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KNBA News - Conference speaker: "I didn't want to tell anyone I was Alaska Native"

By Joaqlin Estus, KNBA

At last week’s Alaska Tribal Conference on Environmental Management, Sierra Shannon-Daugherty led a session on “Modern vs. traditional values.” She  told the audience of about 25 people she felt like a regular kid growing up in a small village that’s 60% Unangan. Her extended family had big Sunday dinners, and she played on Chignik Bay beaches with her cousins. But she said that changed when she was age 12 and her family moved to Anchorage. She said some of the other kids were mean and disrespectful, and she felt like an outcast.

“I didn’t want to tell anyone I was Alaska Native or anything like just because at that time for me it felt like it was being shamed upon," said Shannon-Daugherty.

Shannon-Daugherty says she interviewed author Yaari Walker of Savoonga, and Athabascan motivational rapper Samuel Johns, among others, for her talk. She said several told her the clash between western and traditional values hit them hard when they were young and their families moved to urban areas. She gave Pamyua band member Stephan Blanchette, who’s Yup’ik, as one example.

“He said he was intensely shy, and that’s very common moving from a rural setting to an urban setting," said Shannon-Daugherty. "I know I was as well.”

How did she make the change from being intensely shy to giving several presentations a year to different groups such as University of Alaska Anchorage Native students, the Elders and Youth Conference, and at the Alaska Native Heritage Center? She said she took advantage of every program out there for Native kids and that helped bring her back to her true nature.

"Once I started getting into these different groups, Alaska Native Heritage Center, AFN, Southcentral Foundation Raise program, and all these different things," said Shannon-Daugherty, "that helped me become who I am today, helping me find my voice."

She invited audience members to share their thoughts. One woman said it seems like young Native men in particular need a strong dose of traditional life.

"And it seems like something like going to fish camp, where they would have responsibility and autonomy, and they could get positive support from the community for the good works they’re doing would be something that could be very useful," said the woman.

Other ideas were to develop information to let young people know transitions are hard but things will get better, to find more ways to connect elders with young people, and to strengthen Native language programs.