By Faran Krentcil, Fact checked by Jessica Ochoa
4 min read
When Nat Kelley saw the Australian bush fires of 2019 destroy her beloved home country, she knew she had to do something—anything. So Nat started digging into research on regenerative living, sustainable fashion, and small steps in her own life that could lead to big changes for the planet, and hopefully, a better state of mind for herself, too. Nat is also a Wild Advocate, paired with Dine scientist Richelle Thomas, who is studying the impacts of legacy mining on medicinal plants used in traditional Navajo healing practices. And she’s on the board of the Fungi Foundation, advocating for fungi, their habitats, and the people who depend on them. Here’s what she told us from her home in Ojai, California about finding nature, quitting Dynasty, and what she’s doing next.
When did you first start plugging into the planet?
I've always had this spark in me to be an activist. And I think being raised by my indigenous mother, I always saw the world through the lens of justice and injustice. But it didn't really occur to me until a few years ago that the things that most need my voice are the things that don't have voices, like trees, soil, fungi, and animals. The ecosystem is really crying out for justice! I had a real moment of, like, “Wow, this
is the most important story, because without this, none of it matters! Women's rights, immigrants’ rights, all these social justice issues that I've always been passionate about? They can’t exist without an earth to live on. I’m Australian, and I think the fires in Australia really woke me up to the fact that I couldn't keep silo-ing my activism.
I realized that I had compartmentalized my life. There was my activism and the side of me that’s really passionate about social justice. But then there was a part of me that was also the actress, flying around the world guzzling lots of fuel, buying lots of clothes, promoting overconsumption and being paid to promote overconsumption on my Instagram! And I was like, “Wow, the two are not aligning here… I am warming the planet. Me.
" That led to some deep soul searching about the way I was living, and the kind of values I was championing. It didn’t help that I was on a show called Dynasty
, which was literally about a wealthy oil family. Their lives revolved around overconsumption and decadence.
Kind of cosmic, right?
I thought it was one of those funny jokes that the universe plays on you. Being on Dynasty
was what helped catapult me into the public eye. And the excess on that show, the lifestyle, it was so against the core of my being!
How did you begin that conversation with your agents and people in the industry?
It's been really ongoing and it's been a process of trial and error. In the beginning of my career, I was like, “Well, that's work. It's a job. It's a role; I have to take it.” But I think in the last five years, I've really learned how to say no. I wasn't put on earth just to tell any story because they're going to pay me. I'm here to tell some very specific stories… that’s my true purpose on this earth. But we all know, we live in a world that is so commodified. My presence is commodified on Instagram; I commodify my beauty to make money to survive. I happen to be blessed genetically, and that means people want me to help them sell things. But one thing that you cannot buy is integrity, right? So I'm learning to live with less. And I find the more I plug into the ecosystem—whenever I plant seeds, or harvest things from my garden—I get this feeling like, “How can I ever be lonely when I’m part of this huge community of nature?”
Are you working on a new kind of show right now?
I am! I'm really lucky to be collaborating right now with two amazing writing and producing partners. A female Rabbi called Rachel Rosenbluth and a director called Jake Witzenfeld. And we are putting together a beautiful non-scripted show around the values and the stories that are being overlooked or even silenced by the dominant culture… It’s really important to me to amplify the voices of women and indigenous people saying, “Hey, hang on, slow down, rest, regenerate! Plant, steward, nourish, make peace!” And that gets sadly ignored. It’s frustrating because these narratives and these solutions have been around for centuries, right? But they keep getting drowned out. Like, did you see that Zac Efron show on Netflix? Down to Earth
No, I think the last Zac Efron movie I saw was Neighbors…
The whole premise of the show was like, “Two white guys travel around the world talking to more white guys about the problems created by white guys that white guys are now gonna solve!” Come on. There’s this quote by Einstein, “you can't solve a problem by the same thinking that got you into the problem.” We need a new lens. We need a paradigm shift. And that
, I think, is what I’m here to do now.