Art by Asha Canalos
Miya King-Flaherty is a Public Lands Fellow with the Sierra Club, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her work is focused on educating people about the effects of fracking in the Northwestern region of the state. Miya works extensively with different communities in the four-corners region to build grassroots support to resist the harmful impacts of fracking on communities. She is currently helping with the Frack Off Greater Chaco campaign, which is working to stop fracking in Greater Chaco. The Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, along with many other local nonprofits, has a petition to submit comments to the Bureau of Land Management. The comment period is open until February 20th.
NMSP: Can you tell us about your life before you came to New Mexico?
MKF: I was raised in Los Angeles. I lived in the San Gabriel Valley with my sister and mother, and was raised by single parent. Early on, that kind of experience showed me how important it is to be independent and self-reliant to get things done.
When I was young, we moved back to Tennessee with my grandmother for about 4 years (my mom’s family is from Memphis, TN – from the South, where it’s very different from California). That was a pivotal and life-changing moment for me – I was going to a place that was regressing back into clear racial divides. So, that was a lesson for me to be very cognizant and aware of people’s intentions, things you don’t necessarily see. This experience led me toward being more of an introvert, and I learned to be very observant of my surroundings.
In 1998, we moved to New Mexico. I went to high school here; it was one of those moments where you don’t know anyone and don’t have any friends. You basically have to start at the beginning – all over again. I went to Manzano High School, an ABQ public school. I graduated and then went to UNM, and then studied biological anthropology. I always knew what I wanted to do. It was another avenue to get into primatology, primate conservation. I always wanted to be a primatologist, to conserve the Bonobos, because they are a great example of how (even though they are primates) of how larger community groups work well together. They’re matriarchal and endangered, and I wanted to be a champion for that flagship species. So biological anthropology was a way to do this. I also like cultural anthropology, because it’s important to know the people you’ll be working with in conservation. That interested me. So I got my BS in (biological anthro), and then I moved on to primate conservation – which was the reason I went to Oxford Brookes in England. I had spent one year as an undergrad in England – as an exchange student with a great core group. That’s where I met my future husband – he was an anthropologist, as well. To maintain our relationship, I decided to attend grad school in England.
NMSP: What brought you back to NM after you completed your master’s degree?
MKF: I’d been away for 7 years – I’d already spent much of my early adult life away from my family – so it was just time for me to come back to my mom and sister. I was hoping that after two college degrees, I could get a job in New Mexico, but I came back in 2011 – when NM hadn’t quite rebounded from the recession. It was a scary time, and I ended up doing some waitressing for about a year before I got back into the areas I was passionate about. I started working in fundraising after I left that job – working for nonprofits – I wanted to work with organizations trying to help on different issues. And then last year, working for NDI – New Mexico’s National Dance Institute, I focused on bringing dance and exercise to public school children in New Mexico. I think they have a really great mission, but it wasn’t something I was passionate about – probably because of the number of pressing environmental issues that needed to be addressed and worked on now (I always wanted to be a part of that movement). So I quit my job and after 3 months started working as a Public Lands Fellow for The Sierra Club. It’s a 2-year position; hopefully we can find some funding so that I can stay on. It’s a very interesting position – working within a broader coalition and educating the public about what’s going on with fracking in the Greater Chaco area. A lot of people don’t know about this in Albuquerque – I certainly didn’t know about it until I read the job description. So that’s what I focus on here at The Sierra Club, bringing awareness about what’s happening near Chaco through various means and activities.
NMSP: You’ve been with The Sierra Club for 1 year – how have things changed over that year? Has anything shifted for you over this time?
MKF: They have – I’d say that coming into this, I hadn’t realized how much work has already been done by the coalition, but certain things weren’t progressing – like the health impact reports. Rebecca Sobel (Wild Earth Guardians) – who has been invaluable to me – already knew what needed to be done as far as mobilizing people. But what needed to be done within the Navajo communities, developing relationships with impacted communities, is necessary to move anything forward. I didn’t realize how much collaboration with different cultures was needed – I learned how to be more humble, to listen, and not behave as an outsider know-it-all, instructing others on what we were going to do, etc.… I think, if anything, I come into this with the understanding that people from impacted communities will let me know what needs to be addressed , and then I can serve as a conduit to the broader public in ABQ.