ANCHORAGE - It's the ultimate summer job for some young adults at the Alaska Native Heritage Center who get a paycheck while learning about their culture. This group is earning their keep in a big way because the students are also the teachers. By getting the opportunity to showcase their Alaska Native roots these interns are learning skills that will last them a lifetime.
You won't find many summer jobs like at the Alaska Native Heritage Center – something Cherise Nicholson and Diamond Williams are quickly appreciating. Part of the Alaska summer intern program, this pair, who are Tlingit, Yupik, and Aleut, are not only getting hands-on training about their Alaska Native culture – they are learning why things were done and how they did it.
“This is my first time building kayaks,” said Williams.
“It’s pretty fun, got to learn some new terms and how to actually make it,” said Nicholson.
It’s a teaching of ancient skill that is being shown all around the campus. Minnie White is a cultural host, and beyond answering questions about growing up Yupik, working at the center gives her the chance to share a history she loves.
“They ask how we live, how we build our houses, and how we live through seasons, the winter and the summer,” said White. “People are really interested in it and they are really happy that we still carry on our cultures and we try to keep it alive.”
But it’s not just the visitors who are learning. “They learn about who they are, they learn about where they’re from, they learn about their ancestry,” said Alaska Native Heritage Center CEO & President Annette Evans Smith. “For many it causes an awakening; they get to go home and ask their grandma and grandpa how did we do it back then.”
It’s a sense of pride and self that's paying dividends, because they’re connecting their past and ensuring their culture is never forgotten.
“We believe when you know who you are, when you know where you’re from, you’re stronger and you’re more resilient because of that,” said Smith.
The summer job program is made up of 30 interns and seven world-renowned Alaska Native artists like Qayaq artist Michael Livingston.