Annual First Alaskans Institute Elders & Youth Conference
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.
2023 – 2004 Elders & Youth Conference Themes
Woosht Guganéix (Lingit)(2023) This Theme which translates in English to “Let it be that we heal each other”. The richest detailing of our history, values and knowledge systems are encoded within our languages. We recognize our responsibility as Alaskans to reconnect and uplift our Native ways of life that have carried us since time immemorial. We invite all Alaskans and the world to participate as relatives in the Elders & Youth Conference that lift up our peoples. We look forward to seeing everyone and celebrating this amazing place and the people who have made it magnificent for thousands of years.
Xuu’ts’udeelken iin (Tanacross)(2022) This theme which translates in English to “Relatives of Ours”. Xuu’ts’udeelken iin speaks to our deep connection to each other, especially during hardship like the worldwide pandemic we are just now beginning to come out of, it is so good to remember our infinite relationship with each other, our lands, waters, animal relatives, and all that is within our homelands.
ahnuu dAXunhyuu AXAkihya’ iLka’ GAdAqeeLinuu (Eyak)(2021) This theme which translates to “side by side in the same direction the people go by canoe.” Now more than ever we want to ensure that our Elders and youth are the center of our attention. This was FAI’s second virtual conference.
Asirqamek Apruciluta (Sugt’stun, Chugach), Asisqamek Aprut’liluta (Alutiiq)(2020) This theme assures us that we are moving in the right direction – physically in our real world today and symbolically in life. Its translation into English is “We Are Making a Good Path.” This theme exemplifies our ancestral responsibilities to protect and advance our peoples and communities, including through this time of COVID-19 and the racial justice transformation that is happening right now as well. This was FAI’s first virtual conference.
Qaneryararput Yugtun Riniqerput(Yugtun), Qaneryararput Cugtun Kayuqerput (Cugtun) (2019) This theme celebrates the beauty, importance and diversity of our Alaska Native languages. Its closest loose translation into English is “language is our superpower.”
Na Ganiyaatgm, Na Lagm (Our Ancestors, Our Fire) (Sm’algyax).(2018) This theme speaks to the flame within each of us that keeps us connected to our Ancestors, our homelands and to what makes us uniquely distinct as Native peoples of this land. We will ask ourselves at this year’s Elders & Youth, “What will we add to this fire to keep it burning brightly?” This is the first year that FAI chose one of our Indigenous languages to highlight throughout the Conference and our work.
Part Land, Part Water – Always Native. (2017) This theme speaks to how our identity as indigenous peoples is informed by our deep connection to our lands and waters, no matter where we live, and recognizes that Alaska always has been – and always will be – a Native place.
ANCESTRAL IMPERATIVE: Adapt. Unite. Achieve. (2016) This theme speaks to the call to action from our Ancestors that we all carry – collectively and personally – to perpetuate who we are into the future, and the recognition that it is through our cultural and language well-being that our peoples and communities will thrive. Being strong, healthy, culturally-connected Native peoples does not happen in a vacuum; it must be grown, nurtured, and loved. Through the conference we strive to operationalize these values and ignite this responsibility.
Not in Our Smokehouse! (2015) This theme speaks to cherishing, protecting, reclaiming, and strengthening our Alaska Native Ways of Life, standing together as advocates for the well being of our cultures, languages, lands, and our entire statewide community. Our 2015 theme was generated by the youth of one of our villages who said it to each other as they played out on the school grounds. It was born of their young but keen observation of not only what is important to us, but also of the ingrained responsibility we have to protect our homelands and our Ways of Life.
Get Up, Stand Up! (2014): This theme focused on catalyzing and growing the voice and spirit of our Youth and our Elders as critical members of our communities. We want to inspire and engage them as leaders; learning, amplifying and utilizing our Native knowledge, cultures, values, and tools, to help elevate solutions they create to the challenges of our time. Being an advocate for our peoples and cultures, understanding the power of our voice, and being part of the collective movement to strengthen who we are as indigenous peoples is an exciting, lifetime practice was celebrated and nurtured at the 30th Anniversary of the Elders & Youth Conference.
We Are Our Ancestors (2013): This theme embodies the enduring connection between those who came before us, and those who will come after us. We are both the aspiration and the legacy of our Ancestors. This conference took place at the right time, the right place, and those participating were the right people to do the work of perpetuating our cultures, and exploring their understanding of what it means to be a modern Ancestor.
Native Knowledge: Respecting and Owning our Living Culture (2012): This theme was selected through feedback from the Elders & Youth Council and the staff at FAI. The idea behind this theme was to celebrate our Native intellect and our ever evolving definition of culture, while instilling pride in our Alaska Native peoples to recognize and take ownership of our way of life.
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.
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.
Generations of Wisdom, Generations of Strength (2009): This theme speaks to the reawakening of our Alaska Native community — maintaining Alaska Native traditions while immersed in a Western lifestyle, and how both are good but it is the combination of both and the struggle to survive in the world that breeds innovation and adaptation.
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.
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.
Respect for Native Life: Restoring Balance & A Sense of Belonging (2006): This 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.
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.”
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.”
Elders & Youth Conference Milestones