A champion for change

by Michelle Saport  |   

Tayler Higgins as the  2022 Rondy Royalty Heritage Ambassador.
Tayler Higgins as the 2022 Rondy Royalty Heritage Ambassador. (Photo courtesy Fur Rondy Royalty)

During a panel at the inaugural meeting of the 2024 Champions for Change in Washington, D.C., UAA student Tayler Tanginiq Higgins (Yup’ik, Dena’ina, Suqpiaq) joined other Native youth changemakers in sharing their outlook on leadership and issues facing their communities.

"What inspired me to get into this work, to advocate for my people and to advocate for the youth was seeing my own people treated awfully and being put in the stigma all the time — and it just was really harmful for our young people. I wanted to see our young people thrive and see our young people be uplifted in their voices," said Tayler, who was born and raised in Anchorage, with family roots in Bethel, Ninilchik and Lake Clark. Her own experiences and other people's stories of discrimination, barriers and lack of representation faced as an Alaska Native in the city spurred her to embrace her own voice and push for change.

The business management major and Alaska Native studies minor is one of five young adults selected as a 2024 Champion for Change, a leadership initiative with the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) designed to highlight positive stories of impact in Indigenous communities. Throughout the yearlong program, champions receive support and resources for their work, participate in experience-based learning and tailored advocacy training, serve on the CNAY Youth Advisory Board, meet with their respective members of Congress and act as liaisons with their communities and peers.

As an advocate, Tayler is passionate about centering and elevating Arctic Indigenous youth voices and the interaction of climate, social and economic justice work. She currently chairs the Youth Advisory Council for Cook Inlet Tribal Council and serves as an Arctic Youth Ambassador. She was a 2023 Native Movement youth cohort leader and the 2022 Fur Rendezvous Heritage Ambassador.

"I call myself an advocate, but I don't really like that term because I think we as Native people are always advocates. It's in our blood, this is what our ancestors have done. With the strength of my ancestors, I've always been connected," said Tayler in an interview with Native America Calling. "I've always known I've had that skill inside me to speak on things that others don't really speak up on and that was always something I've admired about myself."

The youngest of seven children, aunt of 16 nieces and nephews, and a first-generation college student, Tayler is grateful for the knowledge and lived experiences shared by elders, leaders and family members growing up. She hopes to use her role as a champion to bring more opportunities back to her community, from funding for housing and infrastructure to hosting a Nike N7 workshop. "Using your platform to give back is important. […] Things that will bring healing and happiness to my community, that's what I want to see."

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