Cleaning up the Yukon

by Alex N. Evan

I’d like to reflect on the time I was at Fort Yukon for the Yukon River Watershed Summit some 19 years ago. It was the time I represented 2 tribes of Marshall, Alaska – Native Village of Marshall and also Native Village of Ohogamiut. I was there for a whole week.

During that time I did a speech in front of some 400 people from the headwaters of the Yukon, Koyukuk, and Porcupine Rivers to the mouth of the Yukon.

I never thought I would be on the front page of the Fairbanks Daily News Miner the next day for my speech. I was concerned of the water pollution on the Yukon River because I knew about it firsthand.

The reason for this letter is: In the month of February at that time when I noticed the Yukon River was polluted some 20 years ago, my late brother Chuck had a lush fish trap and I was there to help him check the trap.

During that time the ice on the Yukon was some 5 feet thick. After all that ice picking I worked up a sweat and I wanted to drink water. As I was walking to the waterhole with a cup in my hand, my brother warned me that I should smell the water before I drink it.

I got to the waterhole to see the Yukon water in the hole was yellowish and it had a strong smell of sewage.

I did notice that years before when I was a commercial fisherman my lead line on my net would have black substance on it that smelled like sewage during that summer. In my mind I thought that it was due to the fish on the river, but in the corner of my mind I thought this was not right.

During that following winter we would catch deformed lush fish and the fish would have lots of black spots on the liver and many of the fish were uneatable.

During the time I was at the Summit, we learned the big cities in the headwaters of the Yukon were discharging some millions of gallons of untreated raw sewage into the Yukon every month. City of Dawson, Circle, and Fairbanks were doing the same to the Chena River which drains out to the Tanana River, which drains into the Yukon.

This was their normal practice for years on end.

This year since I have time as a retired paraprofessional teacher I decided to set net under the ice. I noticed the Yukon River water was nice and clear and not smelly.

In my mind I felt thankful so I decided to write about how the Yukon is now somewhat recovered. Also to find out many of these big cities have water treatment plants and no longer discharge untreated sewage into the Yukon. I do strongly feel the Yukon River water is somewhat drinkable.

In this letter I would like to thank the cities of Dawson, Circle, and Fairbanks for the improvement on their practices because we Yukon people fish and land animals depend on clean water for better health.

I would like to thank Fort Yukon for hosting the summit and for their hospitality to make our stay enjoyable and good native foods at their potluck and for the entertainment with a whole week of Music Fest.

As a fiddle band player I got to perform with my friend Rev. Trimble Gilbert from Arctic Village who fiddled for me when I played country tunes. There were also many other bands who were playing from many other villages and this was an outdoor dance.

People were dancing in the street in front of the radio station KZPA, while we played live on the airwaves. Bands like the Galena Band and others.

Lastly, I would like to thank many people like Chad Walker from Anvik, Walter Stickman from Nulato and Tubby from Kaltag and Lance Whitwell from Venetie. Also my roommate elder Stanley James from Carcross Canada and for the wisdom he shared with me at our stay at the Mission House in Fort Yukon.

The list goes on, to clean up our Yukon River in the name of our future generations. And our efforts to clean up the Yukon worked after all. Thanks to all. Sincerely yours.

Alex N. Evan is a resident of Marshall, Alaska.