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A Voice for our Ocean

Ocean Conservancy Welcomes Barbara ‘Wáahlaal Gidaag Blake as Vice President of Arctic Conservation

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Anchorage, AK – Ocean Conservancy is excited to welcome Barbara ‘Wáahlaal Gidaag Blake as its Vice President for Arctic Conservation. Her first day will be April 15.

In her new role, ‘Wáahlaal Gidaag will lead Ocean Conservancy’s work in the Arctic and Alaska, guiding partnership-driven efforts and promoting innovative solutions that help ensure healthy ocean ecosystems for generations to come. She will lead a team of 12 knowledge-holders, scientists and policy experts who have worked with partners to achieve important successes, including safe shipping lanes through the Bering Strait, precautionary commercial fishery closures in Arctic Alaska and the adjoining international seas, and removal of tens of thousands of pounds of marine debris.

“Our existence is deeply connected to the waters that encompass us,” ‘Wáahlaal Gidaag said. “Through my experiences, I’ve learned about the delicate yet resilient nature of the ocean and its vital role in our survival. Joining Ocean Conservancy allows me to dedicate my abilities and passion towards the caretaking of our ocean for generations to come.”

Photo courtesy of ‘Wáahlaal Gidaag

Prior to this position, ‘Wáahlaal Gidaag was Senior Director of the Alaska Native Policy Center with First Alaskans Institute, where she sought to promote the self-determination of Alaska Native peoples. ‘Wáahlaal Gidaag also formerly served as Director of Native Relations and fish/game staffer for Governor Bill Walker and Lt. Governor Byron Mallott. She worked in the Alaska Legislature with Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon and Senator Albert Kookesh. She also served as Government Affairs Liaison for The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and as a Technical Assistant Specialist for Intertribal Agriculture Council and Program Assistant in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Office of Tribal Relations.

‘Wáahlaal Gidaag received her master’s degree from University of Alaska Fairbanks, focusing her thesis on fisheries development in rural Alaska. She received her undergraduate degrees at the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a BA in Rural Economic Development and an AA in Tribal Management. She also holds certificates in Indianpreneurship, Tribal Business Law, and First Nations Futures Program from Onaben, Seattle University School of Law, and Stanford University, respectively.

“’Wáahlaal Gidaag brings extensive experience and unique perspective to Ocean Conservancy,” said Ocean Conservancy CEO Janis Searles Jones. “She is the ideal person to lead our team in the Arctic and Alaska. I look forward to supporting her as she advances equitable partnerships and centers Indigenous values in our work to conserve Arctic ocean ecosystems. I also extend sincere gratitude to our outgoing Vice President, Scott Highleyman, and am pleased to announce that he will remain with Ocean Conservancy as a Senior Advisor.”  

‘Wáahlaal Gidaag is from Prince of Wales Island and currently lives in Dzántik’i Héeni (Juneau) on Lingít Aaní. She is of Haida, Tlingit and Ahtna Athabascan descent and belongs to the Káat nay-st/Yahkw Jáanaas (Shark House/Middle Town People) Clan. She is the daughter of Sandra Demmert (Yahkw Jáanaas) and Kenneth Johnson (Naltsiina), granddaughter of Frances Demmert Peele (Yahkw Jáanaas), Franklin Demmert, Sr. (L’eeneidi), Irene Johnson (Naltsiina) Walter Johnson (Norwegian), and mother to two amazing children. She currently is a member of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly and Sealaska Board of Directors as well as the Woosh.ji.een Dancers, Xaadaas Dagwii Dancers, Alaska Native Sisterhood, Polynesian Voyage Society, and the Heinyaa Kwaan Dancers.


Ocean Conservancy envisions a healthier ocean, protected by a more just world. We are working to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges and, together with our partners, we create evidence-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit, or follow us on Facebook, X (Twitter) or Instagram.  

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Jordana Lewis




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