Upwell 2024: A Tsunami of Ocean Justice

We organized a second Upwell conference this year.  It was co-hosted by Azul, Center for American Progress, and Urban Ocean Lab, was supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, Green 2.0, and the Ocean Defense Initiative, and  made possible by funding from Mosaic, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Oceankind, the Walton Family Foundation, and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.  I had the honor to introduce our keynote speaker, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.  Here are my remarks: 

Hafa adai. Happy Ocean Week! Happy Pride!

I also want to welcome all of you to Upwell 2024

It’s an honor to stand before you today as we gather to discuss critical issues related to our oceans and their future

My name is Angelo Villagomez and I am thrilled to be your MC today

Upwell 2024 is not just another conference – it is a movement. A wave of change that seeks to address the inequities that have plagued our ocean for far too long.

As we gather here, we recognize that access to ocean resources and influence in shaping ocean policy have historically been uneven across racial, economic, gender, and generational lines.

Today we stand united to shift that narrative.

The people in this room are at the forefront of changing the who of conservation. And in doing so you are changing the how of conservation

We are here to build power, exert influence, demand justice, Kick open that door, smash that glass ceiling

Many of you are what I call the first and or only.

The first in your family to get a college degree

The only person of color at your job or on your team

You sometimes feel like the only person who looks and thinks like you

But that narrative is changing

Look around. This is your community.

I see young advocates who are challenging the old folks to do better

I see the first Native superintendent of the Mariana Trench Monument

I see Hispanic and Black CEOs of national ocean NGOs

I see the first Hispanic woman to lead the refuge system

I see the first African American to lead conservation work at the white house

I also see the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet Secretary

It is my honor to introduce our keynote speaker today

Secretary Deb Haaland made history as the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary

By elevating the untold stories of American history, making groundbreaking progress to strengthen Tribal and Indigenous communities, and delivering historic conservation policies Secretary Haaland has transformed the entire agency’s approach to internal and external forward progress.

For example, in 2023 alone, the Interior Department grew the number of public land co-stewardship agreements with Tribes across the country from 20 to 200, the largest-ever increase in history.

Secretary Haaland has said “Native American history is American history,” and under her leadership, the Department of the Interior has taken great strides in telling the untold and hidden history of Tribal and Indigenous peoples in the United States.

Secretary Haaland established the Missing & Murdered Unit with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to ensure cross-departmental and interagency work pursuing justice in the epidemic of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.

She established the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to investigate the history of American Indian boarding schools.

And to further seek justice and tell these underrepresented stories, Secretary Haaland launched the “Road to Healing” tour, a years-long effort to travel across the country in order to give Indigenous survivors of the federal Indian boarding school system the opportunity to share their stories and be connected with trauma-informed support.

Secretary Haaland has also played a leading role in driving the “America the Beautiful” initiative, the first-ever national conservation goal committed to improving access to nature for all Americans, fighting climate change, and protecting 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

In 2023 alone, the Department of the Interior protected more than 12.5 million acres of public lands as national monuments, mineral withdrawals, wildlife refuges, and more—safeguarding nearly the same amount of lands in 2023 as during the administration’s first two years. Combined, all these areas would be about the size of Virginia.

Through overseeing record-setting investments, leading new co-stewardship agreements, issuing directives to include Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge, and following through on Tribal and Indigenous consultations, Secretary Haaland has done more than any of her predecessors to conserve our nation’s land and waters and to enable Tribal and Indigenous communities to lead that work.

Secretary Haaland has left an indelible mark on the Department of the Interior with her unwavering commitment to address environmental justice, combat climate change, and prioritize the well-being of Indigenous communities.

Please join me in welcoming Secretary Auntie Deb Haaland to the stage.


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