Kiliii Yüyan is an award-winning photographer whose work has taken us to some of the world’s harshest environments, contributed to the discussion around stewardship, uplifted Indigenous perspectives, and illuminated the importance of human connection to the land and sea. To recognize this incredible portfolio of work, Kiliii Yüyan has received the National Geographic Society’s 2023 Eliza Scidmore Award for Outstanding Storytelling.
This award––named for the writer and photographer Eliza Scidmore, the first woman elected to the Society’s Board of Trustees in 1892––recognizes individuals who use immersive storytelling to make complex ideas, issues, and information relevant and accessible.
Raised by parents who sought refuge in the U.S., and informed by his ancestry that is both Nanai/Hèzhé (East Asian Indigenous) and Chinese-American, Yüyan’s work explores the human relationship to the natural world from different cultural perspectives. He said: “Trying to understand my ancestry led me on a lifelong dive into Indigenous perspectives and ultimately guided me into storytelling.”
Whether he’s camping on arctic sea ice with polar bears, sharing a meal of piranhas with the Cofan in the Amazon rainforest, or participating in cultural burns with the Yurok community in California, one thing is sure: Yüyan demonstrates what it takes to create a truly immersive storytelling experience.
“We are thrilled to announce Kiliii as the recipient of the 2023 Eliza Scidmore Award for his outstanding accomplishments and contributions to storytelling,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, CEO of the National Geographic Society. “Kiliii’s dedication to illuminating the important stories of the Arctic and Indigenous communities epitomizes the power of storytelling by bringing new perspectives about humanity’s relationship with nature to audiences around the world.”
In 2022, he received a grant from the Society and The Climate Pledge to conduct a project focused on Indigenous conservation. Specifically, he is photographing five communities from the Greenland coastline to the coral reefs of Palau to show successful Indigenous conservation efforts.
His outstanding contributions to National Geographic magazine include his 2018 documentation of the millennia-old Inupiaq subsistence whale hunt and its key importance to their collectivist culture, and his photographs for the July 2022 cover story that helped more people understand the sovereignty of Native nations across North America. Beyond National Geographic, Yüyan’s work has been exhibited worldwide and featured in top publications. Yüyan is and will continue to be one of the most pivotal contributors to photography.
Yüyan’s explorations past and present portray resilience, empathy, authenticity, and change. Through his impactful work, Yüyan will be honored as the 2023 Eliza Scidmore Award recipient during the annual National Geographic Society Storytellers Summit. Past recipients include Lynsey Addario, Erika Larsen, David Quammen, and Lynn Johnson.