Friday, August 21, 2009

At the Anchorage Oceans Policies Task Force Hearing

You can watch the public meeting here. The clickable link is at the top, under Regional News.

You can testify by going here.

Here's a picture of the attendees at the Dena'ina Center:
Here's a picture of the panelists:
After introductory remarks, the task force will be taking testimony randomly, based on cards that could be submitted. You had to identify which group you represented. I checked off "environmental" and "general public." There was no space for educator.

I doubt my testimony will be heard. I did submit it in writing, too. Here's what I wrote, and hope to say:

This testimony is offered in memory of Segundo Strongheart of Nunam Iqua, who passed away early this past Tuesday, as he struggled to support his family and heritage.

My name is Philip Munger. I live in Wasilla, and teach cultural history at the University of Alaska Anchorage. I’m best known as a composer of “classically-based” music. In 36 years in Alaska, I have also worked in many other fields, including a 26-year relationship with commercial fishing or other blue water maritime activities. I have a strong love of science, and have raised my two kids to be scientists: One is now a graduate of the Huxley School of Environmental Science. The other is pursuing studies at Humboldt State University in green fisheries restoration.

I’ve observed the degradation of the overall habitat upon and around the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, as the ongoing catastrophe has accelerated. It is increasingly clear that unless something radical is done soon to assure far higher returns of salmon to these and other areas, the runs will be ruined forever.

Of particular concern is the decimation of the Yukon River Chinook and Chum salmon stocks. I am one who strongly believes the bycatch paradigm of the Bering Sea trawlers has crossed the area from very poor policy to cultural genocide.

Salmon are the basis of some of the most beautiful, long-lasting and resilient of the world’s existing cultures. The Yupik are emblematic.

• When the Phoenicians and others were cutting down the vast cedar forests in Lebanon, the Yupik were beginning to fish the lower Yukon.

• When the Roman Empire and vernacular Latin were dying, people had been speaking a language today’s Yupik would recognize as their own for over a thousand years.

• When the Norse navigated the North Atlantic, the Volga and the Black Sea, the Yupik were expanding up the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers.

• When a language we can now recognize as English began to exist, Yupik culture was thousands of years old.

Yet, within the mere past 25 years, the foundation of this vibrant culture has been ripped apart.

I have never seen a better example of how cross-governmental jurisdictional problems can be used by an industry to destroy one of America’s first peoples.

Nancy Sutley - Dr. Jane Lubchenco - David Hayes - Admiral Thad Allen - Heather Zichal -- and, YES - Sen. Mark Begich and President Barack Obama:

Unless you act very soon, and very, very sternly to end the depredation of the Bering Sea and other Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries, the miserable survivors of this once-proud, vibrant culture, will soon sing imprecatory, damning songs to your eternal memories, blaming you for their Holocaust.

Live blogging:

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner, Larry Hartig only spoke of development, and dimly, at that.

Public testimony is supposed to begin in 14 minutes, but Fran Ulmer, Bill Sheffield, John Binkley, and others haven't yet spoken. Most panelists are talking twice as long as they are supposed to.

We're now into public testimony time, with three more panelists, including
John Binkley from the cruise ship industry, and Bill Sheffield, one of the worst governors in Alaska history. He usually talks way over his alloted time.

Only Dorothy Childers from the Alaska Marine Conservation Council has expressed anything remotely resembling urgency, regarding climate issues.

Public testimony has begun, about 22 minutes late, allowing for 98, instead of 120 minutes. Included in the "public," as opposed to "industry" testimony, right now, is a woman from Shell Oil.

So far, four of the people testifying have strongly urged more substantive involvement of Alaska Native representatives at all levels of policymaking in the Arctic, including - possibly - a subsistence seat on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council.

The chair just announced that I will conclude the next group of six commenters.

