This Fall, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Alaska for College Horizons. Again. This was the second year that we visited the biggest state in the U.S. and like other ‘Lower 48’ Natives (as we’re called up north), I am still realizing just how big the state is.
If you haven’t heard, Alaska is big. Reaaaaally big.
Yes, I may be one of the luckiest recruitment coordinators in Indian Country but it’s less due to the fact that Alaska is an amazing place to visit, and more due to the fact that there are lots and lots of awesome Native folks who call it home. While many Native people live in the major hubs (Fairbanks, Anchorage, Juneau, etc), there are hundreds of communities in small villages or towns peppered throughout the entirety of the state.
Hmm… where to begin…
While traveling to Alaska over the past two years, I learned many things. First, Alaska Native folks inside or outside of the city usually identify with a village their family comes from (not a reservation!). Second, summers in Alaska are a valued time – fish camps and subsistence practices plays an integral role in the culture of communities up north. And I learned that the most common forms of transportation when it comes to navigating around the state to some of remote village communities do not include cars. Planes (puddle-jumpers), snowmobiles, boats and even dog sleds become essential to travel when you leave the few road systems that Alaska has. Even the regional hubs in Alaska (Nome, Bethel, Sitka, etc.) are only accessible by air or water.
Just look at those mountains!
So while I used to think that my rez in North Dakota was kind of remote, I must now concede that most villages and towns in Alaska take the meaning of rural to a whole new level. It is therefore understandable that even urban high school students and especially rural Alaskans can be anxious or nervous to attend an out of state program like College Horizons. But for as much as it can be a scary to take the jump into a new experience, it really is worth it (I am authorized to say that since I am also an alumnus of the program)!
Although we haven’t had a lot of students from Alaska attend our program from the recent past (and we are working hard to change that), we HAVE had a number not only come through our programs but succeed and return to Alaska to do amazing things. I was astounded because as I ran into our alumni and program faculty throughout the state, I was thrilled by the presence we have already cultivated. We are now in a place to build upon the small community of individuals throughout the state to increase the amount of Alaska Native students taking advantage of our programs.
Below, I highlight a number of individuals who I got to meet or see again on the road who have attended our programs in the past and where they are now. It was so great to meet and catch up with some of our alumni and faculty who are doing great things for their communities.
Joy Huntington ‘01 (Athabascan) on left, Senator Mark Begich on right
The first person that I’d like to talk about is actually the person who is responsible for my own discovery of College Horizons and probably the reason I made it to the college I attended too (true story). Joy Huntington CH ’01 was a classmate of mine at Dartmouth College. Joy is a leader who is taking the state of Alaska by storm. This year I arrived just in time to catch the tail end of the Alaska Federation of Natives (the biggest annual Alaska Native gathering there is) and had the tremendous pleasure of watching Joy give a speech to thousands of people in attendance and televised across the state to every community. She introduced Alaska Senator, Mark Begich to the stage and gave a tremendously honest and heartfelt speech to the assembly that you can watch here. Joy is a 2001 alumna of College Horizons who graduated from Dartmouth College in 2006. She is currently a lobbyist, writer and politician in Fairbanks, Alaska. Joy recently ran a close campaign for president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, an Interior Alaska tribal consortium and is making a big impact for her community.
Candace Branson ’05 (Alutiiq) and I outside of a restaurant in Kodiak
Candace Branson CH ’05 is an alumna from Kodiak, Alaska. While attending College Horizons, Candace told me that she discovered her future college. It was during the College Horizons program that she met the admissions counselor from the University of Denver who stayed in touch with her after the program and convinced her to apply – something that she may not have been open to if she didn’t attend the program. After graduating from college in Colorado, she returned to her home on Kodiak Island and is currently teaching the Alutiiq language to students throughout the community and at the high school using a new method of language instruction. Her goal is become fluent in the language and to produce other fluent speakers of the language. Candace is another great example of College Horizons alumni using their skills and knowledge to give back to her community.
Shanelle Afcan ‘12 (Yup’ik) at the Penn program
As one of our most recent Alumni from Alaska, Shanelle Afcan CH ’12 attended our workshop last year in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. I met Shanelle during my first trip to Alaska when I visited her school. It’s the best feeling in the world when you see a student that you met on the road attend the program and this fall I was even more happy to have her help when I was presenting at Mt. Edgecumbe High School for a second time. Shanelle told me that she was really glad that she attended the program and this year has offered help to her classmates fill out the application As a junior in high school, Shanelle will be applying to colleges next fall, but in the meantime is doing her utmost to investigate and apply to scholarships ahead of time. Go Shanelle!
Victoria Canul Dunne (Tlingit) and I stop for a photo op in her office
Last but certainly not least, I want to introduce Victoria Canul Dunne. Victoria has been a counselor at three of our four recent years of CH programs – once in 2009 (Yale), 2010 and 2011. She is an enthusiastic supporter of the program and works for the Sitka Tribe in Sitka, Alaska. Every year, we bring Native educators from all over Indian Country to our programs so that can experience our workshops first-hand. Victoria has been incredibly enthusiastic about our programs and is currently working with students in the Sitka area to help them apply to our programs for the upcoming year. She also took the time to show me around town and help me present at Mt. Edgecumbe with Shanelle. Thank you Victoria!