Eighth Annual Tribal Youth Symposium and Leadership Summit Creates Community Among Alaska Native Youth

CITC President & CEO Gloria O’Neill and CIRI President & CEO Sophie Minich (center) join the participants of the 2023 Tribal Youth Symposium and Leadership Summit for a lunch and discussion.

Alaska’s future leaders gathered at Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) May 24 – 25 for the 2023 Tribal Youth Symposium and Leadership Summit, an annual gathering of Tribal partners and youth from across the Cook Inlet region.

Each year, the Symposium offers an opportunity for participants to share innovative ideas related to education, culture, and other topics, while the Leadership Summit introduces young people to leadership development. This year, 25 youth attended the two-day event.

“In Alaska Native culture, community is absolutely everything,” said Kayla Tanquiilnguq Rearden, who hails from Anchorage and whose family is from Kotlik and Napakiak. She serves on CITC’s Tribal Youth Leadership Council, which helped organize the Symposium and Summit.

Participants of the Tribal Youth Symposium had an opportunity to connect with each other and build networks that can support their leadership goals.

“You learn from the people before you and your ancestors, but you also learn from your community and those who are here today. So I think giving the youth an opportunity to connect with others who are in the same community creates connections now that can guide youth far into the future.”

Kayla Tanquiilnguq Rearden participates in this year’s Tribal Youth Symposium and Leadership Summit.

Kayla and other Symposium attendees made those connections over the course of two days by participating in sessions like “How Cultural Identity Impacts Our World View,” “Alaska Native People and the Justice System,” “Translating Between the Indigenous and Western World,” and “Alaska Native Unity and Youth Priorities.” Symposium and Summit participants also got to tour the new Denełchin Super Fab Lab, and Summit participants were joined by CITC President and CEO Gloria O’Neill and CIRI President and CEO Sophie Minich for an informal lunch.

Additional guest speakers included Law Fellow Rob Waldrop of the Alaska Native Justice Center; Training and Development Manager Nirvana Ramos of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium; Michelle Spark, director of Get Out the Native Vote; youth activist and community leader Sam Schimmel; CIRI Chief Strategy Officer Sarah Lukin; and CIRI Director of Shareholder and Descendant Programs Darla Graham. Several CITC employees also led discussions for the youth attendees.

“It was amazing to have this opportunity to work with our Youth Advisory and Youth Leadership Council members,” said CITC Manger of Tribal Relations Larry Oskolkoff. The Youth Advisory and Leadership councils co-developed and delivered the Symposium and Summit.

“Every member involved poured their heart and soul into both days, and it showed with each presentation and conversation. While this was not the first year of this event, it was the first where the youth themselves had far more creative control from the start, with many of them acting as our hosts and presenters over both days. CITC’s board started these councils to give our youth a voice and a seat at the table. If you ask me, it’s clear that many are ready for that opportunity. The future of Alaska Native leadership is looking very bright.”

Gloria O’Neill and Sophie Minich share their leadership journeys with youth who attended the Leadership Summit.

The Symposium and Summit are open to Alaska Native youth aged 18 and over. Several young people who attended the event already have a deep connection to CITC through its programs and services. Terrence Long, whose family is from Point Hope, has been participating in CITC’s youth programs since middle school; he started working for CITC’s Youth Empowerment Services department nearly five years ago, as a high school intern.

“I wanted to learn more about leadership because I want to be an educator,” he said about his participation in the Leadership Summit. “[Events] like this help us really flesh out our own definition of leadership and how to become better at it.”

The Tribal Youth Symposium and Leadership Summit are held annually in partnership with CIRI. For more information on opportunities for youth at CITC, visit citci.org/youth-services.