| by Stephen Diehl

News Stories

As Rachel Herring completes her last semester of the International Environmental Policy program, she’s already thinking about how to increase Indigenous voices in the policymaking process.

A member of the Choctaw Nation, Herring grew up in Ojai, California. She says her graduate studies have highlighted a tension between the push for green energy and environmental justice for Indigenous people. Nickel, for example, is critical for the transition to green energy, but nickel mines have huge environmental impacts and the majority are located on or near Native lands. She’s wary of a new era of ‘green colonialism’ that could emerge if Indigenous voices are not included in policymaking.

Fighting Climate Change While Seeking Climate Justice

“A lot of people in my generation and younger feel that climate change, of course, is the biggest challenge for humanity today and for the future,” says Herring. “It felt like if I wasn’t doing something to mitigate this problem, then what I was doing felt pointless, so that’s why I chose to pursue this degree. Adding the fact that I can work in environmental justice and equity for Indigenous tribes and help my own tribe—it’s just added purpose to this already meaningful work.”

Herring is currently a year-round intern for Sandia National Laboratories through the Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs. With a focus on building energy sovereignty for Tribal Nations, her internship has taken her across the country to visit different tribes and track their various stages of renewable energy adoption.

Balancing Green Energy with Environmental Justice for Native Nations

The Middlebury Institute Opportunity

Herring’s internship also included independent research, funded through a grant from Middlebury’s Davis Collaborative in Conflict Transformation, in which she breaks down the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act for her own tribe—from tax credits for single residents to large-scale energy incentives.

Click here to watch the full video interview with Rachel Herring.

For more snapshots of MIIS students gaining professional experience in the field, visit our Career Insights Blog.