The Awakening

Fighting for environmental justice and climate justice echoes the spirit of America’s great civil rights leaders; it’s a spirit fueled by our moral obligation to leave our youth a world that is safer and rich with opportunity for them to move forward and not deal with our mess. Our fight begins on ground zero where the rivers are still pristine, the wildlife remains wild and everything is protected. The next generation of youth leaders is embarking on a journey of advocacy – to stand and hold the line as protectors of our wildlife, public lands, fresh water and uphold equal opportunity for environmental justice.

FullSizeRender.jpgSoul River Inc. Board Caravan plane to the Arctic Village.

Soul River Inc’s mission is to expose and educate youth and veterans from the Portland-metro area to the jewels of National Wildlife Refuges throughout our country.  SRI’s 2017 Arctic Cross-Cultural Science Exploration deployment, which took place on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, was made possible by the generosity and willingness of many partners.

IMG_1028.JPGGroup Shot taken by youth mother Shelly La Rock in Portland Airport

With 13 youth (plus one from Alaska), six veterans, and two volunteers, we started with a flight from Portland, OR to Fairbanks, AK where we connected with Barry Whitehill. Barry was our backcountry guide who served as a critical partner linking all points of our connections and arranging gear. Pristine Adventures provided some incredible boats that are designed specifically for backcountry touring, hunting, and angling expeditions. Simms Fishing sent up a film crew who came along to document this expedition which helped tell an awesome story. (Stay tuned! A documentary is planning to release in the next few months!) What would a story be without someone who’s heartbeat is actually pulsing to the Alaskan Arctic wild?

IMG_1148.JPGSoul River Inc. Spends time with Paul in Venatie saying last good bye from this amazing expedition.

We were fortunate to have Paul, a retired Chief of the Venetie accompany us with tribal cultural stories, history of the waters and land, calls to the wild animals, and cultural chants that made us laugh late in the afternoon around the camp fire.B90A3123.jpgWe launched from the East Fork of the Chandalar River at Arctic Village and embarked on a new and aggressive agenda to float 147 miles to Venetie. Veterans and youth were paired up in boat teams where the veterans served as the mentors and guided their boat team down this challenging stretch of river navigation. Our days were filled with endless rowing, long days where the sun shined 23.5 hours a day, fly fishing along the way and observing and learning this pristine environment.

B90A3187.jpgSoul River Inc. days were long n the Chandalar River and good healing time well spent!
B90A3073.jpgArmy Veteran Mathew Dahl teaching all youth fly fishing on the Chandalar River.

We used a modified version of Stanford Earth’s Climate Change curriculum which was developed in partnership with NASA. SRI Education Coordinator Stefanie Scovill and SRI Pathfinder Youth Leader and Board Member Citlalli Briseño modified and made the curriculum more relevant and applicable to this specific deployment. This is the most hands on one can get for a climate change curriculum! Veterans served as educators for the different modules, while Citlalli provided interactive activities to solidify concepts even moreso.

B90A3142.jpgArmy Veteran – Eric McComie teaching class to youth.

This year, we included a cultural component about the Venetie people and how climate change is impacting their community and way of life. Barry and Paul pointed out clear damage and effects of climate change happening to the earth and waters including permafrost, receding shorelines, and warming temperatures. This is a truly humbling experience in that it is first hand recognition of just how big the issue is, how daunting these concerns are, and how small and powerless you feel. Paul shared with us how the patterns of the caribou have changed which has been a big shift for the Venetie cultural traditions.

B90A3148.jpgArmy Veteran – Mathew Dahl teaching class to youth.

It’s sad to witness all these changes and see what is happening on U.S. soil and how it is impacting a tribal community that is made up of so many generations including veterans who have served as warriors to help protect and defend this country. Yet, it feels like a third world country that was left behind, remaining an after-thought to the lower 48.

As the group leader, I could feel the struggle that youth and veterans felt. The intensity. The impact. The deep contemplation. But on the other side, just like with every fight and struggle there is a jewel of hope. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a whole, including Arctic Village and Venetie, that is rich, abundant, spirit-filled and overflowing with wealth of authentic humanity, is the crown jewel and should be protected and supported by the lower 48 states.


We owe it to these people group to embrace their cultural heritage and protect the land that they serve which equally serves them. It is truly a jewel of one of the most wild spaces on this planet that should be protected and preserved for decades to come. This place holds the same raw heart beat that was once there when our veterans served our country.

B90A3098.jpgNavy Veteran – Jacob Zachary, Army Veteran – Eric McComie, Marine Veteran  – Dan Huynh appreciating the beautiful land and the pristine river. In awww!
B90A3552.jpgNavy Veteran -Paula Barreto hooked on on her first Arctic Grayling and just learned how to fly fish!

It’s a ravenous hunger to serve and protect. The veterans stepped up and really opened the eyes for our youth. This deployment is one of leadership for adults and youth to find their soul, ignite and rebuild the minds in an unconventional way. Experiencing the Arctic is a missing link to helping the next generation of leaders really understand what is going on.

B90A3315.jpgSoul River youth Sofina learns how to fly fish for the first time and hooks in on her first fish with a big kiss!
B90A3284.jpgSoul River youth Leader Tyrell, Slams an Arctic char and lays in another big kiss! lol 

There is an immense need to support and preserve the Arctic National Widlife Refuge, which injects life back into our veterans and our urban youth and fulfills the sustainability for the Natives who reside on that land. The Arctic should be looked at as a sacred land for all people. I hope this land will be passed down to the next generation to care for and not have to deal with the mess of issue that our first world people group has already committed on our wildlife, land, fish water, salt water and other ecosystems. The lessons we have not learned from history still continue to haunt us today. Let’s not let the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge become even more threatened and marred. If you don’t believe in anything else believe in our youth for tomorrow and our veterans who gave their lives and need places like this to heal.

B90A3496.jpgKenia Soul River youth with Veteran Mathew Dahl. Kenia first time fly fishing and hooking into Arctic Grayling!

I would like to thank our sponsors for helping making this all happen:

USFWS – Alaska Region, Wilburforce Foundation, SIMMS Fishing, Pristine Adventures, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Columbia Sportswear,

Additionally, we had generous donations and support from Roam Oatmeal, REI – Tualatin store, Brian Green, Amber Jaworski, and community support of individual private donors.

Signing off!

Chad Brown
Soul River Inc.

Please take some time and see our memories through the experience in the Arctic. And please respect all images to Soul River Inc. Please don’t not pull images for other postings. Please asked us first!
B90A3118.jpg Seth from Alaska! Soul River youth making it happen on the Chandler river.
B90A3122.jpgVeteran Mathew Dahl carrying shot gun by camp fire. Bear siting and glad nothing never happen.
B90A3206.jpgMcKenna Soul River youth who is amazing and awesome to have on our deployment!
B90A3208.jpgVeteran Jacob rowing hard as the captain of his boat.
Mr. Barry Whithill! The man!!!
Jayden first catch! And it is slippery!
Proud moment! Sofina first catch!


One thought on “The Awakening

  1. Hello Mr. Brown my name is Emanuel McFadden. I live in Portland Oregon. Possibly I would like to join your fly fishing organization as well as share my ideas and business plan with you. Also, I am a former Marine as well.

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