Two teenagers from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta recently returned from an environmental summit in Juneau. Over four days, the teens met with state legislators and advocated for measures to address climate change and to protect salmon habitats from the consequences of mining.
Justin Stewart of Chuathbaluk and Wylong Ulroan of Chevak were among the twenty teens across Alaska accepted to attend the Alaska Center’s Action Civics and Conservation Summit, which met in the state capital last week.
“I met a lot of representatives. I learned a lot about the capital, how it works, and how meetings work there," said seventh-grader Justin Stewart, who was attending the summit for the first time. One person Stewart met was District 38 Representative Zach Fansler.
“It’s great when we have anybody, but particularly our young folks coming down here, learning about the process, and getting involved," said Rep. Fansler. "The hope is that it encourages those students to continue being involved, so one day they’re the ones sitting down here, helping make these decisions.”
Waylon Ulroan, a senior at Chevak High School, was attending the environmental summit for his fourth time. Over the years he’s led petitions in Chevak against the proposed Chuitna Coal Mine in the Cook Inlet area. He says it's all about the salmon habitat.
“Salmon is our life out here in rural Alaska. A lot of people depend on it for subsistence,” he said.
Ulroan has also participated in a cultural exchange in California with the Sierra Club, and the Chevak teen has regularly helped clean up trash around his village. He says that during his 17 years he’s seen less snow and more erosion around his home, and learning the political process through the Civics and Conservation Summit is a way to address the causes of climate change.
Alison Barnwell is the Youth Organizing Coordinator for the Alaska Center and says empowering teen voices is part of their mission.
“Our goal," she said, "is to elevate youth voice and let them know they do have an impact on the issues now as teenagers and into the future.”
Both of the summit's regional attendees seem to looking to the future now. Wylon Ulroan, the senior in Chevak, is looking at an internship with the National Parks Service after graduation. Justin Stewart of Chuathbaulk moved to Bethel two weeks ago and is now attending Bethel Regional High School.