The 34th Annual Elders and Youth Conference kicked off at the Dena’ina Center on Monday. Gambell teenager Chris Apassingok gave the youth keynote address to a packed house, talking about his experience as a hunter on St. Lawrence Island and landing a whale earlier this year.

“It was super exciting. I felt happy that I'm going to feed a lot of people,” Apassingok said.

What the 17-year-old didn’t know is that his story of killing a bowhead whale would soon be shared around the world and not everyone understood the Alaskan way of life.

Conservationist Paul Watson attacked Apassingok online, calling him a murderer in a now deleted post.

“A lot of that man's followers sent me messages to my Facebook account, barely any of them were kind. I was threatened by a lot of them,” Apassingok said.

In his keynote address, he detailed the hardships of hunting sea mammals as the climate changes but stressed the importance of subsistence and continuing a traditional lifestyle.

His message spoke to the theme of the conference: Part Land, Part Water—Always Native.

“His words were so important about the land and the sea,” said Laurie Copely, a Tlingit woman originally from Sitka. “He has so much knowledge about the land and the sea and the animals and plants that he eats and hunts. I felt very proud to be indigenous today.”

Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott gave Apassingok a certificate of special appreciation.

Walker said, while some kids “want to feed their ego, Chris fed his village.”

“I’m proud of your priorities. I'm proud of what you have accomplished and my goodness at 16, I can hardly wait to see what else you're going to do,” Walker said.

Apassingok said he didn’t let the online harassment get him down and he’ll continue to do what he loves.

“Will you stand with me as I continue my hunting?” he asked the crowd. “Will you all stand with me as we continue our subsistence activities?” he said as the audience erupted in applause, standing up for Apassingok and the traditional way of life in rural Alaska.

Watch Apassingok deliver his keynote address at the 2017 Elders and Youth Conference.

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