Summer 2015 – Wellness Conference Convened in Nome

by Angela Gonzalez, Communications Coordinator

In a Plant Medicine workshop, attendees sampled tea made with local plants. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

In a Plant Medicine workshop, attendees sampled tea made with local plants. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

In early June, Kawerak, Inc. and RurAL CAP combined their annual conferences with the Kawerak Regional / 32nd Annual Rural Providers’ Conference (RPC). The goal of Kawerak’s annual conference is to assist Alaska Native people and their governing bodies to take control of their future. With programs ranging from education to transportation, and natural resource management to economic development, Kawerak seeks to improve the Region’s social, economic, educational, cultural and political conditions.

The RPC is an annual gathering and cultural celebration designed by rural Alaskans who are substance abuse treatment providers, youth, Elders and family members interested in an opportunity to share information, address substance abuse and promote wellness. This year’s RPC featured hands-on cultural events, moderated discussions, workshops and keynote speakers. There were 37 workshops, including a justice track and sessions geared toward youth. Each evening was filled with Traditional Native Dancing, other entertainment and a community potluck.

About 525 people from around the state attended the conference. During the past 32 years, the RPC has been held in 14 communities statewide, partnering with local community agencies to organize the conference.

This year’s conference theme “Carving a Path to Wellness” recognized the strength of traditional and cultural knowledge in creating healthy communities. Keynote speakers included Lucy Apatiki, Andrea Irrigoo, Darlene Trigg and Donna Barr. Local Conference Coordinator Barb Nickels said, “Participants returned to their communities with new skills, new hope, and new relationships that will help them as they work with wellness issues in their communities.”

Conference Workshops

A Journey into Wellness NSEDC Small Business Initiative, Hands-on Grant Writing Assistance
Alaska Criminal Justice Commission: Listening to You Office of Indian Alaska Energy Update
Alaska Native Language Preservation Council Office of Victims of Crime, Resources for Your Community and FBI information
Be You – Most Alaska Teens Choose Not to Drink Parenting – Stabilizing Our Efforts
Building Relationships to Heal Oppression PC-CARES:  Building on Community Strengths and Developing Practical Steps to Prevent Suicide
Carving a New Design on an Ancient Path to Wellness Plant Medicine: Tea and Salve Making
Decided & United to Stop Tobacco Rural and Indigenous Academic Pathway
Elder General Assembly So You Want to Start a Tribal Court
Exploring the Traumatic Brain’s Wiring & Firing Stand Up and Speak Out Against Domestic Violence
Family Law and ICWA Issues Standing Up for Healthy Communities
Family Wellness Warrior DVD Strengthening Families
Gender FAB Tribal Jurisdiction in Alaska
Hands-On Cultural Activities Uksuum Cauyai (The Drums of Winter) Film
Healing Our Future US Coast Guard GEOTRACES Project
Importance of Youth Involvement What Can We Do About Heroin in Our Communities
Inuit Circumpolar Council Food Security Project Youth and Artist
Lingit Tundatani Youth Curriculum
Making Good Choices to Prevent Alcoholism “Zoning In” on Communication
Group discussion at the RPC. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Group discussion at the RPC. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Lucy Apatiki’s keynote addressed focused on intergenerational trauma, past and present. She is from Gambell and lives in Nome, and is earning her Master’s Degree in Social Work. Lucy is also involved in committees that bring services and hope to her communities. Lucy covered historical trauma events in the early 1900s, including the flu epidemic, abuse, loss of identity and more. She shared information about how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) has affected people throughout the generations. Lucy said, “Programs that deal with the symptoms are doomed to fail. What happened to our people back then affects us today. There are deep wounds that still need to heal.” She stressed the importance of people speaking up about trauma to be able to move past it.

Darlene Trigg is from Nome and now works for First Alaskans Institute as their Social Justice Manager in Anchorage. She is responsible for the project management of the Advancing Native Dialogues on Racial Equity project through the Alaska Native Policy Center and the creation of a collective impact project for Racial Equity in Alaska. Darlene led a discussion with attendees about racial equity. Attendees discussed the question, “What needs to be addressed between us to heal and grown stronger together?”

Andrea Irrigoo leads a conga line. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Andrea Irrigoo leads a conga line. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Andrea Irrigoo is originally from Stebbins and now lives in Nome. Her commitment to lead and support positive community activities through volunteering provides her life with direction and meaning even while living in small and remote communities that can appear to have “nothing to offer” young people. Andrea focused her keynote address on how being involved in the community can build character and strength for young people. She shared her experiences of community involvement and what it taught her. Andrea says, “Living in rural Alaska is a challenge because you can know everyone and it can feel as though you have nothing to talk about or do, especially in a village. However, as a child I always wanted to make something out of nothing. I listened to the radio all the time and thought, ‘I can have a radio station, too.’ I found an empty cassette, asked a friend to be my co-host and we created a radio station of our own. It had music, weather, news and special guests. Sure it wasn’t a real radio station, but I made it. I guess I was always a dreamer and a doer.” She wrapped up her keynote with a dance with the audience in a conga line in the Nome Elementary gymnasium.

Donna Barr is from Shishmaref and is an advocate for youth to engage in cultural activities and holds strong interests to build skills and knowledge of family grief, trauma and healing. Donna talked about how the impacts of suicide, family violence, alcoholism, addictions, and the high risk behaviors of teens has led her to redirect her life. Her desire to break the stigmatism associated with behavioral and mental health gives her motivation to remain engaged in this field. She is pursuing an Associates of Applied Science Degree in Human Services.

You can listen to the RPC keynote addresses on the KNOM website at

Melanie Bahnke speaks at the Kawerak Regional / Rural Providers' Conference in Nome. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Melanie Bahnke speaks at the Kawerak Regional / Rural Providers’ Conference in Nome. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Evening entertainers included the King Island Traditional Singers and Dancers, Shishmaref Eskimo Dance Group, Nome/St. Lawrence Dance Group, Tikigaq Traditional Dancers, Ignalit Dancers of Diomede, AK Rebel (also known as Samuel Johns), Simon Lynge and Crystal Worl. There were 37 workshops, including a justice track and sessions geared toward youth.

The evening entertainment activities were held at the Nome Recreation Center, and many community members attended. On the evening of the last day, dancers and drummers from all groups as well as conference attendees gathered for a grand finale at Middle Beach. Kawerak President Melanie Bahnke said, “The dancers were out until 5 a.m. You can tell how important it is for them to practice our culture.”

Kawerak and RurAL CAP will host the RPC again next year. A date will be set later this year. Bahnke encouraged attendees to take home the skills and information they learned at the conference. She said, “We have many challenges in our region and state, and the conference serves to provide us with tools to address them. Nobody can make a bigger difference in our communities than those of you who are living in them.”

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