Photo by Ḵaa Yahaayí Shkalneegi Muriel Reid. Words by SCS Staff.
Over the years, the warm lights seen through SCS office windows during late winter nights were on because Clarice Johnson was tirelessly putting together payroll. Clarice has been the organization’s rock, our longest standing, most dedicated advocate both for the Tongass, and for us as individuals. You may have seen her at community events renewing memberships, or if you are intrepid, way off trail on bushwack hikes in the forests and muskegs of the Tongass. As office manager, she not only oriented us to the office and our work, but she was also the kind, consistent presence that would hold us up, when the work got too tough for any one person to handle alone. Clarice won the hearts of every single person who worked within these walls, and every single dog that rampaged through these halls!
Clarice’s impact and relationship with the Tongass has been both powerful and deeply personal. Her passion for Southeast Alaska came from her experiences as a Lingít woman of the Kiks.ádi clan growing up on her family’s commercial fishing boat. Working under the direction of her parents – the legendary longliner Moe Johnson (Kaagwaantaan clan) and his wife Amy, she traveled the outer coast of Chichagof in the area that would become the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness. Rather than sleeping once the lines were set, Clarice and her family would go out and explore the islands of the Tongass.
As she and her family would later travel along Chatham Strait, they saw the devastation of large-scale clearcuts of the pulp mills that started in the 1950s. When she saw how the timber industry devastated the old growth forests on the mountainsides, Clarice stepped up to push back. During the height of the Tongass timber wars, Clarice was there as a leading activist and board member of SCS when the organization was just a band of Sitkans who were often despised for speaking out against the dominant culture.
Photo by Ḵaa Yahaayí Shkalneegi Muriel Reid.
It was when SCS had a tangle of knots that no one else would untangle that she stepped up and joined the staff. During the year her first daughter was born, Clarice did the work to build the foundation of the Sitka Conservation Society. Tackling human resources paperwork, payrolls, bank finances, note-taking, and the non-profit status and certification, Clarice was the behind-the-scenes force that kept the non-profit advocacy group running. Over 20 years later, our scope and membership continues to grow by leaps and bounds because of her efforts . When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was Clarice who helped transition our organization into a remote office safely. She took care of our staff like we were family, all while challenging the dominant white-led conservationist culture. As her children grew into talented young activists, students, and artists, Clarice has been consistently advocating and supporting the character of our community, our environment, and the old growth forests that we love and live within.
Under her philosophy of never returning down the same route she began, Clarice and her children would embrace more of the Tongass around Sitka than most any Sitkan. Like her father and her brother she didn’t talk much, but when she did it was the most valuable insight and was usually what was needed and the path we ended up taking. In terms of influence and catalyzing change, Clarice had some of the most profound impact over the course of SCS’s evolution. The best type of advocate, like the best type of friend, is the one who does not simply take you for what you are; they help you become better, by encouraging you and also challenging you. She never turned her back on difficult nuances and the complexities of the conservation movement. In one moment Clarice would be jailed for protesting Forest Service timber sales and in the next, she would be questioning the motives of Wilderness designation, prompting important dialogue on access, colonial constructs, and inequity. In doing so, she made us all better as individuals, and our movement stronger and more effective than it could have ever been without her consistent and loving heart – and her busy hiking shoes.
This year, as Clarice Johnson retires and steps down from her formal position with SCS, we know that her legacy will endure as the grounded and true foundation of our community organization. Thank you, Gunalchéesh Clarice Johnson.
Many generous donations have already been made to the Living Wilderness Fund in honor of Clarice’s tireless advocacy for the Tongass. We have raised almost $20,000 already and we are hoping to raise 25,000 dollars for the Living Wilderness Fund in honor of Clarice. If you would like to help and honor Clarice’s work, please give to the Living Wilderness Fund today.