KPBSD Native Youth Leadership

 Nanwalek Student Council and Staff

Youth leadership programs in KPBSD schools, Project GRAD, and local communities collaborate and partner to give small school and native youth opportunities to learn both western and indigenous governing styles, together with leadership skills that increase academic success. Students at four of our schools- Nanwalek, Ninilchik, Port Graham, and Tebugna-participated in several events throughout the fall of 2012. Highlighted are Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Elder and Youth Conference; Alaska Association of Student Government (AASG) Youth Leadership Conference; Alaska Association of School Boards (AASB) Youth Leadership Conference; a Native Student Representative on Student Council resolution; and Nanwalek student council elections.

 Swearing in of Nanwalek Student Council during assembly

Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Elder and Youth Conference

Students presented the Traditional Kayak project, were interviewed on a radio program, and worked with tribal elders for tribal government training.

"I learned I need to learn to listen to my Elders more to understand my culture. Seal meat is better for us than ten hamburgers. And blueberries have as much iron in them as seal meat. We have everything we need in our backyards." - Cyrena Joseph, Port Graham

 Tshanna Constantine, Julie Anahonak, Penny Vadla, Steve Atwater, AASB Conference

"I liked the breakout sessions. I learned how native plants are the healthiest way to live because you don't need to do anything to them. They replant and re-grow on their own!" - Kelsey Meganack, Port Graham

"I had fun at AFN because I got to go and experience and learn what is out there, and I learned a little bit of our language. I heard how bullying has affected our planet and how we can prevent it. The dance was fun and I am looking forward to going to Juneau if I get picked. Kids should try to go!" - Raquell Salas, Tyonek

"I enjoyed this year's AFN-the language groups and regional break outs were more exciting and fun to be in. I loved talking to the Elders and telling them my concerns, and it was great to have friends that I made that felt the same feelings that I did. Seeing everyone there, even first graders being serious, made we want to do more for my state." - Jean Shanagin, Tyonek

 Julie Anahonak, Tshanna Constantine, Sunni Hilts, AASB Conference

"Project GRAD invited us to join them with the building of the kayaks. We participated in presenting kayaks we built. People asked questions like how long it took us to make the kayaks and how did we work together to get it built. We went to learn about plants, what is bad and good for you, and what types of plants are out there. Elders showed us how they hunted and cut seal, how they cooked and made it. We went to NYO to learn step by step, then we taught others how to do it. We went to a dance and we went to groups to learn language and still had to do our homework." - Michael Anahonak, Port Graham

 Julie Anahonak, Tshanna Constantine, KPBSD School Board Members, AASB Conference

"It was not that easy to build the kayak, especially without any instructions, just a bunch of wood sticks. But after, when we took it out on the water that felt really good. And when we presented to all the Elders and people who attended AFN, it was really a surprise how many people were proud of us, and how we were a success. They asked all kinds of questions and lots of the kids and other Elders want to do the same in their villages. It is important to continue these type of projects." - John Romanoff, Nanwalek

"Hands on learning with our Elders is always better than sitting in a classroom trying to figure out how to build (the kayaks) by reading only." - Xaiver Romonoff, Nanwalek

"When I first started the Kayak project I didn't think I could do it since I wasn't taught by our Elders or anyone about our traditional ways of building. But at the end of the two weeks when we finished the kayak and took it out on the water I thought different. I always knew how to build our kayaks. It is in our heart and in our blood." - Tim Ukatish, Nanwalek

 AASB Conference Student Body, AASB Conference

Alaska Association of Student Government (AASG) Youth Leadership Conference

  "AASG is a state-wide student council conference with councils from all around the state," said Natashia Ukatish of Nanwalek. "They are split into seven regions with Nanwalek being part of region three. During the four day stay at Wasilla High School, we got the opportunity to attend a three and one-half hour Suicide Prevention Class. We learned about how to deal with people considering suicide and how we can help them. We also attended many meetings with all the regions where we were given the chance to vote for other schools' resolutions. During the meeting all the regions showed their spirit for their region. We met plenty of people and made many friends. It was all-around fun and a place I know I will be counting down the days, 'till I can go again."

 Terrence Swenning, Natashia Ukatish, Rebekkah Standifer, Trinity Standifer, Jovena Salas, Elizabeth Ukatish, Erin Thomson, Bonnie Pierce, AASG Conference at Wasilla High School

Terence Swenning from Nanwalek supports a resolution to have a native youth representative as a student council officer in Kenai Peninsula schools where there is a population of native students. Swenning said, "It would be good to have a position that could ask native students what they want, especially since our school is all native. I thought at first AASG wouldn't be any fun. It was. There were all kinds of activities and all the kids who ran the conference were helpful and nice."

Rebekkah Standifer, Jovena Salas, and Serenity Standifer from Tyonek added, "I learned how to be respectful and how to debate; I had fun, it was really cool to work with high school students! I really enjoyed the Olympic activities. I learned how to make a motion. I learned some new activities and songs that I brought back to my school. I liked the whole conference; it's hard to choose a favorite."

 Bonnie Pierce, Natashia Ukatish, Terrence Swenning, Rebekkah Standifer, Trinity Standifer, Jovena Salas, Erin Thomson, AASG Conference at Wasilla High School

Alaska Association of School Boards (AASB) Youth Leadership Conference

Attendees worked on leadership skill training with youth leaders, KPBSD school board members, and Dr. Atwater, KPBSD superintendent. Additionally they brought an AASG draft resolution to the attention of the school board through student representative, Hayden Beard's support.

