Youth Forum at the 2011 Beringia Days
Beringia Days 2011, held in Nome, Alaska September 9th and 10th, included for the first time a Youth Forum which ran concurrent to the main program. This forum brought together young leaders from villages in the Beringia region, high school students from Anchorage, local students from the Nome community and several youth from Chukotka. The Beringia Program invited 8 young leaders, nominated by their village IRA's (Indian Reorganization Act), from the communities of Gambell, Savgoonga, Wales, Shishmaref, Unalakleet, Koyuk, Kiana and Kivalina to attend the inaugural Youth Forum. The session was also attended by 20 students from Northwestern Alaska Career and Technical Center (NACTEC) in Nome, West High School students involved in the previously funded 2008 Beringia project "Alaska/Chukotka Climate Change Examination" and students from Kotzebue that were involved in the 2008 "Finding the Lost Dances" project. Youth from Chukotka, mainly members of the native dance group "Solnyshko," also came and participated in the meeting with the help of their translator Oksana Yashchenko.
The Youth Forum convened on Saturday morning with opening remarks by National Park Service Deputy Director Peggy O'Dell and Alaska Regional Director Sue Masica. The participants were then introduced to the activities of the Shared Beringian Heritage Program through an overview of projects funded by the program since its creation in 1991. After watching videos of Native dance performances and student interviews from Chukotka, the youth were divided into four groups focusing on a specific category of Beringia projects. These included: Archeology, Cultural Preservation, Climate Change, and Subsistence. Youth collaborated with expert "mentors" in these subject areas and brainstormed ideas for future Beringia projects involving and directed by young people. The Youth Forum concluded with power point presentations to the main conference during which the youth participants in each group outlined their recommendations for future Beringia projects. The recommendations included several ideas for future Beringia projects that could be funded by the Shared Beringian Heritage Program or other sponsors of such programs. The Cultural Preservation group proposed to maintain and sustain the Siberian Yupik language via a shared curriculum based on native dances, sports and handicrafts common to indigenous people in Alaska and Chukotka; the Climate Change group suggested that students document changes to hunting calendars in Chukotkan villages as a result of climate change; the Archeology group wanted to conduct an archeology workshop for students and residents of Beringian communities; and the Subsistence group recommended the development and distribution of a safety booklet and DVD on subsistence activities for indigenous people on both sides of the Bering Strait.
The hard work and dedication of the youth participants, the staff members, and the mentors made for a very successful and productive forum on future Beringia projects. The young people generated valuable recommendations for the Beringia Program and other funding sources. These suggestions were especially valuable as they come from a generation that will soon be the leaders in scientific, cultural, and environmental research. Several of the recommendations are being considered in more detail for possible funding.
The Beringia Program and the Youth Forum organizers would like to give a special thanks to the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve staff for hosting the Youth Forum. In particular we would like to thank Superintendent Jeanette Pomrenke and Interpretive staff Nichole Andler and Jennifer Thelen for being such a large part of the Youth Forum. We are especially grateful to our mentors Guy Martin, Nadezhda Sudakova, Mille Porsild and Kaare Erickson for working with the Youth Forum participants and providing valuable feedback on their project recommendations.