Teen whale hunter speaks to elders and youth about the importance of subsistence
Part land, part water - always native.
That's the theme for the 34th annual Elders and Youth Conference.
The event precedes the biggest convention of Alaska Natives - the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention.
On Monday, 17 year old Chris Apassingok delivered this year's youth keynote address, opening up about climate change and hardships during hunting near his home of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island.
Apassingok also addressed criticism he received on social media after he landed a bowhead whale in April.
"We all know we must not be discouraged by any accident or anybody that may threaten us," Apassingok said.
It's a lesson he said he learned from elders.
Governor Walker presented Apassingok with a certificate of appreciation for his efforts that reads "in recognition of his skill and expertise in landing a bowhead and receiving the gift of the ancient whale's life to sustain his people, and upholding the values and traditions of Alaska Native culture despite opposition."
"It's exciting to see my boy getting an award, it's kind of overwhelming a little bit, but I'm proud and happy for him," Daniel Apassingok, Chris' father said.
Susan Apassingok, Chris' mother, said it was difficult reading comments people were making about her son's catch, but they are healing.
"I think from him talking about it now brings a lot of healing to the whole family," Apassingok said.
Apassingok said he will continue the subsistence lifestyle.
Apassingok said her son has since stopped using social media, partially because of what happened earlier this year, but mostly he's just too busy for technology.
"Even before that he wasn't really into social media because he's one of a kind," Apassingok said. "He does not care about technology, he cares more about hunting and providing for his family and community and he has more to do than being stuck on his phone like the rest of almost the whole world."