Julie Anahonak from Port Graham, said, "We learned leadership skills, met new people. We tried new things, and I had a ton of fun! The perk of going on these trips? You never know who you are going to meet. So far I've met Jack Dalton [native traditional storyteller and educator], Isaiah Potkotak [actor in On the Ice], David Thomas [native Alaskan Olympic level WEIO/NYO athlete], and Sven Hakanson [Harvard graduate, Kodiak Natural History Museum]."

 Timothy Ukatish, Xavier Romanoff, John Romanoff, Julie Anahonak, Seraphim Ukatish, Michael Anahonak, Rita Meganack, AFN ElderYouth Conference

 "Students connected with Hayden Beard, the KPBSD student council district representative from Seward High School who sits on the KPBSD school board," said Tshanna Constantine from Tyonek. "We first met Hayden at the district student council conference when he was voted in as the district representative. He listens to the small schools and sees the importance of collaboration among all the small schools to have a stronger voice in Kenai Peninsula's student requests." Beard helped with a "Native Student Representative on Student Council" resolution. The idea of writing the proposal started two years prior when the KPNYL group went to the district student council and discovered KPNYL had no voice since they were not a part of a school student council. In order to bring forth a native youth voice, a resolution was needed to create an official officer position for a student council native student voice. Native school sites learn and work with two governing systems: their western "American" government system and their sovereign native Alaskan governing system. It is important to have a youth liaison that can bridge the two systems in regard to communicating back and forth the needs of native youth. Youth representatives presented this draft at AASG. The draft proposal was tabled due to the number of resolutions submitted prior to the Kenai Peninsula proposal. It was suggested the group could either wait for the spring conference or talk to their district representative, thus student school board representative Beard stepped in to help. He took the proposal to his board during AASB to discuss its merit; the resolution is still in progress.

 Timothy Ukatish, Xavier Romanoff, Julie Anahonak, John Romanoff, AFN Elder Youth Conference

Nanwalek Student Council Elections

The Nanwalek's student council election is an example of the student's on-site youth leadership activities. Adding native youth representation to student council officers increases goals of student spirit on campus through parent and community engagement and asset development.

Nanwalek had not had a voted instudent council body for several years. Principal Klein is very supportive of youth leadership on campus and had already started the school year by asking students come up with how they would like to improve student involvement on campus.


Project GRAD put support behind the idea of having a regular campaign and election process for student council officers under the theme, "Improving School Spirit." The goals start with teaching students the importance of their voice toward change, and include giving relevance to the student's lives on what the American election process means to them and the importance of tying their native tribal governing process with student council's process. Nanwalek added a native student representative to their officer position to help students see the importance of learning both governing systems they live within.

Middle and high school students were challenged to self-nominate for either an officer or class representative position in October. Since the student council is so new, the only criteria was to be a middle or high school student, and a student needed to self-nominate for one position, thus learning that to have a voice a person has to step up to the plate and be part of change. During the month, students researched their position, through art class created campaign posters, began writing their campaign speeches, and campaigning to the younger students who would be the largest number of voters election day.


November 5, 2012, the nominees turned their speeches into written campaign slogans on the walls of their gym. On November 5, Project GRAD played on the national election theme. The gym was arranged for the assembly, students reviewed the nominee campaign posters and slogans, with the end result of each student experiencing what it is like to go into a polling booth and vote for a candidate.

With tremendous support from school staff, elections and counting of the ballots took place during the afternoon assembly. The assembly concluded with Principal Klein pledging in Nanwalek's Student Council.

The council is now linked to the school base site-council and Nanwalek IRA Tribal Council with representatives communicating and gathering input from their adult governing bodies. The student council meets once a month to learn Parliamentary Procedures, Indigenous Consensus-Style Procedures, and to plan and implement the four components of youth leadership: government, student activities, fund-raising and community service. Congratulations to President Joshua Evans; Vice-President Xavier Romanoff; Secretary Roderick Wilson; Treasurer Shoshana Huntsman; Historian Tania Romanoff; Native Student Representative Tim Ukatish (also the liaison with KPNYL-Kenai Peninsula Native Youth Leaders; Title 7 sub-committee and Nanwalek IRA); Site Base Council Representative Ivana Ash; High School Class Representative Elaina Peterson; Middle School Class Representative Natashia Ukatish, and Elementary School Class Representative Uriah Huntsman.


Future leadership opportunities

Students who attended a Project GRAD or other leadership institute training will implement at least one community service project on site. For example:

  • Nanwalek Winter Survival Training, December 2012
  • Port Graham Hoop House Construction, winter 2012
  • Ninilchik Red Ribbon Week, November 2012
  • Tyonek students will work to support Elders (cutting and stacking wood, providing lunches, cleaning yards, and so forth)

Students who complete the four components of leadership and are Project GRAD student team members will be invited to attend the Juneau's Junior and Senior Close Up program, scheduled for late January. This is an opportunity for middle school and high school student teams to work directly with both state congress and Alaska Federation of Native state leaders for a close up look at two governing bodies who collaborate together for youth.

Questions: contact Bonnie Pierce, Project GRAD, 907-394-1362