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To label Kylie Fly as any one thing would be a disservice to the person she is. Kylie is a muser, mountaineer, photographer, volunteer, triplet and writer amongst a host of other things depending on the day and time. She has spent years volunteering as a humanitarian filmmaker and photographer in places like Haiti, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala and the Grand Canyon. 

 You recently went to the Grand Canyon on a story with the Grand Canyon tribes who are standing together in opposition to mining in the Grand Canyon. What led you there? 

For the past few years I have focused much of my storytelling on compelling characters who are working in the conservation space. There are many people in the outdoor industry doing incredible things—setting FKTs, putting up first ascents, and crushing their sport accomplishing the seemingly impossible. The same goes for in the environmental world. There are quiet characters crushing in the legal world pushing to protect sacred lands from being mined and finding solutions to removing toxins from our soil. The Grand Canyon is a remarkable place and when a good friend of mine who works as an environmental lawyer with a special focus on native rights in the Grand Canyon, I knew I had to get involved.

I was always under the impression that the Grand Canyon was totally protected as a National Park. What’s the current threat?

The Grand Canyon spreads over 1.2 million acres.  Uranium mining and ore in the Grand Canyon region is being transported from Canyon Mine through the Navajo Nation communities to White Mesa Mill in Utah. Also under threat is the protection and preservation of cultural resources, history, and continued traditional teachings of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon Trust has been working with tribes to ensure that there is permanent protection of this place that many tribes call home. Through a collaboration of many tribes who have a cultural connection to the canyon, a group called Intertribal Centennial Conversation group was formed last year to discuss the past history and relationship with the park to present-day concerns. Through this initiative, they have discussed concerns and are healing from historical trauma to find a more healthy and holistic relationship which would include voices from cultural leaders, youth, elders, and communities in addressing stewardship, management, education and exploring economic paradigms while acknowledging cultural respect to the Canyon.

It seems that the people leading the fight in Arizona were women. This seems to be a common thread in many environmental debates. Why do you think that is?

Both men and women lead the fight for environmentalism. When it comes to native tribes and fighting for rights, it has less to do with gender and more to do with passion (a human trait we all have access to). Environmental debates are led by people who want to take action. In both leadership and supportive roles, men and women fight to protect what is near and dear to them no matter who is at the helm. It could be safe to say that women lean more easily into their desire to nurture, protect and preserve—and with an altruistic approach to solution finding, I came across several self-empowered women who pursued this role with their work in conservation.

In the era of “influencers,” I always have a lot of respect for those with large followings to tell stories that actually matter. What inspired you to take on impact work?

When I was 18 I knew I wanted to do something with people. I didn’t quite understand how that looked or what it would be like, but it wasn’t until I moved to China at 20 that my eyes were opened to a world filled with conflict and imbalance. I began at this age to shift my focus towards sustainable development in third world countries and sought ways to create peace, protection and self-reliance in native lands and with indigenous peoples. I moved to Peru and later Ecuador after I graduated college and spent a great deal of time and energy on finding stories that mattered, work that was gratifying and had depth, and solution finding for communities that faced very real and difficult struggles to basic survival. I traveled to Cambodia in 2009 and Haiti after the earthquake of 2010 to spend time in the relief world as well. My draw to these conflict zones, be it war, genocide, poverty, gang violence or natural disaster, all comes from a place of having a desire to make the world a better place and to leave some kind of mark that extended beyond my own narrow scope and worldview as a privileged middle class American. I know there is so much work to be done and giving of my time, energy, resources, skills and passions is the least I can do to help in that effort to move society forward in a more positive direction.

What do you feel is photography and film’s role in conservation and environmental work?

Without evidence there is little that can be said or done about anything. People need to see, touch, feel, and experience something real in order to feel connected to it. Most often we can’t all hop over to Africa to see what poverty looks or feels like, or to experience firsthand living in a conflict zone. This is when it is up to the creatives—the artists—to find compelling stories and then to take it upon themselves to tell them. There are many stories to be told, and it is our privilege and honor to tell them. Photography and film is absolutely monumental when it comes to conservation and environmental work—if it wasn’t for the content we gather and the stories we tell through media, little would be known about what is really going on in any given place at any given time. What we do not know we cannot understand. What we seek to know, we can eventually understand. Spreading the message through beautiful imagery and inspiring films puts us in the way of greatness and allows us to connect on a more personal level.

 Every day it seems like a new threat to the environment arises. How do you stay optimistic?

I learned at an early age the value of smiling through the pain, laughing through the heartache, and choosing positivity versus wallowing in despair. Crying is pretty painful and uncomfortable, whereas laughing just gives you the best kind of bellyache. Optimism is a choice, and I choose to focus on those things that are going right and how they can be improved rather than dwell on all that is going wrong. There is a fine line we balance to create just the right amount of optimism that leans more towards realism, always adjusting our expectations and actions to reflect the objectives we truly want to accomplish. Anger, resentment, frustration and other negative-emotive qualities never moved society forward for long. Passion, dedication, motivation, enthusiasm, and positivity certainly has a more lasting impact for change.

What are some of the other stories or causes that you’re most passionate about right now?

I feel a sense of urgency when it comes to melting glaciers. As a mountaineer, climber and skier I have seen firsthand the results of rapidly melting ice sheets, receding snow lines and the reduction and disappearance of glaciers and snow fields. Once these formations are gone, they are not likely to come back during our lifetime. I am also deeply concerned and passionate about conflict zones where there continues to be heavy issues that are no longer the headlines of newspapers and have thus fallen into lesser important news, perhaps even the back burner or forgotten. What needs to happen is the continuation of hard work in conflict areas that is invested in the long term rather than bandaid interventions that only extend into the next decade or less at best. I am passionate about investing in the long term, creating lasting solutions and fostering space for peace to reside for all those who desire it.

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