Caribou heart was ‘a gift,’ says activist after disruption at Sullivan event

A video posted on YouTube shows Matt Shuckerow, right, grabbing protestor Kathleen Bonnar. Sen. Sullivan and Julie Sullivan are next to Bonnar at the podium.

A scuffle broke out at a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan when an activist brought a caribou heart to to make a statement against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“We thought it would be powerful to have an Alaska Native person deliver to him that gift,” said Inupiaq drilling opponent Kathleen Bonnar.

A video of Saturday’s event at an airplane hangar in Anchorage shows her take the stage near the senator and his wife. Bonnar shouts something and reaches into a black tote bag on her shoulder.

Sullivan campaign manager Matt Shuckerow can be seen pushing past other activists and grabbing Bonnar’s wrist. Shuckerow said he perceived a security threat. 

“We have a woman that we didn’t know moving to the stage very quickly, reaching for a concealed item within a bag,” he said.

Bonnar and fellow activists were physically ejected from the event, to cheers from Sullivan supporters. Somewhere in the scuffle the caribou heart fell. Some of the blood landed on Shuckerow.

Bonnar, a 32-year-old who just started a new job as a health communication specialist, said Monday nothing she did was threatening, but in retrospect, she gets why other people thought she might be going for a weapon. She said the action didn’t go exactly as intended.

“I was acting on behalf of someone else and trying to fulfill someone else’s vision for what he wanted done,” she said.

That person was a friend of a friend – Samuel Johns, or Ch’eedaih Zhee Kaii. His mother is from Arctic Village, a Gwich’in community that reveres the caribou and the part of the Arctic Refuge where they are born.

Johns had a funeral to attend and couldn’t be in Anchorage to deliver the message himself, but he said he didn’t intend any threat or for the heart to become a gruesome display.

“The caribou are sacred,” Johns said. “Like, you don’t want to just disrespect it and just get its blood everywhere, you know?”

He blames himself for not specifying that the caribou heart should be kept frozen.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at

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