Ita Killeen believes in the power of people and connection when it comes to fighting climate change. Originally from Maryland, Ita moved west early, and lived in Salt Lake for twenty years before moving to Bozeman with her husband in 2000. “When I go on a trip and I fly back over the Gallatin Valley,” she remarks about Montana, “I think, ‘Why would I ever leave this place?’” She found Northern Plains about four years ago by attending our Annual Meeting and said she was drawn in because everyone was “…so friendly. We joined Northern Plains and never looked back after that.”
Ita currently chairs a Northern Plains committee formed late last year by members from across the state who work on differing energy issues. The committee was created so that members with differing backgrounds and areas of expertise could collaborate and strategize to fight the proposed Northwestern Energy Laurel methane plant. She’s also an active leader on clean energy issues and has played a big role in furthering Commercial Property-Assessed Capital Enhancements (C-PACE) work in Bozeman. Ita, along with fellow Bozeman member Mary Maj, organized local Gallatin County members for an in-person gathering to strategize ways to promote the innovative energy efficiency program shortly after Gallatin implemented C-PACE in mid- April.
Ita says that clean energy work is “…accessible and intuitive. Clean energy is something anyone can become active in, because you don’t need a lot of technical knowledge.” But Northern Plains is only one slice of Ita’s work as an activist. She finds that engaging in action on every level is rewarding, and she also works individually with the migrant community in Bozeman, nationally with Citizens Climate Lobby, and has volunteered for local legislative campaigns. The different efforts help to “keep her optimism going.” Optimism drives Ita’s work in every sphere, and it’s contagious. “There’s so much hardship in the world, and sometimes I ask myself how I can feel good about being happy,” she says. “And then I realize that we need more joy and need more people to be happy.”
Relationships, and spreading joy within them, are key components of activism for Ita. When asked about what she loves most about Montana, she mentions the mountains, the skiing, the biking, and the rivers, but makes sure to include the people. She’d like to see people getting along in Montana’s future. “I’m worried that the national divisiveness is coming to Montana, and I don’t think that’s Montana’s tradition. I’d like to see people respect each other, get along, and keep water clean and our environment intact.”
Ita’s people-centric view on environmentalism also informs her passion for environmental justice. She hopes that Northern Plains will “ continue to increase the pace of incorporating that in everything we do: our outlook, our perspective, our mode of operations. It should just become standard that we use that lens of environmental justice in everything we do.” She loves Northern Plains because of the emphasis on relationships. “Relationships are what keep us going,” she says. “Doing these hard tasks together with people we enjoy and love and respect.”