AFN sets day to honor children
In an effort to show children across the state that they are cherished and respected, the Alaska Federation of Natives announced last week that April 26 will be set aside and known as Honoring Our Children Day. The purpose of the day is also to let young people know that they have a job to do.
"We want to make sure that the kids know that they're valuable members and that we have expectations," said AFN vice president Aurora Leh?last week. "We want them to do well and be strong because we expect them to do great things and be great people."
The initiative is not a fundraiser and is not associated with any political group. In fact it is being left up to each community how exactly they want to celebrate it. The day will include a ceremonial feature and a celebratory aspect, which might include Native games, a potluck or a community dance.
"We are envisioning a very grassroots and a very individualized event," Lehr said.
Young people in Alaska, especially in the state's rural villages, are inundated with challenges on a daily basis. The remoteness, cold and darkness can lead kids to perpetuate violence, alcoholism and suicide, and statistics have shown that Alaskans are more susceptible to these afflictions.
"This day is about recognizing that a lot of times, the focus is on these problems but this is a way to step aside and do something that is strength-based," Lehr said, adding that this a proactive initiative. "There is room in our lives to not just focus on the problems, there is strength and value and the positive parts of every person."
There are already several communities preparing for festivities, said Lehr, with meetings and teleconferences slated for later this month.
Communities can solicit donations for food, prizes and facility rental for the event.
This will be the first year for the occasion, an idea that stemmed from a priority list drawn up by AFN and the Council for the Advancement of Alaska Natives, which includes focus on youth and education.
"We wanted action to be taken without additional funding and we were asking 'What can we do on our own to strengthen our communities?'"
A working group has been assembled to help iron out the details and support community leaders with ideas and planning.
"This is something the community can do for itself," said Sarah Simeonoff, the statewide coordinator with the First Alaskans Institute.
"Our kids are our future and we want to encourage young people to step up, take a role in their communities and be their best selves.
"We want them to feel loved and engaged; this is one of the most important things we can do for our kids. They have a say in the future."
The day is all-inclusive and is for families from all backgrounds and beliefs, and while organizers are proud that this is an Alaska-Native led initiative, non-Native families and youth are encouraged to participate.
"We love our kids, but we expect a lot out of them and we want to show them that we're there to help them overcome all of the rough stuff," said Lehr.
For more information, go to nativefederation.org/hoc or contact Simeonoff at 677-1700 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.