Indigenous organization ignites a movement of positive change

Few watershed organizations face a greater challenge than the Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council (YRIWC). It's mission is to protect the Yukon River, which flows 2,300 miles from Canada’s Yukon Territory, winding through Alaska, and out to the Bering Sea. Nearly a mile wide in places, the Yukon is home to the largest remaining inland run of salmon in North America and dozens of widely scattered Native Villages.

Many villages have no modern sewage treatment facilities. “Honey buckets” (plastic buckets that serve as toilets) have been historically dumped along the river causing sewage from one village to wash downstream to the next. In Galena, the U.S. Army improperly stored hundreds of barrels of toxic substances in 55-gallon drums that were washed throughout the watershed in a 100-year flood.

Starting in 1997, River Network staff members helped the new Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council with fundraising, partnership development, political strategy, liability issues, website development and staff development. That upfront investment has since paid
enormous dividends. The Council now maintains a staff of 20 in three offices and has:

• Removed eight million pounds of recyclable materials over the past four summers
• Partnered with USGS to collect water samples at long-term monitoring sites, surveyed
entire length of the river and tracked more then 300 hazardous waste sites
• Founded a Renewable Energy Department producing electricity with an
environmentally sustainable in-stream 5kw turbine

In September 2008, the YRIWC was named as a finalist for the Harvard IBM Innovations
in Governance Award. They’ve also managed to rack up some amazing publicity by landing
a 60-second regional public service announcement (PSA) that has aired during two
consecutive Superbowl half-time shows.

“River Network has been and will continue to be our most valuable partner in the river
protection movement,” says Rob Rosenfeld, the Council’s Yukon Region director and
International Policy and Development advisor. “The real joy has been to see a movement
take hold that will be around for many, many years ensuring the protection of the 4th largest
watershed in North America.”