Alaska Native/Indigenous People, Athabascan in the Spotlight

Annie Huntington Kriska – Doer and Mentor

Anna Huntington Kriska thanks everyone for supporting the Fairbanks Four at a fundraiser in 2015. Her nephew is Eugene Vent. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

I met with Annie Huntington Kriska (Koyukon Athabascan) last summer. I’ve known her for a long time but wanted to get to know more about her. She shared about her upbringing, career and how she’s doing amidst the pandemic. Annie has had an amazing journey in life and career. 

Annie describes her life now as pre-retirement, stating that with her type of work, she can work for quite some time yet. She recently moved to be closer to her grandchildren. She enjoys fewer hours working, slowing down a bit and enjoying time with her grandchildren. 

Annie with her late mom, Angela Huntington, Auntie Rose Ambrose and her girls. Courtesy photo

Annie was adopted by the late Leo and Mary Kriska of Koyukuk, Alaska. Her biological parents are the late Sidney and Angela Huntington of Galena. She had a tough life but appreciates that Leo and Mary took care of her. She was considered a tleetenhoye, the Denaakk’e word for an orphan or adopted child. She experienced trauma as a child that took a lot of self-healing to overcome. She struggled with alcoholism. Eventually, she got sober and began going to church.

As a child, Annie found solace in reading. She said, “I used to read with a flashlight under my sleeping bag.” She thought she wanted to be a teacher but discovered a love for math in high school. She went to college for an accounting degree, but her career took her on a different path – all related to teaching and coaching.

Annie on a road trip. Courtesy photo

Annie had about 15 jobs in her career, focusing mainly on program development, grant writing and management, business development, strategic planning, mentoring and consulting. She claimed to hold only one job longer than three years because she always focused on mentoring and training her replacement. Annie helped to start the tribal management program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks with the help of community advisors from around the state. Ten Alaska Natives of different regions advised her on the direction, content, and how to engrain culture into the program. She had much community and academic support to get the program finally approved and accredited. It’s a steppingstone to higher degrees, including a PhD. 

Annie helped to develop and teach an indigenous knowledge curriculum for which the basis is indigenous concepts for community development. She also taught the basics of federal Indian law, grant writing and community assessment. She folded her knowledge of culture into the course work. She also helped to develop curriculum for Native charter schools and other tribal high school programs that included lessons of how to use math to build a smokehouse and how to understand fishing and hunting by understanding the science of land and water. She also stressed the importance of connections and to acknowledge our relatives and how we are related to everyone. 

“There’s an ecology, insects, animals, people. We’re all connected and everything around the world. Everyone and everything is connected.” – Annie Huntington Kriska (Koyukon Athabascan)

One of Annie’s favorite memories as a four-year-old was travelling to different camps throughout the year. She would be covered up and put in the sled in winter.  There were big dogs pulling a freight sled. Annie remembers looking around and listening to the sounds of the dogs, snowshoes and the clean air. They lived in a wall tent. 

Annie and her family celebrate her late dad Sidney Huntington’s 100th birthday. Courtesy photo

Annie is grateful for many life lessons and mentors/teachers throughout her life. She said, “God put certain people in my life at the right time.” She lived with her uncle and aunt, Ralph and Dorothy Perdue, in Fairbanks as a teenager. They taught her business because they were in business. 

Annie shared what has been helping her to cope with the pandemic. She especially missed connecting with family, friends and community members. In the beginning, she met with family members on Zoom on Sundays. She even met new relatives on zoom. She went on lock down for the first three months. When the mandates were lifted, she spent a lot of time outside, including going on drives along the road system. She’s also learned about tapping and mindfulness.

I’ve always admired how Annie gets things done for her community. I’ve seen her volunteering at many events over the years. Annie is a doer. To me, a doer is someone who gets things done, steps up without being asked and motivates others by their action. She also doesn’t hesitate to mentor others and encourages them to reach for their goals. It makes such a big difference when you have someone like Annie believing in you. 

Annie is a writer and has some ideas for writing projects she’ll focus on as she is in pre-retirement and eventually retirement. I look forward to reading her stories and learning from them. Just getting to know her in this short time has given me a glimpse into a well-lived life. Enaa baasee’ Annie for sharing a little bit of your life. 

Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Tatiana Ticknor – Champion for Change

Tatiana Ticknor. Courtesy of CNAY
Tatiana Ticknor. Photo courtesy of CNAY

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.

Tatiana Ticknor and other CNAY youth sat down with President Obama at the 2015 Tribal Nations Conference. Courtesy of Jean Sam-Kiunya
Tatiana Ticknor and other CNAY youth sat down with President Obama at the 2015 Tribal Nations Conference. Courtesy of Jean Sam-Kiunya

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.

President Barack Obama speaks with 4 Native youth -- Tatiana Ticknor (Yup'ik, Tlingit, Dena'ina), Brayden White (St. Regis Mohawk), Blossom Johnson (Navajo Nation), and Philip Douglas (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma) about issues including higher education, poverty and resources, health care, and racism in schools. The conversation is being moderated by Jude Schimmel (Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation). Photo courtesy of CNAY
President Barack Obama speaks with four Native youth – Tatiana Ticknor (Yup’ik, Tlingit, Dena’ina), Brayden White (St. Regis Mohawk), Blossom Johnson (Navajo Nation), and Philip Douglas (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma) about issues including higher education, poverty and resources, health care, and racism in schools. The conversation is being moderated by Jude Schimmel (Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation). Photo courtesy of CNAY