Elders and Youth conference kicks off today in Fairbanks

(Photo courtesy of the First Alaskans' Institute)
(Photo courtesy of the First Alaskans’ Institute)

More than a thousand Alaska Natives, young and old, from across the state are meeting today at the 33rd annual Elders and Youth conference.

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The event, hosted by the First Alaskans Institute, is usually an opportunity for 13- to 18-year-olds to learn about leadership, civic engagement and consensus building alongside their elders.

Attendees are encouraged to talk seriously about issues facing their communities, and there are many afternoon workshops focused on language, culture, subsistence and policy.

One of the first orders of business requires regional groups to elect new members to the Statewide Elders and Youth Council

The day begins with a welcome and blessing from the Rev. Luke Titus and the Rev. Anna Frank, both are Tanana Athabascan from Interior Alaska.

The custom is typical of Alaska Native gatherings in which many of the attendees are not from the surrounding area. When the conference is held in Anchorage, for example, the group is welcomed by representatives from the Dena’ina Athabascan community.

Liz Medicine Crow, the institute’s president and CEO, will address the crowd along with former state lawmaker Willie Hensley, who serves as the organization’s board chair. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott is scheduled to address the conference Tuesday afternoon.

This year’s youth keynote address will be given today by Joan Inga Barnowski who is Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) from Old Harbor, a city in the Kodiak Island Borough. As part of a science project she worked on earlier this year, the sixth-grader tested homes in her community for radon, a known carcinogen. Based on her initial work, potential issues were identified in several homes.

Raphael and Vivian Jimmy, both Yup’ik from Mountain Village, will give the elder keynote address Tuesday. The couple now lives in Anchorage where they lead the Kuigpagmiut Dance Group. Raphael is 91 and Vivian is 87.

Some of the workshops listed on the conference agenda include Food Sovereignty: Working on Seal, The Return from Carlisle, Social Justice Issues: An Alaska Native Perspective and Spoken Roots: Writing Ourselves, Our Communities and Our Histories.

This year’s conference theme is Ancestral Imperative: Adapt. Unite. Achieve. The conference is open to people of all ages and backgrounds.