The Christensen Fund Announces Second Cohort of Indigenous Leaders Program

In 2022, The Christensen Fund launched its Indigenous Leaders Program, a cohort of leaders from Indigenous communities across the globe. This 2-year program supported four amazing leaders from Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and the United States. The Christensen Fund provided financial support for these leaders to connect with each other, our staff, and our board, to attend various meetings and retreats throughout their participation in the program from 2022 through 2023. We deeply appreciate each of their contributions to supporting Indigenous Peoples everywhere.

We are now honored to introduce and welcome our 2024-2025 Indigenous Leaders Program Participants. The program celebrates four Indigenous leaders from Mexico, Cameroun, Indonesia, and the United States who are advancing the inherent rights, dignity, and self-determination of their communities, Nations, and Peoples while working to achieve the promise of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The Leaders Program was developed collaboratively with these Indigenous leaders in order to respect their prior commitments and demands on their time. In the spirit of self determination, these leaders will focus on issues or projects that they determine themselves. The program also holds space for these leaders to collaborate, learn from each other, and share reflections on the issues most important to them while enjoying the full support of each of their knowledge and experiences.

Yásnaya Aguilar (Mexico)

Yasnaya is an Ayuuk Indigenous writer, linguist, translator, researcher, and activist. Her work focuses on the promotion and study of the linguistic diversity and the endangered Indigenous languages in México. She is part of the COLMIX Collective, devoted to the research and promotion of the Indigenous Mixe Culture and collaborates with the Research Library Juan Córdoba, a specialized library on Indigenous cultures. In addition, she is actively involved in her community's system of self-government and the defense of her communities' natural resources and water, as well as defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the defense of the Ayuuk Indigenous territory. In 2020, she received the “National Prize for Equality and Non-discrimination”. She has given lectures, conferences, and workshops in different institutions in the country and abroad. As editor, she was one of the coordinators of the Tzam Project, a virtual space where Indigenous women from different nations write about various rights related issues. She is the author of several books, including Un nosotrxs sin estado, Ää.Manifiestos por la diversidad lingüística, La Sangre, la lengua y el apellido, and the anthology Tëkëëk Piky. Her writings have been translated into French, English and Portuguese.

Basiru Isa (Cameroun)

Mr. Basiru is an energetic leader from Cameroun. He is currently the Secretary General of the Network of Indigenous and Local Communities for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa (REPALEAC), which coordinates the work of Indigenous Peoples across 8 countries in the Congo Basin. For over a decade, Mr. Basiru has served Indigenous Peoples in Central Africa in supporting their aspiration towards an inclusive Indigenous People-led natural resources governance. He has been at the forefront of supporting the recognition of Indigenous Peoples in the region and in the protection of their rights as provided in UNDRIP. His experience and passion for serving Indigenous Peoples in central Africa is valuable in building collaboration and solidarity for Indigenous Peoples across Africa. The Christensen Fund Indigenous Leaders Program will enable Basiru to share his leadership experience and influence across Africa and promote collaboration with the network of global indigenous leaders.

Rukka Sombolinggi (Indonesia)

Rukka Sombolinggi is in her second term as secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN). She was born and raised in Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and belongs to the Indigenous Toraja, who inhabit the highlands of South Sulawesi. Prior to joining AMAN in 2000, Rukka was involved in the Indigenous Peoples’ movement through the Jaringan Pembelaan Hak-hak Masyarakat Adat (JAPHAMA) or Network for the Defense of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, working group of Indigenous People and environmental activists that later gave birth to AMAN. In more than 20 years working at AMAN, Rukka has had various positions, including national advocacy staff, international advocacy coordinator, special staff to the secretary general, and deputy to the secretary-general for advocacy, legal, and political affairs. She also worked as a program specialist at the United Nations Development Program for the Regional Indigenous Peoples' Program in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2006-2010. Rukka holds a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Hasanuddin University in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and a master’s degree in political science from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.

Kyle Whyte (United States)

Kyle Whyte is a faculty member teaching environmental justice at the University of Michigan, where he is George Willis Pack Professor, University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor, and Professor of Philosophy and Native American Studies. He is founding Faculty Director of the Tishman Center for Social Justice and the Environment, Principal Investigator of the Energy Equity Project, and Senior Fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows. His research focuses on Indigenous climate policy, planning, and justice, and the ethics of cooperative relationships between Indigenous Peoples and science organizations. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Kyle is currently a U.S. Science Envoy for Indigenous and Local Knowledge, serves on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and is President of the Board of Directors of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition. Kyle has worked for two decades in advocacy of Indigenous climate justice. He collaborates within a network of diverse Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous-led educational institutions and organizations worldwide to advance self-determination in climate leadership, organizing, research, and education.