The 35th annual Elders and Youth conference finished Wednesday in Anchorage, southern Alaska.
Liz Medicine Crow is the president of the the First Alaskans Institute, which puts on the event, and said that more than ever she sees young people taking ownership and pride in their indigenous heritage.
“A Yupik elder said to us one time that, ‘Our young people are waking up hungry, what are we feeding them?’ And we are coming into a generation, I think, of healers,” Medicine Crow said. “Our elders and our adult population now who have been working really hard to make sure that our children have better opportunities to know who they are and to feel that strongly. And I think what we’re seeing now are the results of that investment.”
The last day of the conference was built around reflection, affirmation and continuing actions. A brief panel touched on evolving gender roles in Alaska Native society. Charlene Apok told the audience that young people today are redefining what it means for indigenous men to be providers.
“I see young Alaska Native men going to school. I see young Alaska Native men working those jobs to provide for their families in a different way. I see Alaska Native men being providers through fatherhood. Men who are staying at home to raise our future generations,” Apok said.
The conference split apart for youth and elders to meet in a men’s house and women’s house, traditional spaces for intergenerational dialogues. This year, for the first time, there was also a Two Spirit house for LGBTQ+ individuals.
Attendees ended the day by passing eight resolutions.
“A resolution in support of wearing Alaska Native and American Indian regalia during graduation ceremonies,” Ayyu Qassataq read before passage through a show-of-hands vote.
Most of the measures were approved unanimously.
Other resolutions called for more Alaska Native history be incorporated into educational curricula, ask for native corporations and tribes to solicit more feedback from elders and discourage the use of e-cigarettes and vaping. Those resolutions will be presented to the Alaska Federation of Natives during its convention, which formally starts Thursday morning at the Dena’ina Convention Center.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Inuit elders tell their experience of Arctic climate change, Radio Canada International
Finland: Sámi school preserves reindeer herders’ heritage with help of internet, Cryopolitics Blog
United States: Keynote tells Elders and Youth conference in Alaska to move traditional knowledge forward, Alaska Public Media