being told how they want them to be told," Quaid said.
Multimedia storytelling is important to WECAN, and not just for its Women for Forests program. The organization produces written articles, photographs and videos to inform the public about how the climate crisis and damage to the environment are affecting women and their families in every part of the world and what women are doing in response.
WECAN has other programs that encourage divestment in the fossil fuel industries, train activists on their own turf so that they can be more effective advocates for themselves, and send delegates to international conferences.
One of the highlights of Quaid's job so far has been attending the United Nations' 25th annual climate change conference, known as the Conference of Parties or COP, in Madrid last December.
"Parties" refers to the parties who participated in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and who have met annually since 1995.
The COP is where the nations of the world hammer out climate change agreements such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocols and the 2015 Paris Agreement.
"Activists and nonprofits are there advocating alongside government leaders who are in meetings every day developing international policy around climate change," Quaid said.
For people like Quaid, "It's like going to Disneyland or like the finals of the climate movement, maybe."
At COP 25, WECAN hosted a few panels, and Quaid got to speak at a press conference about a feminist green new deal. "Trying to figure out what a green new deal would look like with gender justice included," she explained.
Quaid documented the event through video and photographed the different actions and discussions that took place.
"I got to run around the streets of Madrid to take photos of a march with half a million people. You know, running through the crowds and finding high places. I climbed up a pole to get one of those photos of the whole crowd," she said.
The opportunity to travel and meet people from other cultures is one of the things Quaid loves about her job. In addition to Spain, she has traveled to Alaska and New York for work. She had planned to go to Brazil and Europe, but those trips have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, Quaid, who works from home, claims to be a homebody. "I like to be home; I like to be cozy. But then I get the travel bug," she said. "That flexibility in terms of being home and being able to travel and meet people from around the world is kind of what I've always wanted, so I think right now I have my dream job, which is really wonderful."
Quaid concedes that it is sometimes hard to be working on environmental issues at a time when her own government is going in the opposite direction by doing away with environmental protections that have been in place for decades.
"There's a part of me that's not chipper," she said. "It weighs on me, and it's really heavy and it's really big. Imagining all the people that are dying because of this, because they live next to points of extraction, because their air is polluted, their water is polluted.
"I get to live here in this really beautiful place that's my home, that's my ancestors' home and to imagine it not being here in the same way is really hard. It is incredibly discouraging having an administration that, in my opinion, does not care at all about people and about the earth is really hard."
When she feels discouraged, Quaid reminds herself that progress on social issues has always been slow and difficult, and she also thinks about the hardships her family has already survived.
"There's a history of resilience that I pull from and that I look to, whether it's in my own family combatting different issues around poverty or the things that take place in indigenous communities like the boarding schools, and the resiliency of my grandmother or my parents rising out of that. Calling on that lineage and that larger history is really helpful," she said.
"Some days are hard, but some days I'm like 'OK, guys, let's do this — power up!'"
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