Community Perspective

Elders welcome opportunity to discuss strengthening Alaska

This week, thousands of individuals from throughout our state are gathering in Fairbanks for the annual First Alaskans Institute’s Elders and Youth Conference and the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. As the regional organization that advocates on behalf of Interior Native elders, Denakkanaaga welcomes the opportunity that these gatherings will provide for organizations and individuals to discuss important issues impacting us all. The theme of the AFN Convention, “Good Government, Alaskan Driven” cannot be more appropriate than now.

This past year has been a challenging one for Alaskans as state funding for various programs and services has been or was slated to be cut, affecting residents young and old. One of Denakkanaaga’s core values is to have a strong, united voice for positive action. With that in mind, we look forward to the discussion and action that will take place by participants at the two meetings. As the first and second chiefs of Denakkanaaga and as elders ages 78 and 80, respectively, we remember all too well what happened when our voice was not heard in the past. Today, thankfully, we can speak out and have a strong voice to better not just our Native communities but our state as well.

As our elders before us said, it is important that we all work together for the betterment of our communities. Given the current state of affairs in Alaska, that advice is very relevant. We hope that people will attend portions of the conference and convention to become better acquainted with the Native cultures that are so unique to our state and the issues facing Native people. It is through that understanding that unified respect and change can occur.

Denakkanaaga is a Koyukon-Athabascan word that means “our people speak.” In order to have healthy, strong communities, we cannot be silent; we all must speak up on issues and situations that are facing us as residents. This includes becoming engaged in our communities’ infrastructures such as school boards, borough assemblies and city councils. Diverse representation on boards and committees is very important so all are represented when decisions are made.

Denakkanaaga elders look forward to hearing from participants at the conference and convention in Fairbanks. While there is serious business to attend to, there will also be performances of traditional dancing and singing and exquisite Native artwork for sale. Please do not miss the opportunity to experience them firsthand.

As elders we are happy to see the resurgence of our Native ways, the pride of our Native people, and welcome everyone to be part of this vibrant culture. It brings us much happiness as Native elders to see those younger than us learning their languages, dances and songs. For many years we were forbidden to engage in those practices, and for many of us elders we didn’t. Fortunately, the times are changing, and we now can all respect and appreciate the unique ways the various groups of Alaska live.

Denakkanaaga elders believe that there must be unity among the people of Alaska and that we must support one another. We must work together.

We look forward to the thousands of visitors to Fairbanks here this week and invite local residents to join Denakkanaaga in welcoming them to the Golden Heart City. Ana baasee (thank you).

Denakkanaaga Inc. is a federally recognized nonprofit organization serving as a voice for Alaska Native elders in the Doyon, Limited and Tanana Chiefs Conference regions. The organization is based in Fairbanks.

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