Update - Saturday morning: I did get to give my testimony at around 4:00. As soon as I read Segundo's name, I got a bit choked up. I had to pause a couple of times to get my breath. When I said the names of the four panelists - Sutley, Lubchenco, Hayes and Allen - I paused after each name until the panelist looked right at me. When I was done, though, all four were looking down at their sheaves of paper at the table. I had to leave within minutes, to attend another meeting in the Valley.


alaskapi said...

My hands have been turned to helping Ann take Segundo home this week so my eyes have been turned away from this important public meeting.

Thank you for being a powerful voice there Phil
Waiting to hear more -

Ann Strongheart said...


Quyana Cakneq for your continued support on this important issue.

Also Quyana Cakneq 1000 times over for dedicating your comments to my late husband.

Jim said...


Thanks for acknowledging Segundo Strongheart and for attending. I couldn't make it.

You indicate you've never seen a better example of how cross-governmental jurisdictional problems can be used by an industry to destroy one of America's first peoples. Additionally, government has become a never ending progression of transitions-- one administration does or doesn't work on it for a while; then another administration starts from scratch (I'm amazed at what the federal cabinet people and the NOAA administrator apparently didn't know about rural Alaska-- they seemed to lack even a white paper's briefing before they came).

Alaska's previous governor's administration (largely still intact) seemed to have profound differences with the federal government ("the feds"); with the veto of federal weatherization stimulus funds we saw how ideology often was more important than collaboration or working together in a coordinated way to solve problems.

Government has "evolved" from having continuity, collaboration, and reasonable transitions, into a highly complex and fragmented mess that few can understand and whose ultimate direction I doubt anyone can control. Lobbyists seem to be able to manipulate it though.

As a consequence, unfortunately, I doubt rural Alaska's primary issues will be resolved by any government entities any time soon. Financed full time professional lobbying seems to have become the main influencing factor.

But I guess we should keep trying anyway.

alaskapi said...

Jim- you're dang tootin we'll keep trying...
Human institutions must serve humans or be scrapped and/or rebuilt...
The institution must never become more important than the people it serves...
A whole lot of ours are getting pretty big for their britches... and disconnected from the people they serve...
Time to overhaul and retool...

Martha Unalaska Yard Sign said...

They darn well better have you as a commenter - with those credentials and experience, you should be on the panel itself! Bill Sheffield? What the heck is he doing there? I dearly love Fran Ulmer, and we miss her in Juneau very much, so I will hope that she has remained in touch with these issues because she is a clear and honest speaker.

Bless you for speaking in honor of Segundo. That makes me very very proud to know you. I have much to say but can't seem to find the words today.

sauerkraut said...

Were you able to speak?

Is there a transcript for those of us from "away" who are nosey enough to be interested in these types of hearings??

Huxley... Thomas Henry?

Nice use of imprecatory... make sure it's sung in such a way that the politicians eyes roll into the backs of their collective heads.

Philip Munger said...

Ann & alaskapi,

Thanks for your comments. My heart is with you, and dedicating a small statement on the marvelous worth of Yupik culture to Segundo seemed like a good thing to do. Reading your affirmation brings tears of sadness and pride to my eyes.

Philip Munger said...


Yes - Thomas Henry Huxley. Huxley College is the environmental science school at Western Washington University.

Jim said...


After reading your update, I wanted to give you an updated thanks! I wouldn't have had the courage to wait for eye contact.

Doesn't NOAA stand for National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration? Notably missing are rivers and land. I wonder if Ms. Lubchenco feels the Yukon River habitat is someone else's problem. Seems that since the international salmon treaty covers salmon that live most of their lives in the Ocean, NOAA would have a primary treaty compliance responsibility.

Anonymous said...

Excellent statement for your testimony, Phil.

Putting the Yupik culture in its proper and amazing place within a framework of other "younger" cultures was powerful. Your expertise in cultural history was invaluable.

Patience said...

Thank You, Mr. Munger, for telling it like it is. Thank you for being there and, I don't know what else to say but, bless you.