Xiuhtezcatl Martinez — Suing the American Government at Sixteen


Photo Credit: Telge Energi

Thora Kaellander

“[You must use] your voice but at the same time, we [all] have [to examine everyone’s] different perspectives.”

Hip-hop artist. Indigenous climate change activist. TED talk speaker. He’s 16 years old — but he’s far from being your average teenager.

In 2015, a group of young Americans sued the American government for not taking enough action to prevent climate change. In November, the group finally received notice that the case was going to trial. 16-year-old Xiuhtezcatl (“Shoe-Tez-Caht”) Martinez, the leader of that group, “Earth Guardians,” a group of roughly twenty youths from the ages of 9 to 20, stands to make a difference.

The idea is to hold the U.S. government responsible for the large climate impact that they have had through the legal system. The lawsuit is based on the idea that the government is supposed to protect its people’s constitutional rights, and is failing to do so by supporting the oil industry.

Today, Martinez is carrying on his mother’s legacy by leading the organization she founded, the “Earth Guardians,” a global organization of artists, musicians, and activists cooperating to effect positive change on environmental policy. They say that the apple never falls far from the tree, and in this case, they may be right as both of Xiuhtezcatl parents are experienced activists.

According to Martinez himself, his Aztec background has played a big part in forming his environmentalist philosophy and in turn, just how cognizant he is of humans impact on the environment. The group claims that because of the government has been cognizant of the negative effects oil has on the Earth’s climate for as long of a time as the government has, that the government is now knowingly putting the lives of future generations at risk.

They are saying that the government is breaking their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property by failing to take action and supporting the oil industry.

Martinez started out as an environmental activist at the young age of six, speaking in front of hundreds of people to advocate environmental issues. At nine, he made a name for himself amongst the local leaders at his home by pushing for toxic pesticides to be forbidden in the area. At twelve, he organized protests that succeeded in creating a local law that prohibited the controversial oil extraction method that was being used in Boulder.

Martinez has made himself heard on all stages, speaking at locations all from the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) Summit in Rio de Janeiro, to the United Nations General Assembly at in New York. Strengthened by the knowledge he could instigate change, he kept engaging his community throughout his life.

“There’s a lot of action and change that can come from standing in the streets [and] marching in solidarity [and] holding signs. [You must use] your voice but at the same time, we [all] have [examine everyone’s] different perspectives.

[You must use] your voice but at the same time, we [all] have [examine everyone’s] different perspectives.

“Look at businesses, look at Hollywood, look at the movie industry, and see how change can come from [so many places]. [T]hat’s why we’re taking this avenue of legal change that has a lot of power, as well as all other ways we can instigate [change],” said Xiuhtezcatl Martinez on the Norwegian talk show “Skavlan.”

Canadian environmentalist writer Naomi Klein has described this trial as the most important legal event currently happening on the planet. The American government has tried to impede the group, but after two judges concluded came to the conclusion that the group has grounds to sue, it is now clear that the trial is happening. “It will be the trial of our lives,” said Martinez in an interview.

“It will be the trial of our lives,”


Martinez’s website can be found here at www.earthguardians.org.


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