Yukon river with green grass and purple flower in foreground

New year’s often evokes reflecting on new beginnings and while we have no shortage of new faces and changes here at MRG, I have found myself turning to our history and my history for both context and inspiration.

Roy Sampsel was a friend and mentor of mine and he often reminded me that, as tribal people, we worked on different timescales; that when we think about our work we need to think about not just our individual work, but the work that needs to be accomplished over a series of generations and centuries. He often told the story of being witness to the forming of the Yukon Inter-Tribal River Watershed Council. In 1997 a coalition of sovereign Tribal and First Nation governments came together – a group of 56 chiefs and elders gathered in Galena, Alaska, to discuss their concern about increased cancers and other health problems in human communities and game species within the Yukon River watershed.

The long-term vision—and the guiding light for the organization—was articulated by those Tribal leaders at the historic 1997 Summit that birthed the Watershed Council:  to once again drink clean water directly from the Yukon River as our ancestors did for thousands of years before us.

Throughout the last month I have found great joy in immersing myself in the pictures, people, stories and power of MRG and its history. It is reminding me of my teachings from Roy. Through transitions and grappling with a political climate where our communities are the ever shifting targets there is a sense of trust here, there is a sense of clarity, there is a sense of grounding and of peace and faith in the MRG community of grantees, activists and leaders. The more I learn about our long history of leaders (many of them women, and many women of color), the larger a feeling of humbleness is growing within me.

I was born in 1976, the year MRG was founded. In the pages of our archive of annual reports and pictures I found myself seeing the leaders I looked up to as a child and young adult and the meaning of Roy’s teachings began to move to the center of my consciousness. Tribal Nations in Alaska and Canada who are connected to the Yukon River endured centuries of horrific and catastrophic challenges – and through these challenges their sense of what was true was never lost, it just took them coming together to be able to speak it back into existence once again. This same strength is evident in the MRG community of donors and leaders. I am so very honored to move into 2019, into strategic planning, into growth and establishment of our core staff, into tough conversations about wealth, power and liberation and into questions upon questions and more questions because: I know we already have the answers.

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