Statewide Elders and Youth Conference returns in person for 39th edition

Statewide Elders and Youth Conference returns in person for 39th edition
Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 11:35 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - After meeting virtually for the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 39th annual Statewide Elders and Youth Conference is finally back in person.

A “warming of the hands” ceremony was held Sunday at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where they prepared for the beginning of the conference Monday.

The annual gathering brings together elders and young Alaska Native peoples from across Alaska. This year’s theme is “Xuu’ts’ udeelken iin” — or “Relatives of Ours.”

“We like to tell people if your want to know what’s happening in our native community, talk to our elders and talk to our youth,” Ayyu Qassataq, vice president of First Alaskans Institute, said. “So this one of our favorite times of the year where we create space to live, love and grow who we are as Native people.”

Qassataq says the yearly event is one way of helping them remember that they are all in relation to each other across the state. She explained that Alaskans are not always taught about Native cultures and practices in school, so this is a great way to be connected to the lands, waters and animal relatives, among other things in their homelands.

“To learn our languages, to learn our ceremonies, to engage in deep dialogues and conversations about what’s happening in our communities, and its also a great time to celebrate who we are as Native people,” Qassataq said.

Conference guides Samuel Hiratsuka and Kungunna Gabe Canfield provided some insight on what the youth gain from this experience.

“Taking all of their collective experiences all of the trials and tribulations that they just share so willingly, I mean it’s really grounding for me in order to interact with everybody,” Hiratsuka said. “The elders yes, but also the youth too — how free they are and how willing they are to give every bit of their love.”

“Now that we can gather again in person I feel like there’s just this electric energy that is coming from meeting our family members and our friends and gathering together and being able to celebrate who we are and our culture, and it feels so good,” Canfield said.

While the youth try to listen and learn as much as they can, elders like 80-year-old Pete Kompkoff believe it’s important for elders to pass knowledge on to younger generations.

“It’s important that the elders that attend the meeting pass the knowledge that they gained over the years to the youth so that the youth can pass it on to their youth,” Kompkoff said.

As a word of advice, Kompkoff said to never quit learning, and to absorb as much as possible from the older generation, because it could gain meaning later in life.

The official conference starts Monday at 8 a.m. and will be held all day Monday, Tuesday and the first half of Wednesday. There are over 100 speakers signed up for the conference this year, according to the event program.