This past week, Juneau hosted 14 youths (ages 13 to 18) from across Alaska who attended the Civic and Conservation Summit with Alaska Youth for Environmental Action. AYEA is a program that inspires and trains rural and urban youth leaders to impact environmental issues by facilitating training in leadership and supporting youth-led community action projects and campaigns. The summit focused on everything from teaching youth how to read bills to public speaking whilst talking to legislators.
We learned about four current bills which focus on aspects of environmental rules and regulations in Alaska — Senate Bill 15, Personal Use Fishing Priority; House Bill 33, Oil spills/Pollution, Penalties, Prevention; SB 33/HB 62: Renewable Energy Grant Fund; and SB 34, Citizen Advisory Committee on Federal Areas. We not only met with our individual legislators, but we also met with the focus bill sponsors. I was pleased to witness SB 33/HB 62: Renewable Energy Grant Fund pass through the House of Representatives while watching from the Elizabeth Peratrovich Gallery.
Juneau resides on Lingít land, particularly the A’aakw Kwáan territory. Participants learned the importance of acknowledging and respecting the land while advocating for Alaska’s environment. Although our schedules were packed with training and meetings with legislators, we made time to explore the sights of Juneau. We hiked to Nugget Falls and took the Polar Plunge at Auke Rec. A number of us were on the radio at KTOO and interviewed for the “Hello Alaska” podcast, where we discussed AYEA and our personal experiences.
We met with multiple impactful people including local elders President Joel Jackson and Della Cheney. They spoke about their experiences and provided us a space to share our stories and culture. Della reminded us that “storytelling is healing” and our voices are impactful. We continued this notion the next day when we ate dinner at Rep. Alyse Galvin’s residence with our local representatives, where we chatted over bison tacos and homemade lemonade.
I am attending the University of Alaska Southeast this fall for Indigenous Studies and this summit has opened the door to numerous opportunities. I gained insight into how the legislative process works in Alaska and how I can use my voice for change. Knowing there is a group of youth change-makers in Alaska with the goal of
environmental justice fills me with hope for the future of Alaska.
Gunalchéesh to Juneau and to those who made this summit possible.
• Suella Wendell is a senior at Chugiak High School who engages in community activism and services. She has roots from the banks of the Kuskokwim in Bethel and Great Falls, Montana.