ilakullusi | connect
Program connects Native youth with Elder pen pals

The Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA) began the APIA Pen Pals Program in February to encourage Alaska Native youth to learn from Alaska Native Elders.

“We want to see the youth learning from the Elders, and the Elders passing on their knowledge and their favorite things about their culture,” said APIA Youth Services Coordinator Jenna Larson, as reported by KTOO.

Any Alaska Native youth or Elders can participate, and APIA says they are especially in need of more Elders to participate. You can learn more at the APIA website.

Cup’ik woman is first Alaska National Guard infantrywoman

The Alaska Army National Guard reports that Sgt. Serita Unin (Cup’ik) is now a fireteam leader with Bison Company, 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment, Alaska Army National Guard. When Sgt. Unin joined the Guard in 2009, women were not allowed in combat roles. The ban was lifted in 2015, and further requirements changed in 2020. In February, Sgt. Unin took on her new role.

“It is awesome being a part of something historical,” she said, “not just about me, it’s about the whole unit, it’s about all females that want to go infantry, and it’s about the battalion itself.”

Anchorage Assembly, Native Village of Eklutna establish formal government relationship
In January, the Anchorage Assembly voted unanimously to establish a formal government-to-government relationship with the Native Village of Eklutna. The Eklutna village government and Anchorage government had ongoing discussions for the past year on how to formalize a long relationship.

“This is a strike at the heart of the question of justice,” Assembly member Christopher Constant said, as reported by Anchorage Daily News. “The recognition of the sovereignty of the Native people of the Village of Eklutna by the Municipality of Anchorage is long overdue.”

Unalakleet woman wins appeal against U.S. Air Force for contaminating her land

When the United States Air Force left the Unalakleet relay station in the 1980s that was part of the White Alice Communication System, they left behind barrels of highly toxic chemicals. Alaska Public Media reported that in 2003, when Emily Nanouk was between her own property and the abandoned relay station, she noticed strange smells and dead vegetation. Further investigation uncovered a highly contaminated area that impacted the health of Emily and her family for years.

While the lawsuit was initially dismissed in 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court determined she can continue her suit against the Air Force for damages.

U.S. House renews Violence Against Women Act with additional program for Alaska Native villages
In March the United States House of Representatives passed a bill renewing the Violence Against Women Act. It included legislation for an Alaskan pilot program expanding enforcement powers for tribes on crimes that involve sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking in five Alaska villages. Alaska Public Media reported that the bill would go to the U.S. Senate next for a vote.
First Tlingit opera in the works
In March, Sealaska Heritage Institute and Perseverance Theatre announced a partnership to develop and produce the first Tlingit opera. The yet-unnamed opera will focus on the Tlingit and Russian battles in Sitka between 1802 and 1804, and will be mainly in the Tlingit language. Ed Littlefield (Tlingit) will compose the music and Vera Starbard (Tlingit/Dena’ina) will write the libretto, which started in December 2020. There are no dates yet for production, several years away yet, but Sealaska Heritage Institute and Perseverance Theatre will be holding numerous workshops to develop Native actors and singers for the opera.