portrait of spirit of youth award winner shanelle Afcan

Capturing and sharing stories of inspiring Alaska Native youth provide us deep inspiration, hope and motivation. On the Basket Blog, we will bring you occasional stories of tribal youth making a difference, their achievements and dreams. Please contact us, below, with rural teens and their stories you feel deserve should be recognized!

It is the time of year when the statewide campaign to honor Alaskan youth gives meaningful awards at a spring-time banquet. Since 1997 Spirit of youth has shared hundreds of positive stories about Alaskan youth and their community involvement through nominations made by anyone who wishes to recognize a hard-working, inspiring teenager or youth group in one of 11 award categories.

This year, rural Alaska youth shine brightly. Some of the young winners we want to tell you about come from Nunam Iqua, Shaktoolik and Barrow. These teens contribute to the wellness, culture and resiliency of their communities. 

Shanelle Afcan of Nunam Iqua is a 2014 Spirit of Youth Award recipient in the category of Science & Environment. Afcan began an initiative at Mount Edgecumbe High School to integrate local seafood into the Shanelle_Afcan_sm headshotschool meal program. She created an outreach campaign to educate students on the importance of local eating. Once local food was secured in her own school, the 16-year-old took her campaign to the legislative session to further teach Alaskans about food security and preserving culture.

 “Local fish is good for the environment, good for me, and good for my community,” Afcan said on the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action website.

Raymond Atos, Jr. of Barrow has been selected as an award recipient in the category of Cultural Pursuits.  Atos is part of a whaling crew in Barrow. The 16-year-old hunts for his family and community year round and is part of the young generation that wants to keep the Inupiaq tradition alive.  His father, Raymond Sr., said he’s proud of his Raymond_headshot (2)son’s involvement.    “He’s been at the whaling crews helping cut up [since] he was five years old,” elder Raymond said to Spirit of Youth.

Atos also takes younger children camping, boating, whaling and hunting to teach them to be safe and to survive. He improves the quality of life by showing everyone in the community that it is still possible follow a traditional lifestyle.

“Tradition is a big part of it — being taught the little stuff. Being taught how to paddle how to throw the harpoon…how to read where the whales are going,” Atos said. 

Donald Auliye of Shaktoolik is another award recipient, in the category of Lifesaver & Prevention for his bravery and quick response during ocean emergencies. Auliye is an experienced fisherman. On two occasions the 18-year-old responded to distress calls from other boats, once instructing the passengers to put on life vests before their vessel capsized where he later pulled them to shore.  DonaldAuliye_headshot

“I went into the water and grabbed them both, pulled them up onto the beach, put them by the fire, warmed them up and brought them home,” Auliye said. “Fishermen, we look out for each other here.”

During a huge storm last fall, the village went into emergency mode. Steve Sammons, principal at Shaktoolik School, said Auliye played a big part in the safety efforts.

“He stayed up late and helped watch both the ocean and the riverside that almost flooded the village,” Sammons told Spirit of Youth. “He was bringing elders to the school and helping families with their personal belongings.”

These students will be honored with the other winners at the Spirit of Youth Awards Dinner Saturday, April 5, at 6 p.m. at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown. These rural Alaska youth were chosen from more than 150 statewide nominations by the Spirit of Youth Teen Advisory Council.

For more information and to make nominations: http://www.spiritofyouth.org

Contributors:  Natasha Price, Spirit of Youth and The Resource Basket Staff