October 5th, 2023
Dgheyey Kaq’; Dena’inaq ełnen’aq’ qilan (Anchorage, Alaska; lands of the Dena’ina) – On October 15-18, 2023, we celebrate the 40th Annual First Alaskans Institute Statewide Elders & Youth Conference. We warmly welcome Dr. Ilskyalas Delores Churchill (Haida) and Quannah Chasinghorse (Han Gwich’in/Lakota) as this years Elder and Youthkeynotes, respectively. We extend deep gratitude to their families and communities for creating such inspiring people that we get to learn from and spend time with. We are honored they accepted our invitation.
Our Elder and our Youth keynote speakers are a highly anticipated feature of each conference. These inspiring people allow us to hear their unique experience connected to our conference theme. This year’s theme in Lingit is Woosht Guganéix -Let it be that we heal each other. Each year we seek an Elder and a youth who represent the dynamic world we live in, just like our Ancestors did – we are not all the same, but we share an abiding commitment and responsibility to our collective well-being as distinct Native cultures and peoples. Through these keynotes, we get a moment of reflection to hear thru their stories their stories, and pathways to how we heal each other. This year is no exception!
Dr. Ilskyalas Delores Churchill is Haida, born in Masset, Haida Gwaii, Canada. She is one of the remaining first language speakers of Haida and a master weaver of hats, robes, baskets, and regalia. She gathers, prepares, and weaves with spruce root, cedar bark as well as wool into Ravenstail and Naaxiin weaving. Ilskyalas learned the thousands of year-old styles of weaving from her mother, Selina Peratrovich. She continued to pass along her family skill of weaving to her daughters Holly Burns, April Churchill and Evelyn Vanderhoop as well as nieces, nephews, and grandchildren, along with curated community engagements.
Her weaving technique and style is known around the world through her commitment to teaching, preserving and actively weaving pieces for her family to dance, use in ceremony and display in museums. Her work can be found in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., Canada, Hawaii, Germany and here in Alaska. Ilskyalas continues to contribute to the weaving and community around her. She is working on a book called, From A Circle to A Square, to share her cultural knowledge, stories, and life experience of the various weaving techniques she’s learned in Haida, Tlingit and Tsmishian styles. In regard to those who continue to weave this important art form Dr. Delores shares, “They are keeping this art alive so it continues long after I’m gone... it belongs to all of us.”
Ilskyalas also continues to teach Xaad Kil, the Haida language, to apprentices, learners and at Language Nests in Alaska and Haida Gwaii over zoom and in person. A family group meets twice a week, continuing though the pandemic, of her grandchildren and great grandchildren to learn the language and history directly from her. She is supported in this work through her family as well as a Haida Gwaii Mentor Apprentice Program with First Peoples Cultural Council Mentor Apprentice program, FPCC Braided Knowledge Project Gaw sdu gyaahlangee uu iijaa, 2023, Tlingit and Haida, Sealaska, Sealaska Heritage and Xaantsii Náay. Her passion for bringing Xaad Kil to the mouths of our babies and weaving in the hands of our future Ancestors is evident in her willingness to share, spend time and teach those around her. We are honored to know Dr. Ilskyalas Delores Churchill, that she is an Elder alumni of the conference, and we look forward to hearing from her as our first Haida Elder Keynote.
Quannah ChasingHorse (she/her) is a Han Gwich’in and Sicangu/Oglala Lakota land protector, climate justice activist, and fashion model from Eagle Village, Alaska and the tribes of South Dakota. Born on the Navajo Nation, she is the daughter of Jody Potts-Joseph and the granddaughter of Mike and Adeline Potts. As a young girl, Quannah lived on Navajo homelands as her mother finished college, and then Mongolia, before returning to her maternal homelands in Alaska. She was raised hunting, fishing, and dog mushing, living our Native ways of life with her mother and two brothers. Quannah’s connection to her people’s way of life is her grounding and guiding force as a land protector and climate justice activist.
Signing with IMG Models has exponentially increased her platform to uplift Indigenous peoples’ representation, beauty, voices, stories, and ways of life on a global stage through fashion and media. Quannah has worked with the top global fashion houses and has graced the covers of Vogue Mexico, V Magazine, Elle, Porter Magazine, National Geographic and Allure’s annual Best of Beauty issue. She has appeared in international editions of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and twice has attended the Met Gala.
In June 2022, Quannah debuted “Walking Two Worlds” a short documentary at TriBeCa Film Festival. The short tells Quannah and her mother Jody’s stories, as they take a stand to defend their sacred homelands and way of life while breaking barriers in Indigenous representation. “Walking Two Worlds” won best documentary short at the Santa Monica Film Festival. The film was shared at the 2022 Elders & Youth Conference.
Quannah is the recipient of several awards including Teen Vogue’s Top 21 under 21, Models Dot’s Breakout Star of the Year (Industry Vote and Readers Choice) 2021, and Social Mover of the Year (Industry Vote) 2022, and Runner Up (Industry Vote) 2021. Quannah is on the 2022 Forbes 30 under 30 list, was inducted into the Business of Fashion Global Class of 2022 in Paris, and was nominated Model of the Year by British Fashion Awards 2022, 2023 Anthem Awards Special Achievement Award, the 2023 USA Today’s Women of the Year, and was a 2023 Green Carpet Awards Co-host.
Through all of Quannah's accomplishments and journeys her most important work is upholding and uplifting her Indigenous values, remaining true to herself, her people, and her homelands. Quannah stays grounded by making time to connect with her family, her people, her homelands, and with her indigenous colleagues and allies engaged in fashion and activism. She is a multi-year youth alumni of the Elders & Youth Conference and even as she has become a global voice, she continues to return to the conference and give back to our statewide community. We look forward to her sharing as our first Han Gwichin Youth Keynote.
For those interested in attending the FAI Elders & Youth Conference, the conference is open to all who want to learn and immerse in a gathering that centers our Elders and our youth in Native ways of knowing and being. All participants are required to register and sign our terms of agreement that make it clear that everyone who comes is committed to helping Elders & Youth be a safe environment. Our young people and are Elders are worth it. The conference will be hosted in-person in Dgheyey Kaq’ at the Dena’ina Center. Here is the registration link.
At First Alaskans Institute, we know we are responsible for carrying more than 10,000 years of ancestral knowledge into the future with rigor, humor, resilience, vigilance, and love. To learn more, please visit www.firstalaskans.org or contact us at [email protected].
Read the full Press Release about our Keynote speakers here
Find out all about this years Elders & Youth Conference here