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For Immediate Release
October 11, 2022
Contact: Khaaswóot Gloria Wolfe, [email protected], 907-677-1700


Xuu’ts’udeelken iin (Tanacross) – “Relatives of Ours”

Dgheyey Kaq’; Dena’inaq ełnen’aq’ qilan (Anchorage, Alaska; lands of the Dena’ina) – After meeting virtually over the past two years, First Alaskans Institute (FAI) is thrilled to safely celebrate our ways of life with our community and friends by hosting our 39th Annual Statewide Elders & Youth Conference in-person in Dgheyey Kaq’ (Anchorage) October 16-19, 2022. We are able to do this by ensuring we follow COVID-19 protocols and by requiring proof of vaccination in order to participate in-person.

Today we are excited to share a few announcements.

Conference Theme

The theme of this year’s Elders & Youth Conference is “Xuu’ts’udeelken iin” in the Tanacross language 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. Because Alaska always has been and always will be a Native place, we have a special responsibility to one another to be in good relationship and to take care of our ways of life. This convening helps us reconnect and remember the vibrant statewide community we share. Encoded within our languages is the richest detailing of Alaska’s history, values, knowledge systems, and ways to be with one another. Tsíná’ęę (thank you) in Tanacross to Irene Arnold (Tanacross), Rose Benson (Tanacross), Siri Tuttle and Allan Hayton (Gwich’in) for engaging in the process of including the Tanacross language in the theme! Our languages center us and are part of the inter-generational healing journey we are all on together.

Elder & Youth Keynotes

Our Elder & Youth Keynotes, a highly anticipated feature of the convening each year, allow us to hear from speakers whose unique role in our community gives us insight and understanding from their lived experiences that inform and shape our community and world. We are honored our Keynotes have accepted our invitation and we extend our deep gratitude to their families and communities for creating such inspiring people that we get to spend time with and learn from. 

Our Elder Keynote

Aqpayuq James and Suggia Susan LaBelle. Courtesy photo
Aqpayuq James and Suggia Susan LaBelle. Photo courtesy from Jim LaBelle

Suggia Susan LaBelle (Suqpiaq/Dene’) and Aqpayuq James W. LaBelle, Sr. (Iñupiaq) were married in 1969 and are the proud parents of four children, grandparents of seven grandchildren, and great-grandparents of four great grandchildren! Suggia’s parents were Jose’ and Vera (Mumchuck) Tabios. Aqpayuq’s parents were Clara (Hensley) LaBelle and Kermit LaBelle, Sr. Suggia holds a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). She has served as a Community & Family Services Division Director at Chugachmiut and Term Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at UAA. She has served on many boards, including as a board member of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority (AMHTA), a governor appointed Trustee position. She is now retired but continues to volunteer with cultural and Sugcestun language projects at UAA. Aqpayuq is a US Veteran who served in the United States Navy (1967-70). He holds a Master of Rural Development degree from UAA. He has served many years in executive management and board leadership, including ANCSA regional and village corporations and other Alaskan companies. He has also served in public service roles with the State of Alaska Dept. of Community and Regional Affairs and Department of Corrections as a Governor Appointee. He has served as an Adjunct Instructor, Term Instructor and Assistant Term Professor at UAA and University of Alaska Fairbanks. 

Suggia and Aqpayuq are both boarding school survivors of Wrangell Institute Boarding School and Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Aqpayuq is the first Vice President for the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) and Suggia is often by his side advocating for stories to be told of Alaska Native boarding school survivors and for our Ancestors to be returned. They are both serving as Elders on the Cultural Identity Project at UAA. Both have also been very involved with sharing and giving guidance to the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) work of First Alaskans Institute.

Our Youth Keynote

Christianna Edwards by Miciana Alise Hutcherson.
Christianna Edwards by Miciana Alise Hutcherson.

Christianna Edwards (Lingít/Haida) is Raven Dog Salmon from Juneau. She is 19 years old and attends Gallaudet University, College for the Deaf in Washington, DC. Her grandmother is Alberta Aspen and mother is Catherine Edwards. Christianna serves on the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit & Haida) Youth Commission and is the Youth Ambassador for Tlingit & Haida Washington Chapter. She was a member of the All Nations Children Dance Group in both Juneau and Washington and has learned Tlingit song and dance since birth. As a member of One People Canoe Society, she participated in the Paddle to Puyallup. She is also an activist, supporting movements like the NoDAPL movement at Standing Rock, and the Women’s March in Seattle. She is a beader and loves learning to make button robes from her grandmother. Recently Christianna shared the National Anthem in American Sign Language at the 2020 Elders & Youth Conference, our first virtual conference of the pandemic.

We cannot be more exited to hear from SuggiaAqpayuk, and Christianna this year. We know they have some mighty words and ways of being to share with us.

