Youth Confront Climate Change in Alaska

CITC partners with Brown University to help students tackle environmental issues

YES Cultural Advisor Ann Lawrence (seated) shares muktuk with local, national, and international students from the Brown Environmental Leaders Lab.

YES Cultural Advisor Ann Lawrence (seated) shares muktuk with local, national, and international students from the Brown Environmental Leaders Lab.

Alaska is on the front lines of climate change. The state is warming about twice as fast as the rest of the United States, and communities like Shaktoolik, Kivalina, and Shishmaref have faced climate change-induced flooding and erosion; the latter two communities were forced to relocate to higher ground to escape danger.

But youth from Alaska and beyond aren’t content to simply let climate change take its course. Instead, more than two dozen youth — from Alaska, and several other states, including Connecticut, California, Virginia, Florida, and Illinois, plus international students from the United Kingdom and China — are embarking on a quest to create positive change when it comes to environmental issues.

Ann Lawrence prepares muktuk.

Ann Lawrence prepares muktuk.

CITC’s Youth Empowerment Services (YES) Department has partnered with Brown University’s Pre-College Program to host the Alaskan Brown Environmental Leadership Lab (BELL) on cultural preservation, economic growth, and environmental choices. For two weeks each summer, BELL brings high school students to Alaska to study Alaska Native history, sustainable salmon harvesting, climate change’s impact on culture and economics, oil exploration, and socially responsible leadership.

The BELL students visited CITC July 31 – August 2 for a three-day summit on Alaska Native culture and the environment. Speakers from the University of Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Pacific University, the State of Alaska, Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, Arctic Slope Region Corporation, and the Environmental Protection Agency presented on topics like the history of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, CITC programs, Alaska Native history and colonization, student actions on climate change, how culture is affected by climate change, and the impact of oil on Alaska’s economy.

The students also got a taste — literally — of Alaska Native culture. As part of the Tuesday, August 1, presentation, YES Cultural Advisor Ann Lawrence sliced up and served muktuk, offering many of the students their very first taste of whale blubber.

Students with the Alaska Brown Environmental Leadership Lab toast before trying muktuk for the first time.

Students with the Alaska Brown Environmental Leadership Lab toast before trying muktuk for the first time.

“It’s salty,” deemed one student.

In addition to trying muktuk, students were able to join the Central Yup’ik dance group, Acilquq, for an invitational dance. They were also treated to a history and demonstration of Native Youth Olympic games.

Before the summit, the BELL students ventured outdoors on a glacier hike.

“We’re learning about Alaska in the classroom, and also going out and experiencing it for ourselves,” explained participating student Parker Pickett.

Parker, 17 and an incoming senior at Steller Secondary School, received a full scholarship from Brown University to attend the BELL camp. CITC provided a second full scholarship for another local Alaska Native student, Hailey Daugherty.

“I’m really looking forward to going to Homer,” Parker said of his remaining time in the camp, which will conclude Saturday, August 12. “I was involved in the Center for Alaska Coastal Studies camps when I was younger, and we’re going back there to work with them, and I’m looking forward to that because I know I’ll enjoy it.”

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BELL participants included students from Alaska, the lower forty-eight, China, and the United Kingdom.

“It’s such a privilege for CITC to be involved in the BELL program,” said YES Administrative Assistant Michael Farahjood, who coordinated CITC’s participation in the BELL program, including creating a feedback survey that will help improve the program, based on student feedback, in the future.

“I was grateful to see these potential future leaders learn about Alaska Native people. They got to be immersed in our culture and history from day one, and the thought that these kids might one day help preserve Alaska Native people’s way of life in this ever-changing environment really makes our participation in the BELL camp a great honor.”

For more information on the Alaska BELL program, visit the webpage.

Interested in other CITC youth programs? Learn more here.