By Amy Modig, Community Wellness Coordinator
It was an honor to have worked with eight communities in creative and caring projects. Some were long term over several months and others were one week events. Almost all who had outdoor activities had to deal with unseasonably warm weather and changing migration patterns. Here are some updates, quotes from community members and photos of each project. Communities included Hoonah, Kotlik, Nondalton, Shageluk, Tetlin, Togiak, White Mountain and Wrangell.
The Youth Development and Culture program provides grants to rural communities to implement activities involving youth in leadership development. Funding for the programs is provided by the Department of Juvenile Justice. The goal of the program is to decrease juvenile delinquency by involving rural Alaska Native youth in positive, skill-building projects, as well as build local capacity to manage state grants.
Four culture camps were held in Hoonah. Youth learned about carving a traditional dugout canoe with a Master Carver who also taught them about carving full-sized paddles for use when the dugout canoe returns to Hoonah’s homeland in Glacier Bay. They also learned about canoe safety, how to paddle and navigate a dugout canoe, identifying wildlife and Tlingit songs. Another camp focused on seal hunting, and preserving the meat, oil and skin.
Here’s what the participants had to say about the camps.
“I learned how to stay calm, when the cold hits you!”- Hoonah Youth
“You all made me proud. You’re all strong, a lot of leaders in here!” – Hoonah Elder
In White Mountain, youth learned about hunting and harvesting seal, as well as seal skin sewing. The also learned about the Inupiaq language, cloth sewing, beading, traditional songs and dance, gathering and preserving natural foods and sewing sealskin mitts. They brought the Elders and youth together to learn about ice fishing.
“Our best time was when we had the traditional singing and drumming and all the youth worked on beading during breaks and, even when the drumming was done!” – White Mountain Staff
In a well-planned progression of classes, the youth learned food preservation of natural foods, clan identification and family trees, as well as language songs, arts and crafts and story-telling. In a wide response from the community, the classes included Elders and local organizations, as well as a lead teacher. Their goal was to preserve as much of their culture before it is lost while preventing minor consuming cases.
“It was amazing to see all the youth at the Wellness meeting take a stand against alcohol and drugs. We know the youth are concerned and it makes a big impact!” – Tetlin Parent
Kotlik had a series of classes for youth that covered building fish traps, hanging and mending gill nets, making spears and spear throwers, harpoons, skin sewing, and beading. Youth gained skills on checking gillnets under the ice and setting snares. Elder mentors talked with youth in several classes.
“Follow the sayings of our ancestors. We followed what they said and we became successful. We lived loving one another.” – Late Elder, Henry Teeluk, Kotlik
Nondalton held a culture week at the school where they taught Dena’ina Athabascan language, traditional songs and dances. Youth learned skin sewing of traditional dance regalia and beading. They learned to pluck birds, mend nets and Elders and teachers talked about subsistence and safety practices.
“At the final closing, the kids showed their products. We did a talking circle ceremony and all the Elders and youth got to comment. They were so positive!” – Nondalton Project Staff
Togiak worked in partnership with the Council, the Togiak School and the Togiak Tribal Court to provide two cultural camps for the youth. Youth worked with Elders and community members to learn traditional food gathering and hunting. They learned how to properly prepare traditional foods and shared it with the local Elders. Youth learned how to clean seal skin and how to cut up the meat.
“The sharing of the seal meat and seal oil with the Elders and community, especially with those who didn’t have seal through the youth was the most rewarding!” – Togiak Staff
Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE)
WISE held several three day camps called Chosen Frozen in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park where the youth learned self-sufficiency in an outdoor winter environment. They learned outdoor living and subsistence skills. They also participated in skin sewing with local Elders. The youth gained self-confidence and respect for the natural world. They involved five communities in the region! They made ice holes for fishing, built fires and sewing at night in the tents.
“Over 50 youth from across the region camped out in unseasonably warm, wet snow. They learned to work together and learned to trap muskrats, build outdoor fires and learn to skin sew (both boys and girls learned everything).” – WISE Staff
Shageluk had a weeklong event at the school called “Mask Dancing: Reviving Our Traditional Ways.” Mask carvers and drummers taught traditional dancing. Besides the mask carving, there was oral story-telling, traditional clothes sewing, understanding how songs are made and the purpose of the mask dances. Each night youth danced and helped cooked for the Elders.
“When the youth ask questions about their culture, it’s like they are crying out for knowledge and it’s our job to answer. Just like when they cry for food when they’re babies, it is our job to answer.” – Shageluk Elder