Youth Leadership and Education

Over the last 20 years, the Bioneers Youth Leadership and Education Program has served as an incubator for thousands of youth and educators to deepen their passion and power through self-expression, skills development, mentorship and deep relationship building within the broader community of Bioneers. The program has produced some of the most dynamic, engaging, and cutting edge programming within the Bioneers kaleidoscope and it continues to shape the work of youth movements, activism and education.

What We Do

20 Year Milestones

  • Over 6200 youth have attended the Bioneers Conference
  • Over 4500 youth were awarded scholarships
  • 700 scholarships have been awarded to indigenous youth, representing 49+ tribes
  • Over 100 youth have participated in the Intercultural Conversations program
  • Over 40 youth have given keynotes on the main stage
  • Bioneers has partnered with over 120 different youth leadership organizations and schools
  • Over 1 million dollars have been invested in youth at Bioneers over the last two decades
  • 85 educators have been trained in Biomimicry for STEM

About the Youth Leadership and Education Program

Origin StoryContactMission

In 1999, 23-year-old Julia Butterfly Hill, protesting the clear-cutting of old-growth forests from her 180-foot perch in a 1000-year-old redwood tree, phoned into the Bioneers Conference, describing life in the canopy and reflecting on her experience as a young activist. The next year, she spoke at the Conference in person and challenged Bioneers to include and uplift youth at the conference because they are the emerging leaders of our movements. Julia’s invitation inspired us to establish the program with a steadfast commitment to integrating the voices of youth into our movements for environmental and justice.

Arty Mangan: Program Director,

Will Scott & Kayla Douglas on behalf of Weaving Earth: Program Managers,

General inquires:

For 30 years, the National Bioneers Conference has connected thousands of people with practical, visionary solutions for humanity’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. The Bioneers Youth Leadership Program launched in 2001 with the intention of giving young people a space to share with one another and develop as leaders in the movements to build a more just and regenerative future.

Through this Youth Leadership Program, Bioneers offers young people the opportunity to connect, build skills, and engage their activism through talking circles, interactive skill-building workshops, mentoring sessions, and creative projects. Our mission is to bring young people together across different movements and backgrounds to learn new practices, nurture intersectional frameworks for social and environmental justice activism, build relationships with other youth, as well as express their activism through media and the arts as a means of healing and reconciliation.

When Julia Butterfly helped launch the Bioneers youth movement, I felt acknowledged as a young activist, that we do have something to offer, that we have the potential to create change. Being able to engage with her at Bioneers, I felt really honored to be in that circle and to feel like youth activists have a role to play. It really felt like an invitation and an affirmation for me that I was on a good path for myself, a path that would lead somewhere, and that folks would take notice of the work we were doing.”

– Eric Ohlsen, ED and Co-founder of Permaculture Skills Center

Featured Media

Youth Leadership and Education Initiatives

Bioneers Young Leaders Fellowship

About this Program

For two decades, the Bioneers Youth Leadership Program has served as an incubator for many thousands of youth to deepen their passion and power through self-expression, skills development, mentorship and deep relationship building within the broader community of Bioneers. The Bioneers Young Leaders Fellowship Program elevates the voice of young leaders by providing the opportunity to develop a project on issues that they are passionate about, supported by resources and mentorship, with the ultimate goal of producing polished, vibrant media to be featured on and beyond.

Youth at the Bioneers Conference

About this Program

The Youth Unity Tent at the Bioneers Conference provides young people ages 13-23 with interactive, dynamic programming. Youth are given opportunities to tell their stories, learn new organizing tools, sit in circle with movement leaders, cultivate solidarity with peers across different backgrounds, and deepen intersectional frameworks for environmental justice. This is a place to share, to co-create, to question, to grieve, to laugh, to listen, to imagine radical change, and feel a sense of interconnectedness with a community of people committed to building a more regenerative and just future.

Youth offerings at the conference:

  • Mentor circles, including circles for youth of color and lgbtq+ youth
  • Interactive art projects
  • Movement coalition round tables
  • Youth-led workshops
  • An open mic attended by hundreds of conference attendees
  • Nutritious locally-sourced foods

Bioneers recognizes the importance of centralizing the voices of frontline youth in movements for justice. The Youth Unity Tent is committed to making the conference accessible by offering over 400 scholarships a year. We ensure that our programming is representative of and relevant to all of the communities we work with. Youth have support from elders and peers from their own communities in addition to opportunities for celebrating and building across the multiplicities of identities that make up Bioneers. For inquiries about scholarships, please contact us at

Native Youth Leadership Program

About this Program

In 2011, the Native Youth Leadership Program was established to provide Native youth with a safe space to observe, interact with, and learn from Native mentors and each other empowering them with the confidence and skills to become leaders. With generous support from our sponsors and donors, the Native Youth Leadership Program supports Native youth attendees with the transportation, lodging, healthy food, and a gift bag. Out of the 2019 cohort, 109 youth, 22 chaperones participated from 15 partnering organizations, 4 families, 3 colleges/universities, and 17 individuals. These individuals represented 49+ tribal affiliations, including 13 California Indian tribes.

