The Gganiłchit Dena’ina (“Stand Up Dena’ina”) Youth Council came together in April when Kenaitze youth accepted the Generation Indigenous Youth Challenge, or the “Gen-I Challenge” set out by President Barack Obama.
As part of the challenge, the Youth Council was asked to do something positive to address issues facing the community. By participating in the challenge, youth could be invited to the first ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington, D.C., in July.
The first project they chose was to address was the issue of local food security. The Youth Council wanted to raise awareness to the challenges that Alaska faces, including the high cost of fresh produce, awareness of genetically modified organics and their health concerns, and the fact that most of Alaska’s foods are shipped from the Lower 48. If the shipping to Alaska was interrupted, there would only be three or four days of supplies left in stores.
To call attention to food security, the Youth Council asked those who planned to attend the annual Opening of the Net potluck in May to bring food dishes that were or could have been supplied by local foods. The youth marked each plate with “locally grown” flags, and identified that more than 60 percent of the plates brought to the potluck were or could have been locally grown. Those who participated in the local foods challenge were given starter vegetable plants that the Youth Council planted themselves.
The second project the Youth Council started was a monthly litter pick-up. Once a month the council agrees on a date and location on the Kenai Peninsula to pick up trash. Locations have included Cannery Road, Kalifornsky Beach Road near Kalifornsky Village and the area between the Kenai Holiday gas station and the Three Bears store.
The third project the Youth Council submitted was an effort to help children who are in the tribe’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program. CASA volunteers speak for abused and neglected children in state and tribal courts.
For this project, they filled duffle bags with items that would be helpful for a child transitioning to a new home. Some of the items were basic toiletries such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant and a comb, as well as a journal and pens and a homemade blanket made by the Youth Council.
In the middle of May, the Youth Council received news that all 11 of the youth that had participated were invited to attend the White House Tribal Youth Gathering.
The Youth Council then started a series of fundraisers to raise money to send as many youth to the Washington gathering as possible. In four weeks, the Youth Council held four split the pot fundraisers at the Oilers Bingo Hall in Kenai; served food and held a split the pot at the Tyotka’s Elder Center’s steak dinner night; had a fry bread sale at the Oilers Bingo Hall; and held a door prize raffle drawing and an Indian taco dinner for donations. In four short weeks, the Youth Council raised over $5,000.
On July 6, all 11 youth – Raven Willoya, Destyne Svenson, Kimberly Eide-Segura, Ashley Segura, Jessica Segura, Christopher Campos, Haley Trefon, Summer Trefon, Kassidy Oder, Nadia Walluk and Breezy Big Crow – joined adults Kami Wright, Kaleb Franke and Christa Huf, en route to the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering and the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY Inc.) Conference.
The White House Tribal Youth Gathering was hosted by national native organizations including UNITY Inc., Nike N7 and Centers for Native American Youth. The keynote speaker was Michelle Obama.
The First Lady spoke about tough issues that face Alaska Native and American Indian youth across the country. Obama told the youth that they now have a voice in Washington, D.C., and that the President and First Lady are listening to them, support them, and in her own words, “we have your back.”
After the gathering, the Youth Council participated in the UNITY Conference. They spoke with other youth from across the country about issues affecting the youth in their communities and how other youth are working on resolving these issues. Important subjects included drug and alcohol prevention, suicide prevention, strengthening family bonds and culture, and language preservation.
The youth visited the Holocaust Museum, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of the American Indian, and saw the Constitution and Bill of Rights of the United States.
With the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s Executive Council as a model, the Youth Council has covered a lot of ground. It has learned about community organizing, community service, running council meetings using Robert’s Rules of Order, forming meeting agendas and writing meeting minutes. Members have bonded with each other, as well as networked with hundreds of youth across the nation. They have come back to Alaska with life-changing experiences and the drive to help the Kenai Peninsula community become an even better place to live.