Indigenous Groups Rally to Rescue North America’s Freshwater

As the U.N. marks the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9, we’re happy to give an update on a great example of the active role indigenous people and cultures have come to play in major issues like conservation around the world.

Our recent summit in Mayo, Yukon gathering indigenous groups to make a plan for the exertion of Native Water Rights in Canada and the U.S. was, in a word, perfect. Beyond the sunshine and blue skies, our giant white meeting tent was erected in a large grassy field beside the calm waters of the Stewart River. For 3 days, approximately 300 people gathered near the water’s edge, grateful to Mother Earth for her many bounties, and reveling in an atmosphere filled with appreciation and anticipation.

Native People from all over Canada and Alaska arrived by plane, by bus, by car and boat. They came to witness the making of history, knowing that the outcome of this Summit would effect the way they live, the way their grandchildren and their grandchildren will continue to live and thrive in this mighty Yukon River Watershed. Non-Natives flocked to Mayo from as far away as England and Germany, eager to be a part of this truly momentous occasion. It was inspiring to see 70 Tribes and First Nations come together with their brothers and sisters from near and far for the protection of water.

The decisions coming out of this summit, made by these dedicated tribal leaders – with the consent of the People, are first steps to securing the rights of all people to clean, fresh water. These Nations realize there is much work to be done, but in deciding by consensus to move ahead, they have taken the giant first step. They now have a detailed water management plan, created over the last 12 years based on the latest scientific research and analysis, which has defined Native Water Rights. The goal? To protect the waters of the 325,000-square-mile Yukon Watershed from any threat to its quality, quantity, and flow; a standard that will be a model for rivers and watersheds around the world to follow as we all battle to keep our planet’s most precious resource healthy, safe, and life-sustaining.

Now I’m embarking on our latest Healing Journey down the Yukon, using modern science to study the physical quality of the water, and working with local communities to discover the cultural impact the water plays in their lives. Track our progress daily!


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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.