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Written by The Nature Conservancy, Sarah Dybdahl, and Tis Peterman

Focussing on youth leadership in Southeast Alaska, First Alaskans Institute assisted in facilitating our time together by creating a space for youth, community leaders, local and regional organizations to share and discuss opportunities to address the wants and needs of youth, their communities and the surrounding region with special emphasis on catalyzing leadership behaviour.

Youth and communities leaders (or organizational representatives) participated from the communities of Kake, Hoonah, Kasaan, Juneau, Yakutat, Wrangell and Klawock.

Organizations in Attendance:

  • Alaska Crossing
  • Discovery Southeast
  • Forest Service – Tongas National Forest
  • Goldbelt Heritage Foundation
  • Hoonah City Schools
  • Huna Heritage Foundation
  • Organized Village of Kake
  • Organized Village of Kasaan
  • Sealaska Corporation
  • Sitka Science Centre
  • Southeast Regional Health Consortium, Kake
  • Southeast Sustainable Partnership
  • State of Alaska Community Economic Development
  • Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards (SEAS)
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Yakutat Tlingit Tribe

Culture Camps

The first day of our time together we had the opportunity to have a series of catalyzing presentations. To start, the community of Kake outlined the years of work they’ve spent developing and creating their Annual Culture Camp. Another catalyzer presentation was provided by the Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards (SEAS) program based out of British Columbia. The intent of these catalyzer presentations was to educate participants of current programs that exist to provide leadership development opportunities and generate thoughts, ideas and conversations

What is important for our young people?

The adults and elders representing their communities and organizations discussed amongst ourselves questions including:

  • What is important for our young people to know?
  • What would we like to see in our youth?
  • What could adults do to assist in the success of our youth?

Key takeaways included the need for more opportunities for youth to get outside, connect with elders and community members, and learn about their culture.

Developing Leadership Programs over the next 40+ years

The youth then had the opportunity to spend time together thinking about and sharing their ideas amongst themselves, lead by First Alaskans Institute’s guiding questions. The start of their conversation was looking ahead into the future forty years and discussing where they would like to see opportunities for leadership development.

Key takeaways included the desire to see more opportunities to learn about culture in school (tools, names, language), the preservation of traditional language and practices taught by elders and more consistent opportunities for cultural events like trips, native activities and dance group practices. These types of immersive learning opportunity allow the youth to connect with each other informally in the region.

How do we make that happen?

The youth were encouraged to share their ideas and thoughts on activities and actions that would need to take place to make their vision of 40 years from now come to reality.

Key takeaways included broadening the youth’s support system by allowing for time to visit elders and involve language instructors to assist in all aspects of culture. From learning stories, purpose and pronunciations to preparing foods and understanding the words of songs and practicing dance, learning their culture in context help the youth feel empowered and whole; confident in passing on their learnings to the next generations.

What is possible?

Participants were divided into groups to identify what methods of developing leadership programs resonated as most possible, with one youth leading the smaller group discussions. Providing the youth an opportunity to have a voice in what happens in the region ______

Key takeaways included regional cultural camps to bring youth together from their expanded regions (ex: British Columbia), providing structure to the educational experience by replacing existing SEAS curriculum to allow for more active engagement in school and time with elders (through the outdoors or specialized projects), and the creation of safe space/networks for students leaving community for post-secondary education.

Circle within a Circle – Adults working with Youth

A select group of adults who represented their communities or organizations were asked to sit in a circle with the remaining participants surrounding them on the outside. Those on the outside were to be active listeners while those in the middle shared their thoughts and ideas. Those sharing imparted many barriers both personally and professionally, along with reasons they are dedicated the youth leadership in their communities.

Key takeaways included an appreciation and sense of pride towards the youth that have stepped up into leadership roles to help the community and strengthen traditions and language. By providing the opportunities for the youth to work with elders to bridge the gap of knowledge from the past trauma, helps them appreciate things happening in the community – the more communities are connected, the better. Listen – Learn – Do.

Reflections of Leadership Development Lists

Participants were asked to take some time to review all the thoughts and ideas captured regarding youth leadership. Below are thoughts shared after having time to absorb and process what had been shared collectively up to this given point.

Key takeaways included more programs in school and jobs in the community with an emphasis on sharing among tribes, mentorship/apprenticeship opportunities to bring elders and youth together, diversification and support for the leadership in the community and motivating the youth by recognizing their achievements within the community.

How can we move forward?

The last activity of our two days together was to share what each participant could do now to ensure the thoughts and ideas would become a reality. What would each of us commit to within our communities and organizations, both personally and professionally.

Key takeaways included opportunities for youth to connect with each other informally at culture camps or other events in the region by creating events for them to connect with each other, opportunities for youth to have a voice in what happens in the region and more consistent opportunities for youth to get outside, connecting with elders and community members, and learn about their culture (year-round).  The collective group continually returned to cultural connection as the heart of what they wanted to focus on. Getting youth outdoors, involved in science, or on career development paths wasn’t enough – this must always be integrated into the idea of cultural connection as a whole.

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