Meet Ocean Conservancy’s Director of Arctic Indigenous-Led Conservation

Protect Alaska’s Cook Inlet from dangerous offshore drilling

I was lucky to grow up around Cook Inlet in Alaska, and the region is still my home. In our local Dena’ina language the inlet is called Tikahtnu, which means “big water river.” Tikahtnu has been home to the Sugpiaq and Dena’ina peoples for thousands of years, and our peoples here have stewarded the resources in this area long before there were oil rigs in the ocean.

It is traditional to introduce ourselves, and I would like to take the opportunity to do that. My parents are Linda Ross (Mann) who is Yaghanen Ht’ana Dena’ina from Kahtnu Qayeh (Kenai, Alaska) and Alan Ross who is Scottish Gasht’ana from Vancouver Island, British Columbia (BC). I am married to Leanndra (Bergeron) who is Eagle Killerwhale Clan (Tlingit) from southeast Alaska, and we have four grown daughters. I have worked as a commercial fisher, taught language and culture for the Salamatof Tribe, supported Alaska Native healthcare through Southcentral Foundation, and served as president and CEO at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

In my new role as Director, Arctic Indigenous-led Conservation, I will bring that background and experience to Ocean Conservancy and to build trust and partnership—based on common ground, mutual understanding and respect–between conservation organizations and Alaska Native entities. Doing so requires us at Ocean Conservancy to support Indigenous-led conservation based on ways of thinking about the world in which people and nature are intrinsically linked and in relationship. That’s why I’m so grateful to be joining this team with a passion for the vision of a healthier ocean, protected by a more just world. I look forward to bringing a passion for Tika’a, the ocean, and Alaska Quht’ana, the local people to Ocean Conservancy’s work.

I’m also grateful that my work and heritage coincide.

Cook Inlet is truly a special place to protect for future generations, and I’m asking for your help to conserve this beautiful land and water. Offshore oil and gas operations are dangerous to the people and ecosystem of Cook Inlet and expanding those activities is contrary to President Biden’s climate goals.

Jonathon Ross and two dogs by the seaside

The Cook Inlet watershed encompasses some of Alaska’s most diverse and unique ecosystems, supporting brown and black bears, moose, caribou, migratory birds, wolves, humpback, beluga and killer whales, sea otters, sea lions and all five species of wild Pacific salmon. More than 400,000 people—nearly two-thirds of Alaska’s population—live in the watershed, and Cook Inlet families and communities depend on its healthy waters and wild habitats for their livelihoods.

We humans must acknowledge our role in helping maintain balance in our environment as trustworthy stewards. With shared conservation goals top of mind, we can partner with Indigenous peoples to enhance their environment and its governance and management systems. Where there is common ground and room for trust, there is also the opportunity to work together for thriving ecosystems.

” … Chin’an Ełnen Bunkda ch’dalkidi niłtu 

Na’ełnen’a duch’ideliyi

Ey uh qa ts’daltsiyi

Chin’an Yuyanq’ Nadesnaqa …”

” …Thank you earth mother for our provisions 

We respect our homeland 

We live upon the outdoors

Thank you our heavenly parents …”

– Part of a prayer Jon wrote for the Salamatof Tribe in 2018

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