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Healing Journey 2011: Back to Alaska

Slowly paddling down the Yukon, Jon Waterhouse once again takes the pulse of a river using modern tech with an ancient appreciation for the water and the land. Photo by Mary Marshall.

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.” His journeys have taken him from Alaska, to Louisiana, and all the way over to Sudan, and now back up to where it all began. Follow his current journey all week here on Nat Geo NewsWatch.


By Jon Waterhouse, National Geographic Fellow

Jon Waterhouse, photo courtesy Mary Marshall.

After a four hour drive north from Fairbanks, Alaska, the 2011 Healing Journey is now underway!

Departing from a beach under a bridge dominated by 18-wheelers as they cross the mighty Yukon River, the Alaska Pipeline looms large in the background and I am reminded of why we are here. There have been many reminders in the last year of the need for environmental stewardship and this year, on the Yukon, I am doubly inspired.

The Yukon is where the now-global Healing Journey began in 2007 and it is where I discovered that we are all, by nature, environmental stewards. Shifts in human behavior with regard to care for the planet are occurring world-wide and I am proud to be a part of this awakening which is, for many, a return to a more respectful, inherent appreciation of our natural surroundings.

As we paddle this year, the journey eventually will deliver us to the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council’s Biennial Summit in Ruby, Alaska. Tribal leaders representing the 70 tribes and First Nations from Alaska and Canada who live along this river will be there to discuss Native Water Rights, and to hear from several internationally-known experts on this subject, who will also be in attendance. The discussion at the summit will determine our immediate path as we move ahead on this globally important matter.

This gathering will include the very leadership who initially asked me to go out and “take the pulse of the river”, launching the first Healing Journey. Since that request in ’07, our endeavors to learn from the people who live on these banks have put us paddle to paddle with river dwellers that live along other river banks in Alaska and Canada… and in faraway places. People of Siberia, Africa and South America are but a few around the world who now participate in this Healing Journey. Connections between people is paramount to our success, and with the inclusion of the scientific data we collect from our canoes on these journeys, the relationships we are building continue to evolve. The scientific community eagerly awaits the Yukon’s water quality data as we spread our message of environmental stewardship.

I look forward to the days to come, and to providing a picture of what life along this magnificent flow of water is like. Mother Nature is unpredictable and along this wide, purposeful river, she has her way. This morning brought soft rain and warm winds but tonight is beautifully clear and calm. At N 65.491 W 150.375 the sunlight reflecting on the water here at 10pm brings hope of another inimitable day of paddling and merging with the Yukon tomorrow.

Stay tuned…


  1. M Rinehart
    Dayton, OH
    April 19, 2012, 11:48 am

    What a beautiful catharsis to return to where it all began. And, I especially appreciate the literal and metaphorical value of ‘taking the pulse of the river”…something we can all stand to do a lot more of no matter our journey. M. Rinehart @ cultural-conversations.com

  2. michael a hall
    arcata ca.
    November 23, 2011, 12:43 am

    the elders of all tribes know the heartbeat of the river it will tell them whether it is alive or soon to die, mother earth plays a very important part.

  3. James Bruce
    Vancouver B.C
    October 2, 2011, 2:37 am

    This is my wish to do this amazing jouney with my son and little girl once we become one again i think this will bring us together.So i will slowly move my way up that way.So i can grow with the Healing of the lost of my Brothers and sister.

  4. abhay
    mumbai, india
    September 13, 2011, 11:01 am

    absolutely delightful

  5. Mitch
    August 31, 2011, 7:42 pm

    Wow! I love hearing people’s stories about their journeys and adventures to awesome places. I have been an avid adventurer for a while, with my first “big” adventure taking me to Alaska last year, which was also a healing journey for me, as well! That really kicked things of for me, and now that I have a slew of amazing adventures and incredible feats behind my belt, I think it is time to get a better camera and start documenting everything so I can share my passion. Maybe I should start when I move up to Alaska in November 😀
    Great job! Keep it up! 🙂
    Safe adventures

  6. RAVI
    August 6, 2011, 9:33 am


  7. Larry Z
    August 4, 2011, 2:13 pm

    Jon, and Healing Journey Crew, wish I could have been a part of the trip this year:( Remember to honor the water, land in which you are traveling, listen to the elders along the way, give praise when you see the wildlife. It is an honor to paddle the Yukon, enjoy and safe travels.