Senator Collins: “You Can Count on My Vote”

A guest post by Erica Heuer of Being Caribou.

Being Caribou is a few things:

  1. Two people (Karsten Heuer and his wife, Leanne Allison) who migrated on foot for 5 months with the Porcupine Caribou Herd from the Yukon to their calving grounds in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and back;
  2. An award-winning film and an about-to-be-released book of the same name, journey and experience that are proving great communications tools, passing on all the statistics and rhetoric to speak straight to the heart (by the way, we don’t own the film so in promoting it we do not personally gain anything. Our efforts really are all about the caribou); and
  3. A website and variety of efforts to use the film and book  — and work with the opportunities they create — to help protect the Refuge.

So … as part of our activism efforts, I (Karsten’s sister and the Being Caribou publicist) try to meet up with as many as possible of the interesting or influential people who come through the Yukon — including, on Aug. 15, a reception being held at the High Country Inn in Whitehorse (Yukon, Canada) by the premier of the Yukon for the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins. This coincided with the visit of four U.S. Senators — Hilary Clinton, John McCain, Susan Collins and Lindsay Graham — on a fact-finding mission to the north to see for themselves if there were any noticeable signs of global climate change. Three of the four senators attended the reception.

There were only about 100 people at the reception, so I had a chance to talk with Sens. McCain, Collins and Graham, and the U.S. Ambassador to Canada.

I prepared packages for each of them and the Ambassador that said, on the outside with a picture of a baby caribou: “Canadians Beg Americans to Say No to Drilling in the Arctic Refuge” (this is true!). Inside, there was a package of Bean Caribou fair trade coffee, plus an information booklet, a SAVE ANWR bumper sticker, a copy of our Arctic Truth fact sheet, and a copy of the Agreement Between the Governments of Canada and the U.S. on the Conservation of the Porcupine Caribou Herd — all available on our website. We also included a copy of the International Migratory Bird Convention, and a copy of the Polar Bear Treaty.

Senator Collins took the package and read the plea from Canadians. I told her a bit about the film she was getting a copy of and how badly Canadians want the calving grounds protected. I hoped she would find time to watch the film, would enjoy the coffee and find a good place for the bumper sticker. She shook my hand, made great eye contact and said, “You can count on my vote.” I said “Really” (yes, I know, a bit naive), she said “Yes”, and I said “Great! Thanks”.

John McCain also accepted the package and engaged in a chat. He said, “You know you are preaching to the converted.” I replied that I really hoped so but wasn’t sure how Senators were voting on something as big as the budget. He repeated, “You are preaching to the converted.” I must have looked happy because he laughed and said he would enjoy the coffee.

Hilary Clinton retired early and didn’t attend the reception, but we managed to get a copy of Being Caribou to her, as well as the package and talk to her about the demonstration on September 20. She hadn’t known about it and was glad something was happening. She said she would be certain to attend.

Lindsey Graham was nice but our toughest senator in terms of not being “converted”, as Senator McCain called it. We talked a bit about the issue but mainly I wanted to stick to talking about Being Caribou because that’s a different kind of message. So I told him about Karsten and Leanne’s expedition and the film. He said he would watch Being Caribou, that he was still thinking about the issue and how he would vote, but that he thought the budget vote would pass even with the language to open the Refuge. We parted with me asking him to “just watch the film first and then decide”, him agreeing to do so, and Steve Cardiff (territorial MLA) suggesting they put it in the plane’s DVD player and watch it together on one of the flights. What a great idea!

All the guests of honour left still carrying their great smelling (coffee beans) packages.

Anyway, it would be great follow-up if people wrote to these Senators to thank them for their commitments either on the vote, or even on watching the Being Caribou film before they vote.

For more information on Being Caribou, please visit our website.

Currently, we are working on screenings of the film in 13 key cities in the U.S. — and are trying to put together enough money to purchase airline tickets and hotel accommodations for 13-50 people, so we can run a radio sweepstakes giveaway in conjunction with the screenings to send at least one person from each community to the Sept. 20 demonstration in DC. We are budgeting $1,000 per prize. If you or anyone or any organization you know would like to get involved in this campaign, which we see as a very public way to rally the troops for Sept. 20 and create a bit of a buzz, we are looking either for donations, or for co-sponsoring of the sweepstakes in any community. Please contact us at erica -at- beingcaribou -dot- com, or by phone at 867.393.4440.