From Denver to D.C., alumnus Ean Thomas Tafoya fights for environmental justice and stays connected.
Take a jog through the nearly 20,000 acres of natural beauty that make up Denver’s park system, and you’ll likely spot a purple recycling dumpster. Those receptacles are the result of the efforts of Ean Thomas Tafoya, who along with his colleagues collected thousands of signatures to have the dumpsters installed. He would go on to lead several successful Denver ballot initiatives.
Tafoya’s work reflects a lifelong commitment to environmental justice by the 2012 Political Science graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver.
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“Putting your hands in the soil is a connection point for me, to my indigenous ancestors and elders,” said Tafoya, also a Native American Studies minor of Apache and Pueblo descent. “That environmental connection is at the center of everything.”
Connection is a common theme in Tafoya’s journey from campus through three branches of local government; a run for Denver City Council District 9, which includes the Auraria Campus; and leadership in several nonprofits, including the Headwater Protectors, Colorado Latino Forum and Historic Denver. Now serving as Colorado state director for GreenLatinos, Tafoya builds alliances across the state, including impacted community members, environmental businesses, government employees and other nongovernmental organizations.
Tafoya’s zigzaggy path has also taken him to Washington, D.C., and the White House to work with senators on housing access and water equity. He has met with Sen. Bernie Sanders on environmental justice and followed entrepreneur/politician Andrew Yang as a speaker at the Sunrise Movement demonstration at a Democratic National Committee meeting in San Francisco in 2019. This is all separate from, and in conjunction with, his connection to Denver’s creative community. Tafoya has served as a longtime host DJ on KGNU radio and worked as community engagement director with the Underground Music Showcase.
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The seemingly indefatigable Tafoya returned to MSU Denver in 2018 to complete a Water Studies certificate from the One World One Water Center, and this year he was recognized as a River Hero by the National River Network. He was also recently honored by his alma mater as a 2021 10 Under 10 Alumni Award winner.
Although the future isn’t fully in focus for the Roadrunner polymath, Tafoya knows it will involve continuing to battle for environmental justice, protecting the water and “getting his hands back in the soil.”