The Elders and Youth Conference is underway in Anchorage this week, back to what it used to be – a time for both young and old to make a personal connection through their love of Alaska Native culture.
For the last two years, the pandemic kept them from meeting in person. But on Sunday, the First Alaskans Institute held a “Warming of the Hands” reception at the Alaska Native Heritage Center to celebrate the start of the conference, now in its 39th year.
The head of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium thanked the institute for requiring masks and proof of vaccination. Valerie Davidson says the end of a pandemic is still a risky time, so the extra protection is needed – but says she won’t let it stop her from enjoying her favorite dance.
“It’s the one that goes, as you’re walking along – step, step, hug. Step, step, hug. Step, step hug,” Davidson said. “And you just repeat it constantly throughout the week, and it feels so incredible. It’s affirming.”
This is Mason Kvasnikoff’s first Elders and Youth Conference. The 17-year-old from Sand Point says he’s not taking anything for granted.
“I think what’s really special about this Elders and Youth (Conference) is how we are bouncing back, getting out from a time where we have been alone for so long.” Kvasnikoff said. “Just coming together is such a special thing.”
The conference runs through Wednesday at the Dena’ina Center, followed by the Alaska Federation of Natives convention on Thursday.
Monday’s keynote speech is from Christianna Edwards, a 19-year-old Lingít and Haida student from Juneau. She attends the Gallaudet University College for the Deaf.
The theme for this year’s gathering is “Xuu’ts’udeelken iin,” which means “Relatives of Ours” in the Tanacross language spoken in Interior Alaska. Organizers say it’s meant to rekindle the deep sense of community the gathering inspires – a connection between each other and the land. The conference will be carried live on KTOO 360-TV and streamed live on the First Alaskans Institute’s website.