Conference Guides

In addition, each year for the conference, two Conference Guides are selected to serve as our leads for the conference. These two young leaders help us ensure a smooth convening, introduce our speakers, make announcements, engage with the participants, and guide us through the agenda.  We are honored the two young leaders who have committed to serving in this role this year are also alumni of First Alaskans Institute’s Summer Internship Program and the Al Adams Young Political Leader Fellowship.

Samuel Hiratsuka by Emily Bass.
Samuel Hiratsuka by Emily Bass.

Samuel Hiratsuka (Unangax̂/Yup’ik/Winnemem Wintu/Navajo) is the proud son of Tommy and Vanessa Hiratsuka. Born and raised in Anchorage, Samuel maintains family ties to the Native Village of Ekuk, Big Bend Rancheria, and Fish Point on the Navajo Nation reservation. Samuel recently worked in the DC office of U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan as a Legislative Correspondent, and now serves as a Legislative Assistant focused on Indigenous Affairs for US Congresswoman for all Alaska, Representative Mary Sattler Peltola (Yup’ik). He is an alumnus of First Alaskans Summer Internship Program and the Al Adams Young Political Leadership Fellowship.

Photo courtesy of Gabe Canfield

Kungunna Gabe Canfield (Iñupiaq) was born in Fairbanks but grew up in Ketchikan in Southeast Alaska. Her family comes from Wales, Nome and Ketchikan, and she now lives on Dena’ina Ełnena. Kungunna graduated from Dartmouth College in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and Native American Studies and works at the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association as the Project Coordinator. She is excited to be working in the field of Indigenous Advocacy and fisheries resource management during the past year and into the future. She is a lifelong Alaskan, avid fisherman, hiker, berry picker, loves being outdoors, going to the gym, and being with friends and family. Kungunna is an alumnus of First Alaskans Summer Internship Program.

COVID-19 Safety Plan for these Events 

To keep our precious Elders and youth safe, proof of COVID vaccination is required for in-person attendance. Masks will be required throughout. If you have a cold or feel any sickness, please stay home and get better. We encourage groups to have back-up plans in the event someone becomes ill. Self-administered COVID antigen tests will also be provided at registration. We also strongly recommend that you take a COVID test before traveling and attending, if possible. We take the safety, health, and wellness of our people seriously. As such, we will be implementing protocols to help mitigate the risk of contracting and spreading COVID during our gathering.  We will continue to monitor the status of COVID-19 in our communities leading up to the gathering in the event we need to hold it virtually to be responsive to the situation on the ground. We thank Afognak Native Corporation for providing these supplies to Elders & Youth.

Elders & Youth Conference COVID-19 Safety Plan

Registration is still open!

Click here to register for Elders & Youth. We encourage schools and communities to partner with us and register as many participants as they’d like. For schools, please consider participation in the conference as school attendance.

Call for Volunteers & Sponsorships

We are still seeking Volunteers to assist with all aspects of this large statewide conference. We encourage individuals, college groups, to sign up as well as businesses and organizations to allow employees to volunteer as a part of their workday; please reach out with any questions.  Please click here to sign up to volunteer. 

Conference Sponsorship Opportunities

Please click here to see sponsorship opportunities. If you have any question email [email protected] or call 907.677.1700 and speak with Cutmen Candace Branson, Indigenous Advancement Director. Sponsorships are vital to ensure a successful convening of our precious Elders & Youth; Tsíná’ęę to all who have sponsored thus far! You can see our most updated list of current sponsors on our website or social media here.

Community Hall

There is still space in our Community Hall! Come and showcase your business, organizations, programs or services that are relevant to our attendees. We also have Alaska Native artists tables available. Please click here to sign up for this opportunity. 

Broadcast & Livestream

Elders & Youth will be livestreamed on the FAI website and televised statewide through our partners on KTOO 360TV and ARCS. For those who cannot join us in-person, please join us via these broadcast methods or through our FAI YouTube or other social media when available.

Safe Environment

We are committed to having a culturally radiant and safe experience for all of our participants, where all are welcome with the understanding that we center our Elders and our youth. All people who wish to attend in-person, must have proof of vaccination to register. All registered participants must also affirm a statement of safety – that they do not, have not, and will not commit any type of physical, mental, sexual, financial, or other types of abuse, in order to register and participate in this incredibly special gathering of Elders & Youth.

For more details about Elders & Youth please visit: https://firstalaskans.org/leadership-development/elders-youth-conference/2022-elders-youth-conference/

We look forward to seeing you this October 16th-19th! To get involved and for more information, please visit our FAI website at www.firstalaskans.org, calling 907-677-1700 or emailing [email protected]

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To learn more, visit www.firstalaskans.org, contact us at 907-677-1700 or email [email protected].

Download a PDF version of this release.

More info on the 2022 Statewide Elders & Youth Conference. https://firstalaskans.org/leadership-development/elders-youth-conference/2022-elders-youth-conference/