According toShyanne Beatty, American Indian and Alaska Native media professionals make up less than 1% of all of the media professionals in the US. I was happy to see many media professionals working behind the scenes during AFN week. I want to celebrate those who are working as journalists, producers, anchors, hosts, writers and emcees through some pictures. You may recognize some faces. My apologies in advance for not including everyone.
I spoke with Sharon McConnell and Anna Sattler for a bit during AFN. Sharon broadcasted a total of 23 years and Anna broadcasted at total of nine years. Sharon stressed they were broadcasting the proceedings of the AFN convention. Both Sharon and Anna enjoy hosting the proceedings of the AFN convention and Quyana nights. During Quyana Nights, dance groups are interviewed after their performances. Many of the groups fund raise year round to get to AFN.
The AFN Convention is the largest gathering of indigenous people in Alaska. Sharon and Anna were impressed the President Obama addressed AFN two times. Alllison Warden mentored a group of young ambassadors and emcees. Two of the youth worked with Sharon and Anna during the AFN week broadcast. Allison Warden, a Native entertainer, has mentored youth for the past three years. Sharon says, “They all did an amazing job!” The young emcees got to conduct interviews and emcee on stage.
Thank you to all of the broadcasters, emcees, journalists, camera operators, and everyone else who made successful broadcasts and news coverage of the First Alaskans Institute’s Elders & Youth Conference and Alaska Federation of Natives Convention! Thank you for taking the time and investing in the next generation. Kudos to those up and coming youth for stepping up as emcees and ambassadors!
Note: This OP-ED was submitted by Edwin Bifelt of Huslia. Edwin is Koyukon Athabascan and holds an MBA.
10 Reasons Why We Need to Teach Capitalism (Business and Economics) in Elementary, Middle School and High School
In 2009 all school districts in the United States spent $610.1 billion on elementary, junior high and high schools. That’s a LOT of money! Yet most would probably agree that youth are not prepared to succeed in the U.S. after high school. The majority of the U.S. population probably doesn’t understand basic accounting (Revenue, Expenses, net profit and profit margins), basic economics (supply and demand), human resources, marketing/business development, operations and the basic corporate structures (C-Corp, S-Corp, LLC, Partnership, etc.). These are the basics of capitalism (free market economy), the engine that drives the entire U.S. and most of the world.
Here are 10 reasons why we should teach the basics of business and economics in public school (the reasons are more for Alaska, but they apply to the entire U.S.
Kids ask why Challenging assumptions is critical for innovation. There are usually always better ways to accomplish things. Today innovation is more critical than ever.
Logic We live in a capitalist society, yet we don’t teach capitalism in our mandatory public schools. That’s like the ancient Japanese Samurai not teaching martial arts… The system is almost guaranteed to fail.
Hope In rural Alaska we have an epidemic of hopelessness. The opportunities are endless in this country! Maybe all a kid needs is for his or her eyes to be opened. What if the next great idea never comes to light?
Finding something you love to do I am almost positive that there is scientific evidence that we are happier in life when we are genuinely passionate about our work. For those of us that have found something we love to do, think about how different life would have been had you not found your calling? But kids need to learn about all possible opportunities at a young age.
Listen to our Elders “You need to get your education”. That message has been spread by our elders for decades in rural Alaska. Our Alaska Native elders grew up in a very different time. But they knew that success in the western and capitalist system meant a solid education and understanding of the system. They may have been talking about the school system, but there message was really to learn the ways of our new lifestyle. Which is capitalism.
Business is everywhere! It’s the clothes we wear, cars we drive and homes we live in! Almost everything is made by a business.. Yet most people don’t know the basics about business and economics.
Take a page from youth sports Ask any high school sports coach in the country. The key to a successful program is teaching kids sound fundamentals at an early age. You can’t hand a kid a basketball for the first time in 9th grade and say bring home a state championship. Building a successful individual starts from the foundation, when they are seeds sprouting their roots.
Alaska is all about challenges We may not have a lot of things in Alaska (Red Lobster, current fashion, sandy beaches), but what we have plenty of is challenges. Challenging climate, challenging distances, challenging economics are just a few of our problems. It has always been a struggle just to survive. Solving these challenges will take innovation and creativity. The more minds we have working on these complex challenges, the better chance we have of creating a successful state economy.
