2004 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award
Awardee: Clarence Alexander
"You know what I want? I want clean water. It's as simple as that."
Clarence Alexander is honored as the recipient of the 2004 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award for his many years of work advocating for environmental justice, tribal rights and protection of the Yukon River Watershed. He is a respected leader with indigenous values, strong coalition building skills and extraordinary vision. Alexander is Dranjik Gwich'in and lives in Fort Yukon, Alaska.
As one of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council's four founders, Alexander oversaw the coming together and consensus decision-making of sixty sovereign governments bound together by treaty. The council has worked to clean up solid wastes, introduce recycling in over forty Native communities and institute a program of river monitoring on the Yukon. In addition, the council has effectively pressed the U.S. Department of Defense to begin clean up of several military contaminant sites in Alaska.
As a co-founder of the Yukon River Inter-tribal Watershed Council, Alexander advocates for clean up of the Yukon River and its tributaries, including Canada. The Yukon River is one of the largest watersheds in North America. Its headwaters are in the mountains of British Columbia and it empties into the Bering Sea.
Alexander is also a co-founder of the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments. The council localized management of inter-tribal regional programs including natural resource management and tribal health funding. This localization resulted in improved health care, increased tribal oversight of federal land management and greater control of programs such as housing, education and environmental quality.
As former Grand Chief of the Gwich'in peoples, Alexander gathered seventeen tribes to discuss oil development's threat to the caribou and Gwich'in people. Discussion of these threats generated a unified stand of Tribal Chiefs on oil development in the region and increased awareness of threats to community quality of life in the Yukon River Watershed. Alexander also appointed spokespersons to the concurrently formed Gwich'in Steering Committee to address oil development. That committee continues to influence Congress with respect to concerns about oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Alexander is currently Chairman of the Gwichyaa Zhee Corporation. He has served on the River Network Board since 2001 and was on the Board of the Alaska Humanities Forum. Alexander served as the Chief of Fort Yukon from 1980 to 1994. He is a founder of KZPA 900 AM Gwandak Radio and served as Chairman in the 1990s. In recognition of his leadership, the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University interviewed him to become part of the Great Tribal Leaders curriculum.
Alexander worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for twenty years. He also served for sixteen years in the National Guard. Clarence and Virginia Alexander are nearing completion of their work on a Gwich'in Athabascan-English dictionary.