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It is with much excitement that we share the news: Lyla June Johnston, internationally recognized musician, public speaker, water protector and scholar of Diné and Cheyenne lineages — featured in our Women of Standing Rock series — is running for office. We share her announcement and the live feed of her announcement speech here, with more to come soon.
Santa Fe, NM – Today at the Roundhouse Rotunda in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Lyla June Johnston addressed community members, the press, and state officials to announce her candidacy for New Mexico House of Representatives District 47.
Johnston introduced herself to the crowd by stating,
“I am running for the New Mexico State House of Representatives District 47 seat. The results of this election will have global implications. The Permian Oil Basin in Southeast New Mexico is now the largest oil reserve in the entire world. If it goes in the air, it will spend 10% of the global carbon budget before we hit irreversible, runaway climate change. Potential emissions from the basin equate the lifespans of more than 400 coal fired power plants. Moreover, for every barrel of oil produced in this area, about 5 barrels of water are used and contaminated through the fracking process. Even with all of this, current leadership is doing absolutely nothing to prevent fossil fuel expansion in the Permian Basin and is in fact facilitating oil and gas interests.”
Johnston was born in Santa Fe and is the daughter of both Indigenous and European lineages. Her upbringing in the small community of Llano Quemado, NM inspired her to study ecological sciences. Johnston holds an Environmental Anthropology degree with honors from Stanford University, a Masters degree from UNM College of Education, and is currently pursuing a PhD with a focus on sustainable food systems.
Johnston has a strong background in community organizing. In 2016, Johnston played an active role during the Standing Rock movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline and organized multiple interfaith prayer actions in order to unite communities across the world. She is also the founder of Regeneration Festival, an annual youth suicide prevention festival that has spread to 17 countries. Now, Johnston seeks to hold office in order to protect one of New Mexico’s most precious resources—water—while fostering a healthy and regenerative economy that is not dependent on the oil and gas industry.
“Current leadership of District 47 takes tens of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry,” said Johnston. “Our current leadership intentionally killed HB 398 earlier in 2019, actively protecting oil companies who extract more than 20,000 barrels a month. The current Representative of District 47, Brian Egolf, championed the “Produced Water Act” that allows fracking companies to sell fracking wastewater back to New Mexicans, specifically for use in our farmlands. The Democrats who currently hold power in our centralized government—wonderful people who vote well on many issues—are at the end of the day more committed to oil and gas revenue than they are to our community’s future.”
Johnston was asked by constituents of District 47 to run for office, and she is committed to honoring that request to the highest degree. In her closing remarks Johnston stated, “I have trained my whole life for this moment: a chance to serve the Creator and galvanize New Mexico’s collective innovation so we can face the climate crisis with bravery and grace.”
Johnston has compared the country’s addiction to fossil fuels with her own struggle to overcome substance abuse. On Dec. 15, she celebrated seven years of sobriety with the following post on Facebook:
Today I celebrate 7 years of complete sobriety. My liberation from deep addiction is connected to this political campaign, believe it or not, as it proves to me that we can liberate ourselves from our addiction to oil. I am working with a robust advisory group of experts, both scientist and indigenous peoples, to generate a plan to help us do this I am excited to unveil it in the new year. Donate here if you’d like to help us, as we are not allowed to solicit donations from January 1-February 20 (around the time of the legislative session): www.bit.ly/electlyla
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I am free now. My basketball coach and adults around me got me stoned and drunk starting at age eleven. Now I look at 11 year old girls and I see how brutally unfair it was to enable and encourage me to do that at such a young age. It set me up for a lifetime of addiction. Somehow through all of that, I managed to get into Stanford University. When I got there, like most college campuses, it was full of drugs and alcohol as well.
At age 20, I broke my pelvis and my spine in an earthquake while studying abroad in Chile, South America. That experience really shook me awake and I had to ask myself, “Is this how you want to lead your life?”
Breaking my hip and spine was the best thing that ever happened to me. It showed me the preciousness and brevity of this life. I decided I wanted to live differently and I prayed for help.
Some wonderful people came my way who helped me see that my addiction was rooted in abuse, times when people took advantage of me. They helped me see my addiction was a symptom of deeper pain, ways of escaping a deeper problem. They helped me heal the root of those issues and told me I would be the best community member I could be if I was sober.
I quit almost everything cold turkey around this time, November 2010. The one thing I could not quit right away was alcohol. I reduced that intake dramatically, but couldn’t do it completely. It is so socially acceptable and is available everywhere you turn, even tho it is just as harmful as all the other mind altering things, just as easy to use for escape.
It was not until December 15, 2012 that I had my very last drop of alcohol. I am so grateful to say that I have been completely liberated. In many ways, our society is deeply addicted to oil. Our food, our transportation, our furniture, our clothing, is all brought to us by oil. All localized systems of production have been nearly completely dismantled as we get more and more daily items from China and other places across the globe. The world our grandparents remember is slowly fading.
But we have lived many epochs without oil, and we can do it again. The dealers say we need it. Even our most capable leaders in the government are drunk on the money they inject into our political system. It is time for us to stand up and ask ourselves, “is this how we want to live?” Toxifying our air, our children, our water, just for a quick fix.
Gasoline is incredibly energy dense. A teacup can propel a 3 ton vehicle down the road 80 miles an hour with the press of a pedal. We are high on the rush.
But there is another way to live, which involves re-localizing goods and services. Please bear in mind we will have to do this either way. We can quit oil on our own now in a graceful way that our children will be proud of, or we can keep going and be forced to quit when we are not ready. Now is the time to start working together to be free from this addiction. We do NOT need oil. Our foremothers thrived without it, and so can we. I remember this will happen either way, as it is a finite resource.
I am working with an advisory council of experts to devise a plan of action that people can carry out: small models that inspire the world to live differently. I pray and hope we do not need a tragic accident to change, as I didn’t he day of that earthquake. I pray we can have the sophistication and foresight to begin planning now, lest we tip ourselves over runaway climate change and get hit with peak oil when we are not ready.
We are strong enough, smart enough and beautiful enough to do this, New Mexico. I am excited to unveil these plans next year and work with all of you to lead the world in our liberation from oil addiction.
Lyla June Johnston is a musician, public speaker and internationally recognized performance poet of Diné (Navajo) and Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) lineages. Her personal mission is to grow closer to Creator by learning how to love deeper and to support and empower indigenous youth.She is also an Esperanza Project collaborator; read other stories by/about her here.