Belle Mickleson awarded for traditional music program

The founder of an Alaska youth music program has received a major award. Belle Mickleson has been recognized for traditional music camps that help connect elders and youth in interior villages and beyond.

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Belle Mickleson of Cordova, is the winner of a $25,000 Purpose Prize. The awards from Encore.org recognize people over 60 for their efforts addressing social injustice, human rights, education and economic empowerment. Mickleson runs Dancing With The Spirit kids camps that teach Athabascan fiddling and guitar in rural Alaska.

The camp uses a color-coded system to teach kids how to play a guitar or fiddle.

Mickleson is often accompanied by Gwich’in elder, fellow musician and Episcopal priest Trimble Gilbert, to help run the weeklong camps, which have taught traditional fiddle and guitar music to 2,000 youth across rural Alaska. Other elders have been instrumental in putting on the camps from the get-go.

Since 2006, the Dancing With The Spirit program has traveled to 30 Alaska villages, as well as Hawaii, a Navajo Indian Reservation, Canada’s Northwest Territories and Ontario’s Six Nations Reserve. Mickelson is one of six winners of the Purpose Prize.