Princess Daazhraii Johnson: An Arctic Protector

(June 9, 2021)

Princess Daazhraii Johnson, the narrator of The Arctic: Our Last Great Wilderness, is Neets’aii Gwich’in and her family is from Arctic Village, Alaska. Johnson is the former Executive Director for the Gwich’in Steering Committee and is a founding member of the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition. Johnson received a B.A. in International Relations from The George Washington University and a Masters in Education at the University of Alaska Anchorage with a focus on Environmental and Science Education. 

We asked her a few questions about her work protecting the Arctic Refuge, why she wanted to narrate the film, teaching children to love nature, and more.

Why did you want to narrate this film?

The urgency to protect the Arctic Refuge, to defend the sacred, has never been greater. Lending my voice to this film, is lending my spirit to this work which I care so deeply about. To me, these images are all filled with wonder and spirit and I feel humbled to do my small part in opening the public’s eyes to the beauty of these lands. When I saw the images of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, I also felt the spirit of my Ancestors. It’s a deeply emotional sight to behold and I’m grateful that a larger audience might realize why this place is worth protecting.

What do you hope people take away after seeing The Arctic: Our Last Great Wilderness?

I hope people see that the Arctic Refuge is worth protecting – that it is teeming with life and that oil drilling on the Coastal Plain would decimate the ecosystem.

What is one of the things that makes the Gwich’in culture so unique?

Our Gwich’in communities have a spiritual tie to the Porcupine Caribou Herd. We are unique in the sense that our language, our beliefs, our stories, our spiritual, mental, and physical health is tied to the health of the herd and has been since the beginning of our existence.

Porcupine caribou herd mother and calf

How important to your culture are the connections to The Refuge?

As our Elders have taught uswe call the coastal plain “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodl’it” or the Sacred Place Where Life Begins. That says it all. It’s a place you don’t disturb. This is a human rights issue for the Gwich’in Nation that is in both the US and Canada. Our communities are located along the migratory route of the herd because of this symbiotic relationship we maintain.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has changed over your lifetime. Can you explain some of what you have seen?

What we are seeing all across Alaska are the drastic effects of the current climate crisis. 

How can we foster an early appreciation for conservation among kids?

I would frame this question differently. It’s more like how can we foster an understanding in kids that we/they are all a part of this earth and connected to the land, plants, and animals? We do that by making sure that they spend time connecting to the outdoorswhether that is a local park, getting acquainted with gardening, observing wildlife, participating in honorable harvest, spending time near waterthere are many ways to foster a deep appreciation for the ecosystems that support all life.  

Porcupine caribou herd on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Tell us about your upcoming work, what are you doing now?

I currently work for WGBH as Creative Producer on PBS Kids series “Molly of Denali.” I also serve on the boards of Native Movement and NDN Collective which are focused on building strong movements that defend Indigenous lands while transforming unjust systems. Since 2014, I have been on the Board of Trustees of the Institute of American Indian Arts and believe strongly in the transformative power of the arts. I look forward to embarking on more storytelling that shares out our Indigenous values and the ways that we interact with our plant and animal relatives and the land and waters that we all depend upon.

More about Princess Daazhraii Johnson

Princess Daazhraii JohnsonPrincess Daazhraii Johnson has been a member of the SAG-AFTRA Native American Committee since 2007, and serves on the boards of NDN Collective and Native Movement. In 2015 Johnson was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Board of Trustees for the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is based in Alaska and is currently creative producer and writer on PBS Kids “Molly of Denali” a Peabody award-winning animated series produced by WGBH. She is a current Nia Tero Storytelling fellow where she is working on development of a feature length script. She lives in Fairbanks with her husband, James, and her sons – Delnor, K’edzaaye’, and Aldzak and their dog, Atsoo. 

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