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Blackfeet Student Fights Fracking by Studying Alternative Energy Solutions

This Columbia University student is studying alternative energy solutions to put an end to fracking while selling her Native American beadwork in NYC.

She boxes. She beads. She reads (environmental engineering textbooks.) Her name: Mariah Gladstone.

Gladstone, 19, is a sophomore at Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in New York City. Yet, when she’s not fulfilling the requirements for her earth and environmental engineering major, Gladstone will lace up her knuckles in her tattered, red Everlast hand straps and take to the punching bag.

On other less physically demanding evenings, Gladstone sits in her dorm room, which overlooks the Hudson River, and beads her custom-made Native American jewelry. Gladstone will then sell those earrings at Native American events around New York City as well as in her Etsy store.

Born and raised on the Blackfeet Reservation located in northwestern Montana, Gladstone graduated in three years from Glacier High School in Kalispell, Montana in 2011. By 17, she was already an Ivy League student.

Gladstone, who’s also of Scottish, Irish and German heritage, said she applied solely to Columbia University because of its proactive approach to environmental issues.

“Their environmental engineering program focuses on proactive energy technologies,” she said. “And that’s what I want to get into.”

Fracking (or hydraulic fracturing) is an issue on the Blackfeet Reservation, Gladstone said. With her degree from Columbia, she hopes to stave, if not completely abolish, the practice of fracking not only on the Blackfeet Reservation, but all reservations.

“Right now they’re drilling hundreds of exploratory wells [on the Blackfeet rez],” she said. “You can’t shut down something like that without having an alternative solution.”

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And the only way to stop fracking, she said, is with cost-efficient, earth-friendly options.

“People need energy, but you need a clean alternative option,” she added. “If [fracking] continues, it’s going to mess up the water … forever.”

A fancy shawl and traditional dancer, Gladstone is also fluent in Native American Sign Language and demonstrates her unique ability to tourists back on the rez and, lately, to New York City schoolchildren.

“Native American Sign Language is the oldest universal sign language used, which was used across two-thirds of the American continent prior to Columbus’s arrival,” she said.

To budding Native American students, Gladstone encourages embracing all of your talents and affections.

“You don’t have to choose between your passions—do everything,” she said.

Scheduled to graduate in 2015, Gladstone says upon graduation she hopes to some day work for a company that specializes in alternative energy development.

“It would be nice to get some inter-reservation (alternative energy) system to invest in the reservation and become energy independent,” she said. “It’s a nice idea.”