Most High School students won’t graduate from college It’s a proven fact. If we teach business in public school, then EVERYONE should learn at least the basics of business and economics.
If you don’t understand the game, how can you ever expect to win? As kids we are taught winning at a young age. Winning in the United States means providing a comfortable and enjoyable life for you and your family. It means acquiring enough wealth to enjoy your life. It’s true that money doesn’t buy happiness. But poverty doesn’t either.
Just because we teach our kids about business doesn’t mean we want them to be business owners or managers. But they do need to understand the world we live in. They need to have a blueprint to succeed in whichever profession they enjoy. Here are examples of possible programs:
Include Business/Economics as a CORE COMPETENCY in education curriculum!
I know it’s not simple. A change like this (adding business as core curriculum) would be a systematic revision to the entire U.S. education system. That’s probably impossible. Teachers and school administrators would hate it, politicians would argue over all details. But, then again, how long can we keep spending (and wasting) $610.1 billion on a terrible education system?
To Summarize: If we teach ALL youth the basics for success in our economy, then we increase the intelligence of our population. A smarter population should make it more efficient, reduce poverty and increase innovation and creativity. Everyone would have the OPPORTUNITY to have a good quality of life.
Courtney Agnes plays herself on the Discovery TV show, Yukon Men. It airs on Tuesday evenings across the country. She is the daughter of Pat Moore who is also on the show. Courtney and her family live in Tanana year-round and live off the land. The show has already had three successful seasons. I caught up with Courtney recently to ask about her experience with the show and about life in rural Alaska. She has enjoyed the show and appreciates the opportunity to show how people actually live in interior Alaska.
Courtney is a fan favorite with my family and friends, and probably a lot of people across the US. In my eye, Courtney is a true Alaskan Yukon woman. She hunts, fishes, picks berries, beads and does what it takes to raise her family in the village. Life in rural Alaska is not easy, but there is so much value to raising your family in a place where people take care of each other.
If you have watch the show, you can see how Courtney shares her traditional and cultural Athabascan values as well as the strength she gets from her father. While Courtney may see things in black and white, her dad shows her the gray scales in life. Some young Alaskans can’t wait to leave the village when they grow up. They might move out of the village to obtain a higher education or to get a job. Jobs can be hard to come by in smaller Alaskan communities. When Courtney went to college, she thought she might never return to Tanana. Her dad knew she would return. She and her family have had tough times over the years, like when her mother suffered an aneurysm. Courtney helps her dad with cooking and in other ways while her mom recovers.
I appreciate the way Courtney shares what it’s like to live and thrive in the village. Courtney says, “I love to learn new things every day about my culture.” Her daughter loves Native singing and dancing. She goes on to say, “I’ve always had a strong sense of where I came from, and I never let anyone make me feel like I was inferior or different.”
“I grew up with my Grandmother always telling me simple things, like she told me not to get married right away. She said that to be able to marry someone you had to live with them and eat 250 pounds of flour with them to know they are the right person for you. She also told me to get out in the ‘woods’ and learn the way of the land, so if anything ever happened in the world I would know how to survive. I’ve found that these simple things have kept me amazingly grounded in life, and to always appreciate the simpler things of life.” – Courtney Agnes of Tanana
Courtney shot her first moose while filming the Yukon Men show. She says, “I really felt empowered to be able to hunt for my family.” Courtney’s husband is gone over six months out of the year. I admire her for doing what it takes to feed her family.
Courtney is also known for her sewing and beading skills. She has been asked about selling her beadwork online. She loves sewing and doing beadwork for her family, but she is too busy to devote much time to it right now. Courtney just finished sewing boots for her baby, and plans to sew mitts and canvas boots for her oldest. She does support other local artists by helping them to sell their items when she can.
I asked Courtney if she could share any outtakes or stories from the Yukon Men show. In the first season, there was a scene where she fell into the water, and it looked like she wasn’t going to come back up. She said, “The funny thing though is that I was wearing a life jacket! I mean I was pretty sure I was going to float, and that I wasn’t in any danger.” While that was pretty funny, she has also had some real scary moments, like in the bear hunt episode coming up later this season. Courtney says, “We literally snuck up on a bear and we were only 25 feet away from him.” You’ll have to watch the upcoming episode to see what happens.
