Alaska’s Future Leaders Take a Look Back

Twenty-five youth connected with ANCSA leaders at CITC Tribal Youth Leadership Summit

Tribal Youth Leadership Summit attendees Esther O’Brien (far left) and Jade Wren (center) had the opportunity to learn from and connect with Alaska Native leaders who had a hand in shaping the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

It’s not every day that you get to sit in a room with people who shaped history. On Thursday, May 23, twenty-five young adults had that opportunity when they attended CITC’s 2024 Tribal Youth Leadership Summit, where the topic was “ANCSA @ 50.”

Summit attendees heard from some of the Alaska Native leaders who had a hand in designing the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) fifty years ago, as well as representatives from Native organizations who are actively leading work as a result of ANCSA.

Signed in 1971, ANCSA made history, changing the U.S. Congress’s approach to federal Indian policy. It divided Alaska into twelve regions defined by the common heritage and shared interests of the Indigenous peoples within each geographic area, established Alaska’s regional corporations, and laid the groundwork for the advancement of Alaska Native people’s social, cultural, and economic wellbeing.

APU Business Professor Kristin English, a scholar of ANCSA, delivered the Summit’s keynote, which highlighted the history and impact of ANCSA and emphasized the act’s role as a “living document”—something that resonated with the young audience.

“I really liked hearing that ANCSA is a living document because all we usually hear about is the past and the history—but ANCSA is still current,” said Esther O’Brien, a Yukon Flats representative on the Tanana Chiefs Conference Youth Advisory Council who attended the Summit.

Esther O’Brien, Yukon Flats representative on the Tanana Chiefs Conference Youth Advisory Council, attended the 2024 CITC Tribal Youth Leadership Summit.

The “ANCSA @ 50” theme was inspired by one of the Cook Inlet Region’s priorities to educate and train Alaska Native youth, said Larry Oskolkoff, CITC’s manager of Tribal Partnerships.

Summit panelists included Willie Hensley, founding member of NANA Regional Corporation; Carl Marrs, CEO of Old Harbor Native Corporation; Deb Call, AFN/CITC Board Member; Nathan McCowan, President and CEO of St. George Tanaq Corporation; Shauna Hegna, President of Koniag; Ivan Encelewski, Executive Director of Ninilchik Traditional Council and CITC Board Chair; Ivan’s father Greg Encelewski, President of Ninilchik Traditional Council; and Nikki Graham, General Manager of Ninilchik Natives Association.

“It was Nate [McCowan], who was on the morning panel, who pointed out that we love these folks, but some of them are Elders, and they’re not going to be here forever, so this is important. We need to hear from them,” Larry shared.

McCowan also stressed an importance of always keeping a focus on “knowledge and learning; relationships and networking; and practice and persistence.”

“It was truly amazing to be in the midst of these compassionate leaders and youth who represented the past, present, and future of our people,” said CITC President and CEO Gloria O’Neill, who also attended the summit. “The youth were inspired and asked to reflect on what they may do, as our future leaders, to contribute to a thriving future for Alaska Native people for the next fifty years.”

Willie Hensley, one of the founders of NANA Regional Corporation, describes his experience with ANCSA to attendees of the Summit.

The summit offered a unique opportunity for young people like Jade Wren, a UAA student, to talk one on one with some of the people who shaped what ANCSA would be fifty years ago.

“The biggest thing I’m taking away from today is that I’m always going to be learning. But the other part is—I’ve always gone to the [annual] First Alaskans Institute’s Elders and Youth conference, but I’ve never gone to AFN,” she said. “I should be going and listening and meeting people and being part of the discussions.”

The annual CITC Tribal Youth Leadership Summit, typically a one-day event in the past, is taking place over two days this year, allowing more young people to attend. The next summit is scheduled for August 8 and will focus on the topics of culture, land management, and subsistence.

The Tribal Youth Leadership Summit is cohosted by CIRI and brings together Alaska Native/American Indian youth ages 18 and over for conversation and leadership development. Contact Larry Oskolkoff at for more information.