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New cohort of youth ambassadors step up

January 5th 9:02 pm | Shady Grove Oliver Print this article   Email this article  

Thirteen students from around Alaska are stepping up to represent the state on the international stage.

A new cohort of Arctic Youth Ambassadors will serve as a young delegation to the Arctic Council's Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group for the next two years.

They comprise the second such group, with the inaugural ambassadors having served from 2015-2017 during the United States' chairmanship of the Arctic Council, as the Sounder previously reported.

The program was initially formed two years ago by the U.S. Department of State in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the nonprofit Alaska Geographic.

This year, Finland rotated into the leadership position of the international body. That's why the newest group of youth ambassadors will report to a working group chaired by the U.S. delegation, rather than the full council.

Each of the students was chosen for their diverse backgrounds and interests. They'll act as the youth voice to the working group, elevating local concerns and traditional knowledge in larger dialogues.

"Changes in the Arctic did not happen overnight, and some of the challenges the region (and the world) faces, such as climate change, cannot be solved overnight," noted Alaska Geographic on its youth ambassadors web page. "Younger generations will play an important role in addressing these challenges. The Arctic Youth Ambassadors is one group of knowledgeable youth from across the State who understand the Arctic and its people and can explain it from a youth perspective for their peers across the United States and around the world."

Several of the new youth ambassadors hail from the North Slope and Northwest Arctic. Others come from the neighboring Bering Straits region and Nome. A few stem from the Aleutians all the way to Southeast.

Starting in the Northwest, Shania Wells, 17, comes from Noorvik. According to her ambassador biography, she "enjoys living off the land by picking berries with her family, helping with fishing season, making seal oil and storing fresh caribou." She's been involved with several community cleanups and has been part of the student government organization at her school since her freshman year.

Margaret "Kayla-Jean" Saqik Booth, 17, is from Kotzebue. She enjoys spending time with her grandparents at camp and "living a subsistence lifestyle," her biography notes. She is currently a senior in high school and hopes to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks when she graduates. She'd also like to build a cabin someday and spend most of her time out at camp, like her family has done for generations.

There are two youth ambassadors from the North Slope. Alexander Chase Nay, 17, is from Anaktuvuk Pass. He is currently a student at the Nunamiut School. Once he graduates, he hopes to earn a degree in business "and return home to work for the village corporation," his biography states. He is interested in economic development in his community and would like to help address concerns about employment there.

Eben Hopson, 17, is from Utqiaġvik. He's a senior at Barrow High School and has been a freelance photographer and videographer for some time. "Eben has produced two films," his biography notes, one about climate change and one about the recent fall storms in Utqiaġvik. After he graduates, he hopes to attend film school and work on projects to bring national and international attention to climate change in his community and others like it.

There are several more youth ambassadors from other parts of Alaska outside the Arctic.

Gabriel Stenek, 17, of Shishmaref, is a junior in high school. He said he has noticed the effects of climate change in his hometown and hopes to share that knowledge with others.

Laurel Katchatag, of Unalakleet, is a senior at North Park University in Chicago. She has worked as an intern with both the Norton Sound Health Corp. and the First Alaskans Institute. She is passionate about health care and is currently studying biology.

Brian Conwell, 18, of Unalaska, is a senior in high school. He is a long-time member of student government and is part of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action. He also competes in Native Youth Olympics.

Kate McWilliams, of Bethel, is a sophomore at Pomona College in California. She is currently studying ecology and sustainability in the built environment and said she hopes to work in nonprofits in the future dealing with sustainability and green communities.

Benjamin Hunter-Francis II, 19, of Marshall, recently graduated from high school in Anchorage. He has worked with Youth Employment in Parks and hopes to pursue a career in landscaping. He is also passionate about his language and culture.

Tasha Elizarde, of Juneau, is a recent high school graduate. She is passionate about climate activism and plans to attend college in the U.S. after she spends a year traveling, working and volunteering.

Alliana Salanguit, of Anchorage and Manila, Philippines, is currently a student at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is studying economics with minors in math, political science and French. She has been on several Model Arctic Councils, interned in the mayor's office in Anchorage and worked as a legislative staffer.

Alejandro Soto, of Anchorage and the Dominican Republic, is a student at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where he is studying environment and society with a minor in political science. He is a member of the National Park Conservation Association Next Generation Advisory Council and is a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar. He hopes to "diversify the field of conservation," his biography notes.

Vanessa Farley Duhrsen, of Anchorage, is a senior in high school. She has been part of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, Citizens Climate Lobby and Nordic Journeys, among others. She is also passionate about protecting her culture and "advocating for climate change mitigation in order to preserve Native ways of life," her biography reads.

Each of the new youth ambassadors will serve in their positions through 2019.

More information about the Arctic Youth Ambassadors program can be found by tracking #ThisArcticLife and #USArcticYouth on social media. The Sounder will bring you interviews with the local ambassadors in upcoming editions of the paper.


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