John LeKay: Can you please tell me about your interest in Native American culture and how this came about?
Summer Rayne Oakes:
Summer Rayne Oakes:When I was about 9 years old, my best friend, Anna and I would take off to the woods behind my house, pretend that we were lost, and "live" off the land. We started tracing back our family history and I found out that I had Cherokee on my mother's side. Anna introduced me to an old book on American Indian medicinal plants and within a few days, I became so engrossed in the cultures.
My early artwork was inspired by the striking portraits of Edward S. Curtis. Over the course of a few years, I probably had purchased 50 or 60 books on American Indian culture. When I went to college, I took some amazing classes with what some may call a "radical" professor. Then in 2004, I worked on a project mapping invasive species throughout the Akwesasne Reservation and river delta.
I haven't worked on specific programs since then, but I’d love to revisit some more indigenous issues as my work matures.
JL: What do you believe is one of the most serious environmental issues we face today in the
Summer Rayne Oakes: I'd be quick to say "global warming," but I really think its human engagement, which is the foundation for change. What is the inflection point when awareness turns into hardcore action? There are a number of psychological and personal challenges that need to be overcome to reach that point. Open your mind. Consider other tactics, viewpoints, lifestyles, and personal struggles; that’s a start in influencing change.
JL: What are your thoughts on alternative energies?
Summer Rayne Oakes: I'm becoming more and more vocal in this area as my work unfolds. I've written letters to my state Senators urging them to stop the $50 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear energy and voiced my concerns on coal. We need individuals, communities and the federal government behind clean renewables. The amount of subsidies and loan guarantees still supporting dirty energy is absolutely mind-boggling!
On the clean energy front, I like to put most of own energies into positive movements. Over the last few months, I've been working with a number of young leaders on PowerShift 2007, which is the first national youth Climate Summit headed by Energy Action and the Campus Climate Challenge. The organizations have really been the backbone of much of the climate change actions, like Step it Up, Focus the Nation, and the President’s Climate Commitment. I feel invigorated when the youth take the lead in getting their campuses and communities to start taking progressive steps in reducing their carbon footprint.