Tatiana Ticknor is Yup’ik, Tlingit and Dena’ina Athabascan. She is 16 years old and lives in Anchorage. I’ve watched Tatiana grow up through the eyes of her mother, Jean Sam-Kiunya. Jean is the daughter of my former co-worker, David Sam. Jean’s mother is Marilyn Balluta, an Athabascan linguist and educator. Tatiana had some powerful role models in her life. This year, Tatiana was selected as a 2015 Champion for Change by the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY).
CNAY posted, “Tatiana Ticknor is a high school sophomore and serves as a “Community Doer” for First Alaskans Institute. In this position, Tatiana engages and motivates her peers to get involved in community action, promotes culture and language preservation, and identifies opportunities to incorporate elder participation in community activities.”
“Native Youth should be confident of their identity. I want to help knock out stereotypes. These outcomes need to and will change in my community, even if it takes years.” – Tatiana Ticknor
I sat down with Tatiana to learn more about her. She is a very poised young lady with a welcoming smile. Tatiana is a member of a number of Alaska Native dance groups in Anchorage, including East High School dance group, Acilquq, Alaska Native Heritage Center youth dance group and Rafael Jimmie’s dance group. Tatiana says dancing is “fun and relaxing and a way to free your mind.” She enjoys dancing and appreciates that no one will judge you for how you dance. Her younger brother, Samuel, also dances in some of the same groups. It took her a while to learn some the Yup’ik dances, but it became easier once she got the hang of it.
Tatiana created a Facebook page to teach Dena’ina Athabascan words and phrases. It is called, Dena’ina Word of the Day. She posts videos about once a week. I’m impressed with her willingness to teach as she is learning. Tataina mostly learns Dena’ina words from her cheda grandmother, Marilyn, and the rest is self-taught. She and her grandmother can have conversations in Dena’ina. She used to attend languages classes held by her cheda.
Tatiana participated in a language game at the First Alaskans Institute’s Elders and Youth Conference. They played a game of musical chairs and you had to follow Inupiaq words for go, hurry up and sit down to participate. Making language learning fun is a great way to get the younger people to participate. Tatiana also understands a little bit of Yup’ik from her dad. While she doesn’t speak the language, she understands it. Tatiana’s nickname is Udla, which means older sister in Dena’ina.
Sports also keeps Tatiana occupied. She played softball and enjoys meeting old friends from when she was younger. Tatiana is also involved in the Native Youth Olympic games. She practices through the winter and competes in the Eskimo and Indian stick pulls, kneel jump and other games.
As you can see, Tatiana keeps herself occupied with many things throughout the year. I asked her for some advice to share with her peers and parents.
Tatiana’s Tips for Youth
- If you have an idea, strive to do it.
- If you want to do something, make sure you have the time and motivation.
- Ask for help.
- Networking is key to getting your word out there.
- Try for opportunities. If you don’t get accepted into something, keep on trying. Don’t give up.
Tatiana’s Tips for Parents
- Try not to let your children down. Parents give kids their self-confidence.
- Always support them.
- Let them be themselves. Each kid has their own way and how they do things.
- Strive to keep their culture alive.
First Alaskans Institute’s Community Doers conference was a great way for Tatiana to get connected with others and she has found the staff to be great mentors. Staff gave her tips on public speaking.
When she attended the Center for Native American Youth event in Washington, DC earlier this year, she learned about youth in Indian Country. She also became friends with other youth and wants to keep making changes in Indian Country. Tatiana serves on CNAY’s Youth Advisory Board and participating in the White House Tribal Nations Conference hosted by President Barack Obama. The CNAY leaders are serving as Native Youth Delegates for the conference and will join elected leaders of the 567 federally recognized tribes and for nation-to-nation dialogues with members of the President’s Cabinet on critical issues affecting Native American tribes.
Tatiana plans to attend college and maybe study to be a biochemist or computer engineer. She is a role model for youth and truly an inspiration. Tatiana’s final thoughts were, “You don’t really know you are making a difference, but you are. Anyone can make a difference. Make an action plan and start to make a difference.” I know Tatiana’s family, friends and supporters could not be more proud of her.