Multilingual student represents Native youth at conference
The first Alaska Federation of Natives' Youth Conference in 1984 brought 54 Alaska high school students together to share themes relevant to young people and development leadership. Evolving into distinct sessions over the last 31 years, the Elders and Youth Conference theme for 2015 was "Not in Our Smokehouse!"
Hosted by the First Alaskan's Institute, the mission of the conference is to bring village youth together with elders to create opportunities to "learn, share, and strengthen our cultural knowledge, be solution focused and action-oriented", while embracing Ancestor strength to face "challenges and enact good ways to live, lead, and support healthy, vibrant Native communities."
An indispensable component of the conference is the appointment and participation of the area representatives. Representatives serve one-year appointments.
This year's youth representative is Jalen "Angull'ag Micalleq, Iauli, Quarruq" Konukpeok from New Stuyahok. The sixteen-year-old junior at Mount Edgecumbe is the son of Marilyn and Norton Konukpeok. "I decided to go to Mount Edgecumbe for a better education, a better school facility and to be around more people," he said of the difficult choice to leave his family at a young age.
It's a tough choice that many rural Alaskans consider as they enter high school.
"Because I knew that Edgecumbe would provide me a better education, the kind I will need for down the road, not only for life skills, but also for networking, I decided that I had to leave my village," Konukpeok said. "We are like a big family there of four hundred students from all over the state. Once we graduate, we are still, pretty much a big family."
Although Konukpeok's life revolves around school in Sitka, his heart and passion for his village remains strong. Nominated at the Alaska Federation of Natives' Elders and Youth Conference this year, Konukpeok was elected to the position of Bristol Bay Area Youth Representative.
Konukpeok, who is learning his seventh language, plans to pursue a career in international business. "I learned Yup'ik, Russian, Mandarin, Tagalog, Romanian, Inupiaq and Aleut," he said. He plans to study Alutiiq next. "After learning my second language, languages became a whole lot easier to learn."
Keeping students motivated with interesting and demanding coursework is Konukpeok's answer to success in school. "If we can increase the size of our cookie jar," he said, "we can offer more courses to our students and keep people in the villages."
As the Bristol Bay Area Youth Representative, Konukpeok will work closely with Dana Bartman, vice principal of Manokotak Nunaniq School, who is the Bristol Bay Area Representative to the Elders and Youth Conference on issues important in the region. "We see a need to get our people motivated to refrain from drugs and alcohol," Konukpeok said.
"I am looking forward to working with Jalen this year," Bartman said. "He seems to take the job seriously and that makes me especially eager to work with him."
In addition to increasing awareness of healthy choices, Konukpeok recognizes the important role that law enforcement can play in the Bristol Bay communities. "An idea that has growing interest is creating a VPSO, state trooper and police exchange program among villages and larger cities. This will bring awareness and provide training and experience opportunities to our law enforcement," he said.
"As the youth representative, I am looked to as a leader in my community," Konukpeok said. "We can find ways to better our communities and also to receive knowledge from our elders. Whether we have great communities already or not, we can always be the change and better them."