Alaska can’t move forward if we ignore the state’s future leaders
Griffin Plush, Genevieve Mina, Jackson Blackwell and 24 other young Alaskans/ADN
Sixteen years ago, 55 young Alaskans from across the state joined together for the inaugural Conference of Young Alaskans (COYA), emulating the spirit of Alaska’s 1955 Constitutional Convention to discuss pressing issues facing the state’s future. Last August, we followed in their footsteps for the first COYA focused on the strengths and future of local government.
With a mix of high-schoolers, college students, young professionals, and urban and rural Alaskans, we represent the somewhat disparate medley of Alaska’s Generation Z. Yet, through learning about our collective love for Alaska and mutual aspirations for a functioning government, we quickly discovered a shared hope: the perseverance of our lands, waters and peoples. Over the four-day summit, COYA wrote 24 resolutions that captured our unified vision for Alaska’s communities — the communities where many of us strive to be leaders.
COYA’s resolutions addressed everything from the concrete to the existential. Included were policy initiatives that diversified the economy, catalyzed innovation across myriad sectors, created inclusive and representative government systems, and envisioned public safety entities that are accountable to Alaska’s communities. We identified specific policy goals, including the expansion of nondiscrimination laws and culturally relevant and representative education curricula. Broadly, we see our future built with a focus on increasing the quality of life of Alaskans. Of the 24 drafted resolutions, nine related to the climate crisis, showing our generation’s collective sense of urgency for a just transition while utilizing Indigenous knowledge systems and accounting for the most vulnerable among us. We also shared a desire for measurable reductions in carbon emissions and immediate action to stabilize the climate for our generation and our state.These goals won’t be achieved quickly, nor with our generation’s work and willpower alone. Among the many unfulfilled resolutions of COYA’s past, the 2012 COYA delegates overwhelmingly called for Alaska to “aggressively reduce reliance on fossil fuels through efficiency and renewable energy products.” The delegates called for leaders to “reinstate the Coastal Zone Management plan and advocate the ratification of Law of the Sea” and for “the State of Alaska and school districts to establish and fund language programs consistent with regions and needs, and install Alaska Native language programs in urban centers.”
While these noble goals unified the 2012 COYA, progress toward achieving them has been slow or nonexistent. We recognize that it is not the fault of those delegates and their generation that their hopes have not come to fruition. Rather, we worry that the limiting factor is the disregard for the emerging perspectives of Alaska youth.
Our generation has grown up watching Alaska’s shift from years of cruising easily on the status quo into recent years of unstable education funding, brain drain among our peers, and the ongoing climate crisis. We are tremendously grateful for the work and advocacy of public servants to leave us a brighter world, but their ongoing efforts have not been enough to ameliorate the challenges being passed down to us. Consequential investment in Alaska’s future requires consistently embracing youth voices in decision-making processes.
If your work is in community or politics, create spaces and invite young people to share their vision. To those who have young Alaskans in your life or as part of your organization, you have the power to elevate our voices and help us challenge the failing status quo. Without real cross-generational dialogue that drives change right now, many of our state’s current economic, institutional, and environmental challenges will continue to grow until our communities face irreparable damage, and our generations are left to pick up the pieces.
When we say “North to the Future”, we refer to Alaska’s youth and communities being our future. When we act, we need to act with and for our generation and those who follow us. If you believe that too, please read our resolutions and consider how you can help engaged young Alaskans make them a reality.