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Protect our salmon, protect our future

  • Author: Brian Conwell
    | Opinion
  • Updated: March 15, 2017
  • Published March 15, 2017

Red salmon spawn in the Wood River, which flows into the Nushagak River north of Dillingham. (Thomas Quinn / University of Washington)

My coach always tells us, "You're not always going to be playing basketball, but you'll carry your education around for the rest of your life." I try to take this saying to heart. I've lived in Unalaska for my entire life and every day I see how my education benefits me. My home is a fishing community that relies on pollock, crab, halibut, salmon and cod. Clean water and a healthy marine ecosystem sustain us. Without the top-notch education I am receiving here in Unalaska, I do not believe I would be in a position to advocate for my community.

Unalaska is my home. It's where I go to school, play basketball, practice Native Youth Olympics, participate in student government, volunteer for my recreation center, and spend time with my family. As cheesy as it sounds, at the end of the day I'm just a kid from Unalaska. That's why I am troubled that dangers could exist, particularly those posed by mines, to fisheries that have sustained communities similar to my own. It's my job to speak up about these issues.

As a member of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action and other leadership groups, I understand the importance of youth learning about government, and taking an active role in advocating to elected officials, recognizing that the decisions made today will impact the future that my generation will inherit. For me and other teen leaders, the protection of salmon is an issue as important as any other. This March, I am one of 19 youth from across the state — from Ukpiaġvik to Ketchikan — traveling to Juneau for the Civics and Conservation Summit, where we will meet with our legislators to advocate for salmon protection.

I am asking our legislators to listen to youth perspectives. I'm doing my best educate myself because these decisions will affect us and our communities for years to come. Youth from around the state see things differently and I intend to learn from them. We are much more powerful as a group than as a collection of individual voices. The Civics and Conservation Summit is a place for myself and other youth to come together, learn how to engage on issues impacting us, and talk with our elected leaders about these issues.

We are appreciative of the legislators that have introduced bills and resolutions to protect our salmon fisheries from threats like Pebble mine and transboundary mines in Southeast. But we are urging our leaders to do more — they must ensure that we have protections in place for our salmon, because our future depends on it.

This summit in Juneau has helped me build skills in civic engagement, public policy, advocacy and leadership. I hope that legislators sense our optimism for the future, and our belief in the high value of education. The youth of Alaska are speaking up. Are they willing to listen?

I invite you to join us for the March for Salmon at 4 p.m. Friday, March 18, from Marine Park to the steps of the Capital in Juneau. After hearing from elected officials and youth delegates, we will rally to the Capitol and host a gathering where attendees will enjoy grilled salmon and the chance to talk with other interested Alaskans. Get involved. Tell your legislators that you, too, wish to protect salmon and their habitat.

Join us youth in asking the Legislature to consider the cost of its decisions on the future of Alaska.

Brian Conwell is a youth delegate with Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, and a junior at Unalaska City High School.

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