A self-professed “public land enthusiast, science nerd” (according to her 2018 Twitter bio), Sally Jewell is photographed at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). SJ: “Volunteering with NPCA for nine years before becoming secretary of the interior reminded me of the importance of advocacy in protecting the legacy of America’s national parks — the nation’s crown jewels — for generations to come. These are the sites that tell our stories, celebrate our incredible natural beauty, and remind us of our journey — painful and proud.”

Jewell served as the 51st secretary of the interior (2013–2017) under President Barack Obama.

Trained as a petroleum engineer, Jewell began her career with Mobil Oil Corp. in the oil and gas fields of Oklahoma. SJ: “We moved to the States when I was three. I did have a pretty thick accent in first grade. And it persisted through high school with some words. But then I graduated from college and moved to Oklahoma, and that killed any shred of an English accent.”

The 2009 Rachel Carson Award Honoree is here captured at the offices of NPCA, which works to defend America’s national parks — “whether on the ground, in the courtroom, or on Capitol Hill.”

Jewell photographed in front of a large mural in the staff break room at NPCA headquarters. SJ: “The bison of Yellowstone National Park are descended from the only remaining purebred American bison, saved from the slaughter that nearly wiped out this iconic mammal and the many indigenous people who were interconnected to it, culturally, spiritually, and physically. It’s a great reminder of the importance of appreciating our past to shape a brighter future. — And speaking of visionaries, did you know Lincoln created Yosemite? Most people don’t know that. During the Civil War. Old Abe was not linear. He was definitely a multitasker.”

SJ: “You don’t want to get that close to bison anyway. They charge if they feel threatened.”

Jewell and her husband, Warren, recently reconnected with key members of her leadership team at the Department of the Interior. Meeting for breakfast at Kramerbooks & Afterwords, the esteemed D.C. independent bookstore/café, they discussed what was currently happening at Interior and reviewed efforts to make sure that critical environmental regulations and land protections aren’t undermined. Clockwise from Jewell’s left: Tommy Beaudreau, chief of staff; Mike Connor, deputy secretary; Kate Kelly, senior strategist and former communications director; and Warren Jewell. SJ: “Beyond reminiscing on the joys of our work together, it’s great to have teammates for life. These are colleagues and friends I can call on, day or night, to talk strategy. How do we continuing making progress on shaping a more sustainable environment for future generations?”

SJ: “Success is never accomplished alone — it takes a village.”

SJ: “Do I miss Washington? The city is just bouncing. The city is a fun place to live. But I miss my family more. The loyalty thing is really interesting. My kids would, if they thought I was wrong on something, they would say it. There'd be no blind loyalty. I think they'd think they were doing me a favor by saying, ‘You know, mom, I'm not sure that's right.’”

Following an early morning breakfast meeting in Dupont Circle, SJ heads off to The Aspen Institute’s new Washington, D.C., headquarters.

Jewell preps for a meeting with the executive director of the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute. SJ: “I’m optimistic because of this next generation coming up behind us. I feel like it is our obligation to be a big part of the solution and not just a knowledge transfer, but actually really helping change the course of history. Tools and support, financial resources and access — you name it.”

SJ: “I'm trying to figure out how to translate my influence and knowledge to the next generation — without backing away, because it's our responsibility, those of us who have power and experience."

Jewell talks with Erik Stegman, executive director of the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute, and Nikki Pitre, CNAY program manager. SJ: “One of the most rewarding parts of my job as secretary of the interior was interacting with indigenous people across the country, especially Native youth. The challenges these young people face can be daunting, whether they grew up on a reservation, in a small village, or in an urban area, yet their perseverance and commitment to honoring and celebrating their cultures is amazing. The impact of immigration, forced assimilation, and settlement of Native lands is a dark chapter in our nation’s history and we have an opportunity to help new generations rebuild pride in their heritage. CNAY facilitates connections between Native youth across the country through Generation Indigenous (Gen-I), helping young people honor their heritage and realize their dreams for a brighter future.”

Gen-I describes itself as a “cross-sector movement to expand opportunity and resources for Native youth,” and CNAY’s Erik Stegman (left) and Nikki Pitre (right) are tireless champions for these efforts.

Jewell meets with Erik Stegman, the Center for Native American Youth’s executive director, to discuss strategic planning and how — going forward — the organization can ensure that it serves the needs of Native American youth. CNAY was founded by former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota after he decided not to seek reelection (he used some of his leftover campaign funds to begin the organization with a large gift); Dorgan is still very active in CNAY, serving on its Board of Advisors, as does Sally Jewell.

CNAY: “Our vision is for all Native American youth to lead full and healthy lives, to have equal access to opportunity, and to draw strength from their culture and inspire one another.”

SJ:We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. I think about that. What are we leaving? Right now we’re kind of leaving a mess. And we were left a mess that people didn’t understand was a mess: the Industrial Revolution, the use of fossil fuels, the use of the Earth to satisfy the colonial mindset of ‘it’s there for the taking.’ And now some of us understand, what a devastating impact we’ve had on the planet. It’s hard not to do something about it. It’s not just because I’m a grandmother, although I think about what kind of a world am I leaving to my own descendants? Am I OK with that? No, I’m not OK with it. I’ve got to do something about it. That’s why the focus on young people.”

It’s not just because she’s a grandmother that Jewell thinks about the kind of world she’ll be leaving behind.

SJ: “In terms of Native American youth: there is so much wisdom that we have ignored. When you say ‘traditional ecological knowledge,’ which is kind of a current term, people glaze over a little. When you say ‘thousands of years of observation,’ scientists are like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s useful.’ Changing the vernacular around some of these things, putting it on people’s radar, saying: ‘How were people living in greater harmony? How were they handling scarcity? What do they have that we might learn?’ What’s happening in the Arctic, where it’s warming twice as fast as anywhere else? When you talk to indigenous people there who are still involved in subsistence for their own livelihoods, they will tell you, the permafrost is melting. It’s heartbreaking when you actually talk to them about what they’re seeing on the ground. You’d better listen.”

On May 3, 2016, Chief Earl Old Person honored Interior Secretary Jewell with a Blackfeet name, “Far Away Woman,” during a land buy-back ceremony in Browning, Montana, part of a historic civil court settlement that set aside $1.56 billion to purchase “Indian Trust Lands” and fix the system of land ownership that had plagued reservations for more than a century.

1–3: SJ at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA)
4: At D.C.’s Kramerbooks & Afterwords bookstore/café, SJ and her husband, Warren, meet up with some “fabulous colleagues” from her time at the Department of the Interior
5: SJ in Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.
6–10: SJ at The Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C.


Related Links: The Secret of America | Great Immigrants | Art AcevedoArianna HuffingtonKwame Anthony Appiah | John Leguizamo

Photographed by Jennifer S. Altman, Washington, D.C., April, 10–11, 2018 | Produced by Kenneth Benson