49 Voices: Vanessa Duhrsen of Anchorage

Vanessa Duhrsen of Anchorage (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

This week we’re hearing from Vanessa Duhrsen in Anchorage. Duhrsen is a senior at West High and recently received a Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her volunteer service throughout rural Alaska.

Listen now

DUHRSEN: I’m a tribal member of the Chippewa Cree tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Montana, so that’s a huge part of my identity. Something my mom always says to me is “You are your ancestor’s wildest dreams.” And so that is really a key part of who I am. And I’m so fortunate to be where I am today because I know that the people before me and my ancestors, they’ve overcome so many different challenges. And so, I really am just the product of their effort.

I have been involved with a program called Skiku for a while now. So, Skiku sends teams of coaches to around 50 rural Alaska villages with the intent of forming sustainable ski communities. But the problem is that these coaches can only go for a week.

And so with that, I developed a program called Skiku Schoolmates. I set up housing, and I formed a relationship with the local school. And so, really we’re just prepared… so one person can live there for a while and form the connections that they needed to to make that happen. It’s more than about just skiing. It’s about physical health and mental health, and just forming greater community ties. I think skiing can do a lot of that. It’s a very multi-various sport.

I was raised off of my reservation and my mom talks a lot about the systematic oppression of indigenous people all around the world, so that is a huge part of my upbringing. And so, when I went to Hooper Bay, I did get to see that, and it kinda just put a real tangible experience to these things that my mom tells me all the time. Even though it’s not my culture, I felt a lot more connected to it afterwards. Because there was physical, tangible… it was like a real experience about this is what life is like for people who live on their Native land. This is what it’s like. It wasn’t just my mom’s words anymore. It was real.

As an indigenous person myself, that’s when I really realized how connected all indigenous people are around the world. All these different indigenous communities face a lot of the same challenges. I mean, I know they’re unique, but success for any indigenous culture is success for everybody, I think.

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

Previous articleAK: Kasigluk Yuraq tradition dances through the generations
Next articleRevisiting being alone in the wilderness