A part of the reason I admire Courtney and her dad is because they are dog mushers. My dad was a dog musher, and there was a time when I wanted to be dog musher as a kid. Courtney has toured and raced with the dogs. She has raced in the Fur Rendezvous World Championship Sled Dog Race. She visited a classroom in Anchorage. One boy was so inspired that he got a couple dogs from the pound. His mom told Courtney that her son would ride down their street from mailbox to mailbox.
Courtney says, “Dog mushing is a hard sport to get into competitively. It costs a lot of money, and to be able to maintain a healthy team is hard, but having fun with the team is so much fun that it makes up for it.” Courtney encourages people to start small, and spend the time to learn from the dogs on how to be a team. She says, “The dogs taught me to be really patient, and look for the positives in each day.”
People sometimes have a perception of Native people and what life is like in rural Alaska. I appreciate people like Courtney and others for showing more of what it’s really like to live in the village. Way to go Courtney for being a true Yukon woman and inspiring us all to try a little harder and see the good things in life!
Once upon time, a long, long time ago, I ran for Miss WEIO. While I didn’t win, it was a great experience to go through. I learned a lot about myself, Koyukon Athabascan people and how to bead. My family helped to make traditional Athabascan regalia and I learned to sing the Indian song, Good Bye My Sunny. I still look up to and admire the other ladies I ran with, like Tara Sweeney (Miss WEIO that year), Mary Sattler, Jessie Downey, Charlene Ostbloom, and more.
My niece, Chanda Simon, of Ester was the 2014 Miss WEIO. Chanda is Koyukon Athabascan and Yup’ik. She is the daughter of Chris and Letha Simon. Chris’ hometown is Huslia, and Letha’s is Bethel. Chris and I are cousins. Chanda is an accomplished young lady and is working to obtain her bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Chanda plans to obtain a master’s degree in business after she finishes her undergrad studies. After college, she plans to works in a finance department in a Native corporation and ultimately become a chief financial officer.
I caught up with Chanda in Anchorage and asked her about her experience. When asked why she decided to run for Miss WEIO, she said she wanted to become more involved in the community. It was a challenge for her to become comfortable speaking in front of people. Chanda’s dad told her that it gets easier over time, and she did in fact become more comfortable.
Chanda was not sure how well she would do in the competition. She said, ‘What helped me overcome that is I knew I was entering with a good heart and the right expectations, and it is the experience that matters.” That is definitely the right attitude to have when competing for Miss WEIO. It is a great learning experience and you really have to become an ambassador for your culture.
For the talent competition, Chanda sang and played the violin to the song, Eagle Island Blues. While she and her siblings have played violin in front of an audience, it was the first time she sang for in front of people. Chanda is especially grateful for her parents, siblings and her aunt Geraldine for supporting her throughout the process.
Miss WEIO serves as a role model for many Native girls across the state and to others with educational and career goals. Chanda says, “As I’m getting a little older and I’ve had more life experiences, I feel like I can help others see they are strong enough to get through hard times in life.” Chanda encourages other young people to follow their dreams and work toward their goals. She gained a lot already from her experience and encourages others to try for the Miss WEIO crown in the future.
“Get out and do it. It really is the experience that is important, not where you place. You will definitely gain so much experience in public speaking, and become even stronger in your culture.” – Chanda Simon, Miss WEIO 2014
Chanda is grateful to the community for supporting her and other young people. Many people had kind and supportive words for her, and she especially appreciated them when she was really nervous. In April 2015, Chanda will participate in the Miss Indian World pageant in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She looks forward to the new experience and representing WEIO and Alaska Native people.
“Value your education. It might not be the most exciting thing to focus on, but it is something that can never be taken away from you.” – Chanda Simon, Miss WEIO 2014
Chanda Simon is an inspiring young lady. I wish her the best in her future endeavors. Judging by Chanda’s accomplishments so far, I would say our future is bright with future leaders like her.
The Winter Bear play was performed in Huslia on September 10th. The Huslia Tribal Council welcomed the cast and crew with a community potluck. The Jimmy Huntington School hosted the play. The play had two acts with a 15-minute intermission. The Winter Bear is a play that tells the story of an Alaska Native teenager who rises above the traumas of his past to become a leader with the help of mentor Sidney Huntington and a Winter Bear.