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Just Us 4 Food Justice

About this Program

Just Us 4 Food Justice was a 10-year initiative that organized annual day-long empowerment and unity retreats that brought together youth leaders and their adult mentors involved in creating greater access to a healthier and more just food system at the community-level.

The initiative was designed to provide an enriching experience to nurture creativity and leadership skills, connect the network and acknowledge and strengthen the role of youth in the food justice movement. Youth experienced a wide-range of activities designed to fuel the mind, body, and spirit. They strengthened skills in creative messaging, holistic leadership, and movement building practices by working with themes like social permaculture and the 5 elements of hip hop as a vehicle for social change. These efforts energized youth, expanded their consciousness, strengthened relationships, activated personal power, and helped young activists develop creative visions of success.

Biomimicry for STEAM Teacher Trainings

About this Program

In 2019 Bioneers co-hosted a day-long workshop for 85 middle and high school teachers on how educators can use Biomimicry as a framework to engage students in standards-aligned STEAM content while enhancing 21st century skills. The training included an overview of the Biomimicry Youth Design Challenge, a project-based learning program and design competition hosted annually by the Biomimicry Institute. The event was hosted as an official shoulder event of the 2019 California STEAM Symposium. Bioneers partnered with three NGO organizations (Biomimicry Institute, Ten Strands, Inside the Outdoors), two sponsors (Metropolitan Water District of LA and MWD-Orange County) and the Orange County Department of Education.

Digital Natives

About this Program

Digital Natives is a reciprocal partnership between Bioneers, Google Earth Outreach, San Francisco Unified School District, and Native youth serving organizations that train Indigenous youth in using digital tools and platforms for storytelling and communications over a 6-month period, culminating in an awards ceremony recognizing Native youth-led projects at the Bioneers conference. The 2019 Digital Natives initiative included a mixture of exposing Native youth to tech industries in the greater San Francisco Bay and supporting partners to continue to refine their existing map projects (or develop new ones) with support from Google Earth Outreach and project mentorship.

Indigeneity Curriculum

About this Program

To support the mobilization and use of Bioneers’ original content in the classroom, the Bioneers Native Youth Leadership Program has developed study guides, videos and lesson plans aligned with national standards for grades 9-12+. This curriculum offers educators a valuable toolkit for maximizing the educational potential of evergreen Bioneers’ videos.

Topics include:

  • Biocultural Conservation in the Amazon
  • Cultural Appropriation
  • Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change
  • Fighting Racism in Schools
  • How To Be A Good Ally
  • Beyond Sovereignty
  • An Indigenous-Led Just Transition

From 2017-2019, Bioneers piloted this curricula with high school students from across the United States. Evaluation shows significant, transformative growth among the student participants of all backgrounds, including increased ability to empathize with others, more sophisticated understanding of the issues Indigenous people face, and the ability to articulate complex issues from a cross-cultural perspective.

Intercultural Conversations

About this Program

Intercultural Conversations, began in 2017 as an educational exchange between 20 Native American and 20 non-Native youth who come together to discuss critical issues facing Indigenous and all peoples. Youth participants meet virtually once a month to discuss thematic topics presented in Bioneers Indigeneity media. Youth participants “humanized” each other across cultural, geographic, gender, and socioeconomic divides. Instead of being treated as passive learners, youth participants are engaged as change makers, and supportively encouraged through Indigenous pedagogies. Through this process, youth participants experience profound personal development in their ability to empathize with others, understand complex issues, and communicate cross-culturally. Having completed the third year in 2019, the goal is to transform the lives of at least 400 students in 10 years.

“I think what most people have a difficult time understanding is that those who are most affected by the changing climates and mass destruction of habitats are the ​indigienous people​ and the ​poor minorities​ in this country. When visiting the Hopi lands this summer, I saw the true and honest emotions of one of the leaders, Ruby, who explained to us how sad and heartbroken she was to see that her peach orchard had been decimated. Her creek and ponds had all been dried out and her soil had lost its nutrients, unable to support life. It broke my heart to see someone’s homeland become like this.. I realized that this is what climate change is doing to the indigenous people….The most important thing that anyone can do is to go out, step out of the house, talk to people and if you can, try and live in solidarity with the people who are suffering the most. I have a heart full of gratitude for the Bioneers organization for giving us such an amazing life changing experience that helped me create relationships that will last a lifetime and to allow me to experience living in solidarity with the indigieous people and learning so much about our own lands as well as the environment.”

Clare Mahr, Intercultural Conversations youth scholar, 2019

Learn More . . .

Youth Testimonials

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