Civics in Action: Fisherpoets Talk Habitat in Juneau
In March, Cook Inletkeeper’s Central Peninsula team had the opportunity to travel to Juneau along with three Alaskan fisherpoets to meet with our elected officials.  Here are reflections on the […]
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In March, Cook Inletkeeper’s Central Peninsula team had the opportunity to travel to Juneau along with three Alaskan fisherpoets to meet with our elected officials.  Here are reflections on the trip from two fisherpoets, both lifelong Alaskans who made the trip to Juneau for the first time.

Commercial fishing in with my father in Cook Inlet these past few years has opened up something inside of me that I have found can be hard to express to those that have never been out on the water, raking in salmon to feed the world. But fisherpoetry helps make that expression clearer; that physical and emotional piece of being a fisherman coming more into focus. Continuing to write and recite my fishing poems has not only been a way for me to share this part of myself, but has helped drive a message home with those that represent the people of this state: our legislators.

The opportunity to visit Alaska’s capital in March of this year was not only thrilling, but incredibly eye-opening. I did not realize how accessible our representatives are to everyday Alaskans such as myself. Lobbying in such a unique way was undoubtedly a breath of fresh air for our politicians. We represented ourselves in Juneau, not some corporation or special interest group, and we delivered a message of vital importance. This request was most well-received by our Lieutenant Governor. Our scheduled fifteen minute meeting turned into a 45 minute intimate conversation, all agreeing on what must be done: ensure proper protection of our salmon. I will never forget the tears that came to the Lieutenant Governor’s eyes as he sat and listened to a poem that pleaded this very concern.

This trip to Juneau was not just filled with business-like meetings in the capital building, but times spent with friends; the kinds of times that enrich your soul and remind you how lucky you are to know people so good-hearted. Visiting Mendenhall Glacier proved serene, eating delicious food downtown was a blast, and holding our own mini fisherpoetry event at the Alaskan Bar was yet another special way to deliver our message to the community. At this homespun gathering friends and legislators alike shared in the joy of not just rhyming phrases and detailed prose, but our own form of art; laying bare our connection to the sea and to our greatest sustainable resource, our salmon.

– Georgie Heaverley, Sterling
Cook Inlet Commercial Drift Gillnetter

 

Steve Schoonmaker (far right) performs an original poem for Lt. Governor Byron Mallott and Senior Advisor Barbara Blake (third and second from left)

 

Although I have lived in Alaska for 45 years, I had not been to Juneau. I had of course perceptions from a distance about the State Capital and its politics, and about the differences I personally felt in philosophy and experience with elected officials. For three days we met with a number of lawmakers and aides, we asked them about them, and their concerns, and respectfully listened, then presented our articulated thoughts about habitat and law as they listened and tried to inform us about their perspectives. At the end of each meeting we would leave them with a fisher poem and a colorful pamphlet of our poetry and Kaitlin Vadla’s art. Although legislators were fully entangled in budget crisis wrangling, for the most part they made time for us, and though we got the feeling that many were not in complete agreement with our causes, they understood our respectful and powerful presence. We left I felt, with a human connection which was hard to ignore in its genuineness and lingered a bit, I’m sure. The takeaway for me was that I saw reflected in that State Capital building a greater respect for the power we actually may have, how accessible the legislators there are, and the power of the genuine and authentic faces of grassroots activism. I also realize that the catalyst of organizations like Inletkeeper are essential for the people to know and positively exercise the building of the people’s power, which I do sense is building. It’s wonderful that poetry and art can be an angle to reach out to our lawmakers.

-Steve Schoonmaker, Kasilof
Prince William Sound Commercial Drift Gillnetter