10/12/09

Glad to See Kudos to Dune Lankard

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(October 12, 2009) Rex Foundation executive director Sandy Sohcot writes: This past Friday, thanks to Carol Hoover of the Eyak Preservation Council (EPC), I read the Indian Country Today article headlined “Dune Lankard – Hero of the Planet.” The article describes how Dune’s experience with and response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill catalyzed his actions to restore, save and revitalize the ecosystem–environmental, economic and socio-political–that once enabled millions of healthy, nutritious salmon to flourish year after year.

Sandy Sohcot of Rex (l) with Dune Lankard and Carol Hoover of the Eyak Preservation Council.

Sandy Sohcot of Rex (l) with Dune Lankard and Carol Hoover of the Eyak Preservation Council.

This photograph of me with Dune Lankard and Carol Hoover was taken on August 10, 2009 at the 5-Mile House in Cordova, AK, home base of EPC.  I had been visiting for four days, experiencing firsthand the positive force of Dune’s thinking and energy, as well as the vast and deep beauty that motivates his actions.

Last year, Alan Trist and I interviewed Dune for the Rex Newsletter Perspectives on The World As It Could Be, to capture his vision of a sustainable environment in the Copper River Delta area that not only would provide for the ongoing return of salmon, but also create a vibrant and stable economic environment for the local fisherman, keeping jobs and resources in the area, as well as turning what would otherwise be fish waste (offal) into biofuels and other useful products.

As I listened to Dune, transcribed the notes from our interview and saw photographs of the area, I was inspired to travel to Cordova to see for myself what he was talking about.

I have come away from this experience with three different yet related threads of ideas:

  • Cordova and the surrounding Copper River Delta, while seemingly so remote, demonstrate the fragile interconnectedness of our global ecosystem.  While the local environment is relatively healthy, the fish were slow to return this year.  This raises questions as to what factors outside the immediate area might be causing the change, such as the impacts of global warming and other environmental challenges on the rivers in the “lower 48.”  I see ever more clearly that we must look beyond the immediate scene presented and gain clarity about all the interconnected factors that impact what we see.  This is to both fully grasp the inter-relatedness of situations across the globe, as well to be able to generate well focused constructive and collective action.
  • The human spirit is a source and resource for generating ripples of change that warrants greater appreciation, acknowledgement, nourishment and encouragement.  Dune’s story and life work demonstrate all the good that results from a person’s commitment to actively and positively engage to enhance one’s own life as well as the lives of others in the greater community.  Dune, his colleagues and counterparts who work, whether for EPC or the thousands of grassroots initiatives exemplified by the 1,000+ Rex grantees, often struggle, perhaps, like the salmon forging their annual return to the Copper River, against upstream odds and obstacles to accomplish their goals and realize their visions.  Articles like the one recognizing Dune as a hero of the planet serve well to remind us that it is the passion and energy of people that make things happen, as Margaret Mead so eloquently stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.®  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
  • Efforts to transform situations take a great deal of time, often far more time than we would have thought necessary.  I am thinking of situations that range from what might be as seemingly simple as adding a stop sign to an intersection frequented by accidents, to Dune’s desire to transform the Cordova fishing industry to what is clearly an enhanced situation, to realizing the world envisioned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, when it was signed by all UN member countries in 1948.   While we may see a particular situation as obviously in need of change, there are other people–individuals and groups–who will see the same situation from entirely different perspectives, motivated by both positive and not-so-positive considerations.  I believe we must muster the strength and conviction to retain our focus on the end results we are seeking, value and honor the differing perspectives, at least those presented in good faith, to seek common ground and opportunities to collaborate, and take pride in the small steps of accomplishments that are on the path to the ultimate change desired.
The woods just outside Cordova, Alaska.

The woods just outside Cordova, Alaska.

I took this photograph during a morning hike on a trail very close to downtown Cordova.  I was moved by the contrasting stillness of the tall trees, the soft, thickly piled moss covering their branches and ground beneath them, while hearing the screeching of the different birds feeding on the salmon in the waters not too far off to the other side.  I felt the thousands, if not millions, of years this place has been here, continually experiencing the changing seasons and wildlife that come and go.

I am so glad that Dune is gaining greater and greater recognition for his efforts to protect this sanctuary while also helping all around it to thrive.  Dune, like these woods, serves as inspiration for all that we can each do, individually and together, and why that matters.

Let us know what you think about these reflections. Post your comments on the Rex Blog or email us at info@rexfoundation.org. Thanks!