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2012 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award

Honoree: Jonathan Andrew Waterhouse

“No one is coming to save our future. We must band together and do it ourselves.”
~ Jon Waterhouse

Dee Pigsley
Jonathan Andrew Waterhouse
Download a hi-res image: right-click here and select "Save As" (Photo by Mary Marshall)

Jonathan Andrew Waterhouse (S’Klallam, Chippewa, Cree) is honored as a 2012 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award finalist for his tireless dedication to the restoration and preservation of the Yukon River Watershed. Among his many roles, Waterhouse serves as executive director for the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (YRITWC), a grassroots organization that brings together 70 sovereign indigenous governments with a simple goal—“to be able to drink directly from the Yukon River.” Jon has an extraordinary ability to capture the vision of the Watershed Council membership and translate it into meaningful and significant implementation. Jon’s work serves as a model for indigenous peoples around the world, as they attempt to restore, protect and preserve their watersheds, while using traditional knowledge as a foundation for achieving their goals.

In 2007, to assess the health of the Yukon River Watershed amid growing concerns about the significant decline in salmon runs, native elders and tribal leaders asked Jon to “go out and take the pulse of the river.” That began a 1,500-mile canoe trip that Waterhouse christened “The Healing Journey.” Gathering traditional knowledge through stories told by the people of the river while collecting water quality data, the Healing Journey spurred a watershed-wide cleanup effort, removing nearly 16 million pounds of hazardous waste and recyclable materials from the more than 320,000-square-mile watershed. Tribal leaders have praised Jon as a competent and dedicated leader, who follows the guiding principles of the Yukon River elders and respects traditional protocols that have shepherded indigenous people through thousands of years.

Jon’s original goal to restore the intimate connection between Yukon native communities and their natural world has reached far beyond the Yukon to watersheds in remote regions of North and South America, Russia, Europe, Greenland, Africa, and New Zealand. Jon’s original canoe trip has developed into a worldwide Healing Journey event. The Healing Journey is tackling social issues by helping community members reconnect with the natural world and, in turn, with one another.

Born in the South of France to military parents, Jon is one of few North American tribal members who had to become a naturalized citizen. At the age of 14, Jon’s family returned to the United States, but he was discontented and grew rebellious. He turned to the natural world as an escape from an unstable home environment, but his vagrant lifestyle and brushes with the law found Jon at a crossroads. In 1975, he joined the military and narrowly averted a prison sentence. Twenty years later, Jon retired as a decorated U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer. In 1997, he began his work with the people of the Yukon River Watershed.

Over the years, Jon’s remarkable work has ranged from policy-level consultation with tribal, national, and international governments to native youth outreach and education. In 2009, Jon guided the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council to U.N. Consultative Status. That same year, Jon was named a National Geographic Education Fellow. In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Waterhouse to the fifteen-member Joint Public Advisory Committee, where he is among representatives from Canada, Mexico, and the United States, who have been chosen to advise the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). He also serves on the Board of the Alaska-Sudan Medical Project as community development director, assisting in the creation of primary medical care facilities in remote areas of South Sudan. Most importantly, Jon’s work has always been about taking direct, impactful action. The late two-time Alaska Governor Walter J. Hickel recognized Jon’s pragmatic approach to the Yukon River Watershed restoration and echoed Jon’s mantra, often quoting him as he urged Alaskans to “put on some gloves and get to work.”

Jon lives in Anchorage, Alaska with his wife, writer Mary Marshall, who is a passionate advocate for reconnecting people and the natural world around them.   


2012 Honorees

Brian Cladoosby

Gail Small

Jonathan Andrew Waterhouse

Micah McCarty

Patience Andersen Faulkner



Astrid Scholz
tel: 503.467.0758
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Jason Pretty Boy
Indigenous Resilience Fellow
tel: 503.467.0803


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