Healing Journey 2011: Back to Alaska

 

Slowly paddling down the Yukon, Jon Waterhouse once again takes the pulse of a river using modern tech with an ancient appreciation for the water and the land. Photo by Mary Marshall.Jon Waterhouse’s destiny was foretold the moment he pushed his canoe off the bank of the Yukon River and started to paddle. That incredible 2007 canoe trip, which he christened “the Healing Journey,” began with a simple request by the native elders and tribal leaders living in the Yukon River watershed to “go out, take the pulse of the river.” His journeys have taken him from Alaska, to Louisiana, and all the way over to Sudan, and now back up to where it all began. Follow his current journey all week here on Nat Geo NewsWatch.

 

By Jon Waterhouse, National Geographic Fellow

Jon Waterhouse, photo courtesy Mary Marshall.

After a four hour drive north from Fairbanks, Alaska, the 2011 Healing Journey is now underway!

Departing from a beach under a bridge dominated by 18-wheelers as they cross the mighty Yukon River, the Alaska Pipeline looms large in the background and I am reminded of why we are here. There have been many reminders in the last year of the need for environmental stewardship and this year, on the Yukon, I am doubly inspired.

The Yukon is where the now-global Healing Journey began in 2007 and it is where I discovered that we are all, by nature, environmental stewards. Shifts in human behavior with regard to care for the planet are occurring world-wide and I am proud to be a part of this awakening which is, for many, a return to a more respectful, inherent appreciation of our natural surroundings.

As we paddle this year, the journey eventually will deliver us to the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council’s Biennial Summit in Ruby, Alaska. Tribal leaders representing the 70 tribes and First Nations from Alaska and Canada who live along this river will be there to discuss Native Water Rights, and to hear from several internationally-known experts on this subject, who will also be in attendance. The discussion at the summit will determine our immediate path as we move ahead on this globally important matter.

This gathering will include the very leadership who initially asked me to go out and “take the pulse of the river”, launching the first Healing Journey. Since that request in ’07, our endeavors to learn from the people who live on these banks have put us paddle to paddle with river dwellers that live along other river banks in Alaska and Canada… and in faraway places. People of Siberia, Africa and South America are but a few around the world who now participate in this Healing Journey. Connections between people is paramount to our success, and with the inclusion of the scientific data we collect from our canoes on these journeys, the relationships we are building continue to evolve. The scientific community eagerly awaits the Yukon’s water quality data as we spread our message of environmental stewardship.

I look forward to the days to come, and to providing a picture of what life along this magnificent flow of water is like. Mother Nature is unpredictable and along this wide, purposeful river, she has her way. This morning brought soft rain and warm winds but tonight is beautifully clear and calm. At N 65.491 W 150.375 the sunlight reflecting on the water here at 10pm brings hope of another inimitable day of paddling and merging with the Yukon tomorrow.

Stay tuned…

Wildlife

Jon Waterhouse’s destiny was foretold the moment he pushed his canoe off the bank of the Yukon River and started to paddle. That incredible 2007 canoe trip, which he christened “the Healing Journey,” began with a simple request by the native elders and tribal leaders living in the Yukon River watershed to "go out, take the pulse of the river." Waterhouse’s journey raised awareness of the importance of environmental stewardship, combined traditional native knowledge with modern science, and helped rebuild intimate connections between Yukon communities and the natural world. The journey soon stretched far beyond the Yukon and led the Native American down rivers and through cultures in distant parts of South America, Russia, Greenland, Africa, and New Zealand.