The play was first performed in Anchorage in 2010, but has since travelled to the Tok, Tanacross, Northway, Mentasta, Barrow, Fairbanks and the Copper River and Kenai Peninsula areas. Playwright Ann Hanley said, “It’s always been a dream to travel to the Yukon-Koyukuk River villages. The story belongs to this region.” According to Hanley, the men identify with the hunter and come and share their hunting stories.
Some lines from the play include:
“Maybe luck is just knowing that everything will take care of you if you let it.” -A line by the character, Sidney Huntington
“Just tell your story. If you speak your story from your heart, people will listen.” -A line by the character, Sidney Huntington
“Once you put the words on paper, all the juice drains out of them.” -A line by the character, Sidney Huntington
The children sat on gym mats in front of the stage and elders sat behind them. More community members sat in bleachers. Some kids enjoyed the scary parts with the animals in the play, including a wolf, raven, lynx and wolverine. Dani Ballard-Huffman enjoyed the play and said, “I don’t usually see this and it kept the kids attention.”
A parent, Tanya Yatlin, enjoyed seeing the production travel to Huslia. She said, “It might have been a little bit too deep for the kids on some parts, but it kept everyone captivated for the whole time.” A teenager, Janessa Gonzalez, said, “It’s about finding your self-worth. It was pretty funny.” She enjoyed seeing the make-up on the cast members and costumes.
The audience members laughed throughout the play at the funny parts. Colleen Weter said, “I really liked it.” Storytelling by the Sidney Huntington was a key part of the play. Teri Vent said, “I like that it’s based on Sidney’s life. It makes it more interesting.”
The actor who played Sidney Huntington was Brian Wescott. Wescott has acted in the play since the beginning. According to Wescott, it has been tough to travel. The whole stage, costumes, lighting and other equipment has to be set up, taken down and re-packed for each performance. They slept in gym floors and have to wake up before school comes into session. With a smile on his face, Wescott said, “It’s wonderful though.” He enjoyed ‘Athabascan soul food’, including dried moose meat, bear meat and moose soup.
When asked about the audience reaction, Wescott said, “The rural audiences get some of the jokes and stories we tell, like when Duane “Shadow” says he lost the ax. Rural audiences get that.”
According interior Alaskans, Wescott gives a convincing performance of Sidney Huntington. Hanley says people tell them, “That’s just like uncle Sidney.” Wescott modeled his performance after elders from the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta region, where he is from. According to Wescott, Alaska Native elders are very similar across the state.
The cast and crew were happy when Sidney Huntington attended the play when it was performed in Nulato. Some students from Galena also traveled by boat to watch that play. Director Erick Robertson spoke with the kids after the play. Wescott said, “The workshops in the classroom are almost as important as the play. We interact with them in the classroom.” Youth open up with the cast and crew.
Seeing Huntington in person helped Wescott get in the right mode to play the role. Wescott said, “Sidney will be 100 in May 2015, and he’s amazingly spry and sharp.”
A counselor was available to debrief if needed after the play. The heavy topics sometimes brings up feelings and emotions in people after the show, especially if they have experienced similar situations. Hanley says, “People have gone through a lot. The resiliency of people is great. Creativity is an important thing for the kids to help cope.”
Cards for the Careline Crisis Intervention were handed out with play programs. The number is (800) 273-8355.
Huntington lost three sons to suicide, and he supports the play because of the prevention message. Hanley appreciates people who attend the plays, especially men. She says, “They want to tell us their hunting stories and they light up.”
Wescott wants rural audiences to know, “Your life in this place is really cool and we want you to come and see the show. Your life here matters. We want to come and learn from you and honor your life here.” Wescott and Hanley shared some other message from the play, including stay in school; own up to your life; take ownership of the problems and solve it ourselves; and don’t take handouts.
A boy in Kaltag told cast and crew members, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I will never forget you guys.” Organizers hope the play will plant a tiny seed that will grow into a root.
The Winter Bear Project will continue to tour. They are open to invitations to go to more villages. They rely on grants and sponsorships and federal funds geared toward suicide prevention.
Lillian Simon of Huslia said, “I sure hope each of the kids got something out of it.” From the full gym and interaction after the play, residents young and old appeared to enjoy the play.