Soul River Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, founded by Navy Veteran Chad Brown, that brings Veterans and inner city youth from the Portland, Oregon area into the outdoors to areas that are experiencing environmental threat. Having experienced hardships in their own lives, through close collaboration, leadership training and the healing experienced spending time in green spaces, they are able to morph their experiences into resilience, becoming leaders and advocates for wild paces and for their communities. On a series of mission-driven deployments, Soul River Veterans and youth visit areas and communities at-risk because of climate change, politics, or other related consequences of modernization. In the summer of 2018, as a volunteer with Soul River, I was able to join deployments to Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge and Gwich'in Village of Venetie, and the Ochoco Mountains in Southern Oregon. The following images were taken by Chad Brown and my thoughts on the transformative power of these incredible experiences are also below.
sri Arctic deployment 2018
From Portland, Oregon, we flew into Fairbanks, AK and then drove 10 hours up the infamous Dalton Highway to catch a bushplane up to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to camp alongside the Ivashak River. We spent three days there, listening to youth presentations about a wide range of topics related to the environmental threats experienced in the Arctic and flyfishing in the swift blue river. It was mosquito season, and we bonded over everything from the absurdity of their bites, to our bear spray protocol and the unpredictable weather.
One night, when rain forced us into our tents early, I sat writing in my tent and listened to the youth laughing and singing from their tents, finishing each other’s verses. “This is America,” a fourteen-year-old girl, adopted from Nepal sang out. “Don’t catch me slippin yo,” a sixteen year old from African American boy who moved from California to Portland at a young age called out next. I marveled. This is an Arctic experience like no other based on who we were able to bring here, young people who are working alongside veterans, raising the American flag every day, looking around at people that look like them, and in Alaska, interacting with each other and pop culture in a new lens. This moment matters, I remember thinking to myself.