The Kenai Peninsula has lost an important bridge to its past and voice for its future with the death of Kenaitze elder Emil Dolchok earlier this week.
Mr. Dolchok suffered a heart attack after an evening of doing what he loved to do: Fishing for the Kenai River's early-run king salmon.
A voice for subsistence and Native rights, the 77-year-old elder was recognized for his contributions in 1999 by being named Cook Inlet Region Inc.'s Shareholder of the Year and the Alaska Federation of Natives' Elder of the Year.
At the Peninsula Clarion, we knew him as a letter writer -- a long, but unassuming, letter writer. He brought in his last letter for publication last month. It was published as a ''Voices of the Peninsula'' column on April 25.
When we asked about getting a picture to accompany his piece, we had to work around the tides: Mr. Dolchok was going fishing.
After he brought in his letter, there was a short discussion in the newsroom about how we needed to do a feature story on him. The story was assigned; a date was scheduled for it to run; some pictures were taken. Mr. Dolchok died before an interview took place. It is very much our loss, and a poignant reminder that no matter how long life is, it's too short for all there is to do.
Mr. Dolchok's last letter in the newspaper carried one of his favorite themes: changes in fisheries management have hurt lifelong residents -- of which he was one -- who depend on the fish they catch to feed themselves and their families. He was passionate about the topic and will be remembered as a tireless advocate of lifelong residents.
A sampling of his convictions:
''The early king salmon run could be harvested before the blowflies began laying eggs in the spring and the rains set in the month of July. Both these factors make the processing of fish difficult. But it doesn't matter to the sport fishermen, who slice a strip off the sides of salmon, leaving excessive amounts of meat on the backbone and all the rich belly meat connected to the head and tail. Then, they throw this carcass of wanton waste on the banks or in the river to be snagged or trampled on by other anglers. In some areas the fish waste they leave on the banks attracts bears and other predators creating a problem for humans -- but it's not the angler's fault ever!'' (Peninsula Clarion, April 25)
''With all this said, I am a lifelong, year-round resident of this area. It has become increasingly harder for me to access the fish I was born and raised on. I have had to stand by and watch with disgust as limits are put on local residents to accommodate the desires of tourists and anglers from the big city. With every inch that the sport fisherman takes with legislation, we compound the hardship on the year-round, lifelong residents of the Kenai. It's time that our legislators and the Board of Fish take an interest in our needs.'' (Peninsula Clarion, April 25)
''... (P)lease tell me or at least explain to me, the true meaning of equal opportunity. We Kenaitze Natives have been on this Kenai Peninsula forever, catching these early-run king salmon to feed our families and to smoke, can, salt and dry for our winter food supply. I have always been under the impression that these salmon were for all mankind as a food source. I cannot, so help me, understand the biased one-sided allocation granted to the sport fishermen who have just recently come into this Kenai area. '' (Peninsula Clarion, April 3, 2000)
''... I, for one, am all for rural preference. By regaining our subsistence privilege, maybe we would be able to harvest a few of these early-run king salmon on the outer inlet beaches before the sport fishermen completely wipe them out. ... Are we heading for the same willful destruction of our valuable salmon stocks as Washington, Oregon and California? I dread to think about it, but it is sure heading in that direction.'' (Peninsula Clarion, April 3, 2000)
We will miss Mr. Dolchok and his letters. He always gave us something to think about concerning this place he loved and called home all of his life.
Our sympathy goes to his family and many friends in their time of great loss.
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