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Canku Ota
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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
March 8, 2003 - Issue 82
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Suzanne Westerly
Photojournalist, Activist

Suzanne has worked as an environmental health activist for over two decades. Although nuclear issues have been her main focus from 1994 to 2001, she has worked on other issues like alternative health advocacy, and logging and mining issues.

Originally from the Great Lakes area, she had married, had two wonderful children, got divorced, and worked as an architectural photographer while raising her children. In 1988 Suzanne followed her lifelong dream and moved to California where she worked on the Big Green Campaign to save Old Forests in California.

At a powwow in Malibu, she came across a candidate running for Congress as a Green. "When I read the Green Party Platform, I felt totally committed to this party whose Platform was Earth-based. That was a major turning point in my life. I worked on issues, campaigns, and eventually found myself elected to the County Commission of the LA County Green Party."

Although Suzanne loved California, she had a premonition that a major earthquake was going to hit. She packed up and moved to Phoenix, AZ. Two weeks later in January of 1994, the Northridge quake hit. Six months later, she moved to Albuquerque, NM, where she worked with All Peoples Coalition and Water Information Network. Later, she moved to Santa Fe where she worked on Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) issues with Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety. She was Outreach Director, and then Project Director for the Community Radiation Education Project. She worked closely with Marian Naranjo (Santa Clara Pueblo) doing outreach to the Pueblos, meeting with Community Health Representatives, working on an Elders Program, and participating in the creation of the video, Shadow On the Hill, which is about LANL. She was Interim Executive Director before being drawn back California for the second time.

Her alliances with activists, especially Native activists grew as the years went by. One day she decided that all these wonderful people and the great work they were doing, rarely seemed to be publicized, so she starting writing. Her spirit was being pulled more into freelance photojournalism, and her heart led her to write primarily for Indian publications, particularly News From Indian Country, out of Wisconsin. Soon her editor asked her to cover other issues besides environmental ones. So she began covering health, education, gaming, and business conferences, art shows, music award shows, art award shows, and eventually, the path back to Los Angeles beckoned irresistibly. "And as a freelance photographer and writer, you can live anywhere, thanks to the Net."

Then, February 16, 2002 Suzanne's life was put on hold for a year because of a car accident in which she was the passenger. It only took 3 seconds. The high-speed single vehicle rollover threw her through the window. Her thoracic spine was badly fractured and every bone in her face was broken, the right side pulverized.

"I'm writing a book about the experience. The repercussions of a car accident is an ongoing healing process. I have started interviewing others who have had to deal with similar issues, and am looking for more people to interview. I believe I would never have pulled through if it wasn't for my children, Shari and Kevin, and my mom. Shari and my mom have taken care of me this last year."

"Soon I have my third facial reconstruction, and then I'll go live with Kevin in Hawaii for a few months as I seek out alternative healing modalities."

"Although this year has been a detour in my life, I"m determined to get back to what I love, photography and writing."

"If you would like to share your health challenges that are similar to mine for my book, I would love to hear from you. The best way to catch me is online at or ."

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