Stories in Washington

Glenn Ellis Jr.

By Anya Blaney

A family stands in front of a statue of a dinosaur.
Glenn Ellis Jr. Glenn is a conservation advocate and a steward of the land and water. © Glenn Ellis Jr.

Glenn Ellis Jr., an esteemed community leader and environmental advocate, brings his lifelong dedication to protecting and improving Neah Bay's forests and waterways, promoting sustainable practices and amplifying Native American perspectives to The Nature Conservancy’s Board of Trustees. His appointment reflects the organization's commitment to including Indigenous land stewards to protect and heal our planet.

Glenn’s passion for environmental protection began when he was a student. "We grew up with an open landfill that the Air Force left behind in the 1980s," he said. "In my early teens, I rode my bike up the mountain to the landfill, which we called 'The Dump.' Looking at it disturbed me to my core. ​It was the first moment that I cared about the environment." This experience sparked Glenn's lifelong commitment to protecting the environment and uplifting his community. In the years that followed, he helped advocate for a movement to close the landfill and an ongoing project to clean and restore it for safe and healthy use in 2014.

A person selifies in front of a sign that reads Mount Baker Ultra.
Environmental Advocate Glenn Ellis Jr., an esteemed community leader and environmental advocate, brings his lifelong dedication to protecting and improving Neah Bay's forests and waterways. © Glenn Ellis Jr.

Today, Glenn is a conservation advocate and a steward of the land and water. His extensive experience in community service and unwavering commitment to protecting Neah Bay's forests and waters make him a uniquely qualified leader for The Nature Conservancy in Washington. He is a proud member of the Makah Tribe, a people who have inhabited the bountiful Neah Bay—the farthest northwest point of the Olympic Peninsula—for more than 3,500 years as skilled mariners. Makah belong to the Nuu-cha-nuluth family of Tribes, which are a part of the Wakashan-speaking people. Glenn was elected as a Makah Tribe councilman in 2021 and sworn into office in January 2022.

"My job is to hold the U.S. federal government accountable for the treaty rights secured for the Makah people in the Neah Bay Treaty of 1855," he said. The Makah ceded 300,000 acres of their territory to reserve the rights protected in the treaty.

During his tenure, Glenn works with his fellow council members to marry ancient land management systems with new sustainability technology, such as ensuring a 40-year plan for reseeding forests used in timber logging and creating a system that prevents salmon overfishing. He is also part of a planning committee to mitigate the effects of climate change and move critical Tribal infrastructure away from tsunami zones to prepare for future earthquakes.

"My great-grandfather said that we have to walk in two different worlds," Glenn said. "We have to co-mingle the Makah way with the modern. A strong cultural value [he] taught us is never to take more​​ than we need—this is a value that the entire Tribal council embodies. We deeply value the place we call home and work to ensure our cultural values are a pillar in our decision-making.”

Drawing wisdom from the teachings of his ancestors, Glenn acknowledges the profound significance of historical knowledge, particularly derived from the natural world. He credits early teachings, such as learning from animals as a glimpse into the past and a path forward into the future. "We learn as children to think about how the animals live, where they go and what they eat to become attuned to the cycle of nature. Everything is dependent on each other. My people enhance and contribute without disrupting nature as much as possible because we want to coexist with the land and sea. Most of our tools are multifunctional, our longhouses were movable and modular, and they required fewer resources to make. We continue that level of versatility and thoughtfulness today.”

Glenn Ellis Jr. sits in a chair on a stage and speaks into a microphone.
South by Southwest Glenn participates in a panel at the 2023 South by Southwest conference. © Glenn Ellis Jr.

Despite Glenn's initial interest in sustainability and his deep understanding of the interconnectedness of nature, his life took a detour away from conservation. After receiving a Gates Millennium Scholarship, a highly selective program for outstanding ​​high school seniors from low-income households, he studied engineering at the University of New Mexico. This helped shape his way of thinking, starting with the end goal in mind, and defining the sequence of steps to get to that goal. He then embarked on a lucrative career in commercial fishing on the ​​F/V Alyeska ship, working the dangerous Bering Sea. A colossal wave capsized and destroyed his boat, but Glenn and the crew miraculously survived. Upon receiving a second chance at life, Glenn felt a call to return to his roots as a community leader.

Glenn returned home and became the Makah Tribe gym manager, spearheading transformative wellness programs for people of all ages and abilities. As a high-school football strength and conditioning coach, he contributed to the teams’ preparedness to win multiple state championships. He extended his understanding of the interrelatedness of nature to this stage in his career.

Glenn Ellis Jr. lifts a barbell in a crowded gym space.
Parallel Thinking Through his experience in fitness and competitive sports, Glenn sees parallels between wellness and conservation. © Glenn Ellis Jr.

"Fitness and wellness have many parallels in life," Glenn said. “Conservation requires attention to the whole system. Similarly, in fitness and wellness, we must not go too far in one direction or our bodies risk compensating, often resulting in injury or sickness. The earth is the same, and a thoughtful effort is required by humanity if we are to keep the land and oceans well.”

Glenn's success in competitive sports, fitness and jiu-jitsu brought him in touch with the state director for the Washington chapter of The Nature Conservancy, whom he met during a trail race at Makah Days, the Tribe’s annual treaty celebration. He joined the Board of Trustees in 2023. Glenn's experience in bringing various stakeholders together for a common goal and understanding nature's role in wellness make him a perfect addition to the board.