While the annual Salmonfest has no shortage of entertaining musical acts, many festival-goers are attracted to Ninilchik each year for the festival’s work with education and advocacy as well.
Presented by the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, this year’s festival got significant support from Cook Inletkeeper. Community Organizer Kaitlin Vadla said coordinating the salmon education and awareness section of the event was a great learning experience for the organization.
“We wanted to be involved because of the education that happens here and so we’re in charge of the salmon causeway and all these different organizations,” Vadla said.
A large focus of the education efforts of the festival in the past was the threat of a gold and copper mine to Bristol Bay. Conversation around that issue has since died down slightly, which Vadla said opened up the opportunity for other problems facing salmon to take center stage.
“Pebble’s still alive and it’s not dead yet, but I think now it’s a nice way for people to see the myriad issues that salmon face,” she said.
One such organization, Stand for Salmon, was new to Salmonfest this year and promoted its strategy of putting salmon first, Vadla said. Several organizations are fighting against things that are harmful to the fish, while Stand for Salmon’s goal is that Alaska’s policies put fish at the forefront, she said.
“A festival is always a lot of love and energy from everybody who’s involved,” Vadla said. “It’s exhilarating and it can be exhausting and draining, but it’s pretty neat to watch little kids — you know, we’ve got murals over there to paint or to be involved or to learn. A lot of people come by like, ‘Wow, I had no idea!’”
There’s a good chance Cook Inletkeeper will continue its involvement with Salmonfest in the future, Vadla said.
Also making its first appearance at the festival was Green Dot Homer. Volunteers from the Homer chapter were armed with a booth, scavenger hunt and other activities to bring awareness to the movement that seeks to train people how to reduce violence in their communities.
Instructors Brittany Berger and Tara Schmidt were there signing up those interested in hosting training sessions in their own towns. Instructor Doug Koester also hosted a class on Green Dot techniques with Schmidt on Saturday afternoon.
Schmidt said she was impressed by the number of festival-goers who said they’ve heard about Green Dot, adding that awareness has grown since the group began working locally three years ago.
At the same time, a lot of people are still not aware of the movement, so the instructors are “reaching an audience that we haven’t previously been able to,” Schmidt said.
Koester said he was pleased by the turn out to the Green Dot booth and to the Green Dot presentation, even though some of the crowd did not stay for the whole talk.
“The coolest part about it for me was there was a group of boys probably about (ages) 16-18 and they stayed for most of it and it just makes me feel really good that young men want to learn about intervening,” Koester said. “Definitely we’re talking about heavy tough subjects and they were definitely engaged and I appreciated that so much. “
Green Dot training helps people learn how to be “better bystanders,” Berger said. Both she and Schmidt said Salmonfest organizers were very supportive of having the group there this year. Green Dot’s goal is to change society norms to prevent violence by no longer turning a blind eye to potentially harmful situations happening within the community.
“It’s not salmon advocacy but it’s about advocacy for all human beings, you know?” Schmidt said. “So, it’s about looking out for each other and creating an ecosystem of caring amongst everybody in our communities.”
The advocacy for environmental and community change at Salmonfest sets the festival apart from other music events across the country. Jay Brooks recently moved from Santa Barbara, California to Soldotna and was attracted to Salmonfest since he had attended the music festival Lucidity for many years in his hometown.
“It’s awesome to see this cross-section of what’s going on up here. Different people into different things,” Brooks said. “I was really happy and surprised to see one of the branches of Rising Tide here and there was a great little awareness action thing down the road at the fracking well so it was cool. You have Salmonfest celebrating the salmon and then people making these connections of what can we do for the salmon here and I just thought that was awesome.”