West Homecoming Queen Wins Environmental Activism Award


Ben Goltz, Iris Montesano, Ella Rush and Zoe Springsteen at the Alaska Conservation Foundation Award dinner.

West High senior Iris Montesano won the Denny Wilcher Award for Young Environmental Activists at an Alaska Conservation Foundation Event at 49th State Brewery on Thursday, October 6.

Montesano was chosen out of roughly 10 candidates from the state for her dedication and consistent contributions to environmental advocacy. She was nominated by individuals in her communities. 

It all started with “banning plastic bags in middle school,” Montesano said in her reception speech. Her journey only intensified from there.

“I teach at Youth Summits where kids learn to be engaged with politics in Alaska, especially emphasizing environmental policy,” Montesano said. As the only student trainer at these Youth Summits, Montesano has inspired young minds for three years in the making. 

The Alaska Youth for Environmental Action Group holds these events twice a year, with the Youth Organizer Summit in the fall and the Civics and Conservation Summit in the spring, each lasting about four days. 

“I’m excited that we get to have the summit in person this year!” said Montesano. 

Montesano is also an active advocate for environmental justice in her community, attending more than six protests during her high school career.

“I’ve organized three protests in the past year or two,” Montesano said, “the events spark intergenerational cooperation and understanding.”

In her speech, Montesano thanked her collaborative trainers from the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action Group for “fostering [her] growth as an activist and person” and supporting “a better future for all of us and for Dena’ina Ełthnena.” 

 Montesano highlighted “intersectional activism” as the most important theme in her advocacy journey. She recognizes that everyone has their own unique experiences. Culture, ethnicity, race, and socioeconomic status can change how much people and communities are affected by climate change. “A concrete example,” Montesano said, “is that 80 percent of people affected by climate change are women.” 

Going forward, Montesano hopes to take steps like making recycling more accessible at West High and communicating the role of economic systems in the climate disaster to students through her new club, the West High Environmental Club. Meetings are every Thursday at lunch in Room 10.