By Cari Kimball
This year, Montana is mourning the loss of yet another vital leader with the passing of Michaelynn Hawk. A member of the Crow Tribe, mother of six, and longtime leader of Indian People’s Action, she passed away from cancer in February. Family, friends, and colleagues remember Michaelynn for her heartfelt, resolute advocacy for a more just and equitable Montana. From addressing the disproportionate harms to Indigenous communities from toxic mining pollution and oil pipelines to policing to inequitable healthcare access, her work touched the lives of so many.
“I knew her as a fierce, unwavering fighter for people,” remarked Mijo Lee of the Social Justice Fund Northwest, an organization that awarded Michaelynn its Jeannette Rankin Award in honor of her activism.
MEIC’s staff will particularly miss the steadfast energy Michaelynn brought to Montana’s environmental advocacy scene. She could often be found working in the background to organize support for good policies and forestall bad ones. Michaelynn’s persistent, under-the-radar coalition building was crucial to success in fighting against fossil fuel interests. That was especially the case when she skillfully coordinated a network of activists in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. Disinclined to seek the spotlight, Michaelynn’s actions stemmed from her love of her community rather than ego.
MEIC’s Anne Hedges reflected on one of her experiences working with Michaelynn at the Capitol to stop a legislative proposal related to the Colstrip power complex in 2015: Michaelynn’s keen sense of justice made her an exceptional advocate. She persuasively noted the bill’s benefits flowing to Colstrip’s wealthy corporate owners while unfairly burdening neighboring Tribes as well as low-income Montanans with unaffordable energy bills. Her research led to the creation of graphics, fact sheets, and arguments that eventually won the day and protected air quality for the Northern Cheyenne and Crow. She was dogged and tireless in her desire to help the less fortunate and oppressed.
Her life’s work for healthier air, water, land, and a life-sustaining climate inspired MEIC to award Michaelynn our Conservationist of the Year award in 2019. We are grateful to have celebrated her contributions during her lifetime and grieve the loss of future opportunities to join with her in advocacy for environmental justice. Our hearts are with her family and community members who are most keenly feeling this loss.
This article was published in the March 2022 issue of Down To Earth.