Honoring the Legacy of Verner Wilson III
It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of Verner Wilson III, Senior Oceans Campaigner for Friends of the Earth. Verner passed away on March 23, 2023 at the age of 36. Born and raised in Alaska’s Bristol Bay with family ties in the Bering Strait, Verner was a member of the Curyung Tribe in Dillingham, Alaska, and a dear friend and colleague to many.
Throughout his career, Verner sought to bring the rights, voices and concerns of Indigenous Peoples to the forefront of climate and environmental action in Alaska and beyond. Verner’s infectious smile and magnetic personality inspired colleagues, partners and communities throughout the world. The experience and knowledge Verner brought to international spaces and forums made him an influential speaker and educator on Arctic issues and environmental degradation. Verner’s joyful presence and legacy stretch across the globe through the expansive network he built of Indigenous, environmental and climate activists.
Verner served at Friends of the Earth for five years, applying his passion toward protecting Arctic communities from environmental degradation from shipping, cruising and mining operations. Before joining Friends of the Earth’s staff, Verner partnered with the organization to further Indigenous representation at the International Maritime Organization. And in 2021, with partners, he helped win a seat at the table for Arctic Indigenous voices and issues.
Verner also held cruise companies accountable for their environmental degradation in communities across Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. He worked to improve fishing regulations to reduce impacts to endangered salmon and improve Southern Resident orca health, and fought to protect his beloved Bristol Bay from harmful mining operations like the Pebble Mine — a fight he was engaged in his entire adult life.
“Verner was a fierce advocate for the protection of our environment in his community of Bristol Bay and the larger world,” said Marcie Keever, Oceans and vessels program director at Friends of the Earth. “We have lost a bright light in our movement, and we will endeavor to continue Verner’s work to elevate Indigenous voices and stand up for people, our climate and our environment.”
“The passion, care and intention Verner modeled touched so many lives within the climate and environmental movement and beyond,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “Our thoughts are with Verner’s family as they mourn. Verner’s heart for Alaska was reflected in every meeting, every project and every partnership. Friends of the Earth will continue to fight to protect the people and places Verner loved.”
Donations and support in honor of Verner’s legacy can be sent to: United Tribes of Bristol Bay, PO Box 1252 Dillingham, AK 99576 (please put Verner Wilson in the memo).