|Henry Makara, Chugach Region; Spirit Camp Gathering at Nuuciq, Alaska - photo by Darin Yates 2003
Another component of First Alaskans Institute's Leadership Development Initiative is the Elders & Youth Conference. The Institute has sponsored and hosted the event since 2004 at the request of the Alaska Federation of Natives.
Today, more than 1,000 participants from rural and urban Alaska gather each year at the First Alaskans Institute's Elders & Youth Conference, held during AFN Convention week. The purpose of the gathering is to develop leadership in our Native youth, strengthened with the experience and wisdom of our Native Elders. For many participants (ages 13-18), the conference is their first opportunity to attend a statewide gathering and to engage in serious dialogue on issues relevant to Alaska Natives. Youth and Elders network with statewide organizations and individuals who are making a positive impact on our communities through Native traditions and modern technology alike.
The Institute engages an external group of people to serve as the Conference's planning team. This team helps to develop the conference theme, advise and guide content, and identify speakers, presenters and cultural performers.
The Power of Imagination (2004): Participants discussed population, health, economic and educational issues - and identified priorities, including promoting healthy lifestyles, Native languages and cultures. Every participant committed to address issues raised. Carrie Henry of Point Lay, wrote, "I believe we have the Power of Imagination to do these things we talk about. We just have to put our heads together and work on it. We just have to use the power of our imagination. What am I going to do about it? I am going to finish my education and go to college and work on the issues."
Embracing Tomorrow with the Strength of Our Elders (2005): Youth recognized Elders as powerful resources in addressing problems. Sidney Huntington stated, "Growing up during these modern days you have to be strong, be courageous... you have to stand strong against the forces that could destroy your life - namely, drugs, violence and alcohol abuse... The choice you make not only affects your life and ability to pursue your dreams, but it affects the lives of others... you have to learn the skills that are required today; and you will learn that from your parents, your Elders, and in school."
Respect for Native Life: Restoring Balance & A Sense of Belonging (2006): The 2006 Elders & Youth Conference was held at the William Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, AK on Oct. 23-24, 2006. The 2006 theme represented: Native Life: Our land, our values, and our cultures are the foundation for who we are as Native peoples. Sense of Belonging: To ensure, regain, and restore healthy communities, we need to know our languages and histories; and we need to know the importance of being Alaska Native. When we know these things we know we are okay and that we belong. Restoring Balance: Our Elders teach us that we live a healthy life when we make good choices for ourselves and when we contribute to our family and to our community. We know it is time to choose to live a healthy life.
Living Cultures in the North: Respecting Alaska Native People (2007): Land & Community Our land and communities are the foundation for who we are as Native peoples. We need healthy and thriving communities to move forward into the future. Our connection to land and its resources are central to our success and future. Traditions & Culture To ensure, regain, and restore healthy communities, we need to know our languages and histories; and we need to know the importance of being Alaska Native. When we know these things we know we are okay and that we belong. Health & Education We know it is time to choose to live a healthy life. Physically and mentally we must be engaged in activities that support healthier people. Education is critical to our success.
Celebrating 25 Years.. Wisdom from Our Elders, Spirit of Our Youth (2008): First Alaskans Institute celebrated Alaska Native intellect and encouraged young people and Elders during the 25th Anniversary of First Alaskans Institute Elders & Youth Conference held Oct. 20-21, 2008, in Anchorage. The conference stimulated dialogue between young people and Elders and encouraged them to maintain traditional Native values and practices while thriving in the modern world.
Generations of Wisdom, Generations of Strength (2009)
INDIGENIZE IT! Culture. Language. Identity (2010): Our land and communities are the foundation for who we are as Native peoples. We need healthy and thriving communities to move forward into the future. To ensure, regain, and restore healthy communities, we need to know our languages and histories; we need to know our art and dances; and we need to know the importance of being Alaska Native.
Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present, Preparing for the Future (2011): Through the wisdom of our Elders we honor the past. By celebrating the present we acknowledge how far we have come and we rejoice in our resiliency, and with our youth we prepare for the future.
Elders & Youth Conference History
- 1984 - 54 young people gather at the first Alaska Federation of Natives Youth Conference
- 1988 - Elders gather from across the state at the first AFN Elders Conference
- 1993 - Elders & Youth join together to establish the Elders & Youth Conference
- 2004 -Coordination of the Conference transferred from the AFN to the First Alaskans Institute
- 2005 - Fairbanks community hosts AFN Convention week for the first time
- 2011 - 28th Annual Elders & Youth Conference celebrated in Anchorage