In December, TFK Kid Reporter Ninis Twumasi presented the TIME Earth Award at an event in New York City. It was given to the 16 plaintiffs who sued Montana for violating their right to a clean environment. Before the event, Ninis spoke with two of them, Claire Vlases and Sariel Sandoval.
1. Why did you decide to participate in this trial?
Vlases: I care a lot about the land and my home state. I want to do everything I can to protect it.
Sandoval: I’m an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. I’m also Navajo. I wanted to hold the state of Montana accountable for what it’s doing, not just to my people, but to everyone in Montana.
2. How long have you been working on environmental causes?
Vlases: I grew up on a small farm in Montana, helping grow vegetables, raising livestock, stuff like that. But I really got into environmental work in middle school.
3. Were you worried people wouldn’t take you seriously because of your age?
Vlases: Just because we’re younger doesn’t mean our rights are less valuable than someone else’s.
Sandoval: There were some of those doubts. But it felt like they couldn’t not listen to us.
4. What were you thinking during the trial?
Sandoval: Hearing your peers talk about their experience, you feel their emotion. The state of Montana hadn’t done anything to protect our rights. This is the consequence.
5. Was there a time when you felt hopeless?
Vlases: It was scary to be in the courtroom. But I just kept believing that what I said, and what the other plaintiffs said, was the truth.
6. How did you feel when you won?
Sandoval: I felt super happy. It was a great day.
7. The attorney general’s office appealed the result. What are your thoughts?
Vlases: It’s a bummer that they’re continuing to use taxpayer dollars to fight a losing battle about the rights of children, but such is life.
8. What impact do you hope this trial will have?
Vlases: Hopefully, it’s an inspiration for younger generations to take action, like we did.