Togiak man participates in ambassador program
Togiak's Keemuel Kenrud is one of 22 individuals participating in the Arctic Youth Ambassador program meant to connect Alaskans with youth and young adults from other nations — and share their stories with others.
The program helps provide a window into the next generation's view on the Arctic. In Fairbanks last month, they participated in the Arctic Science Summit Week held in conjunction with an Arctic Observing Summit.
Kenrud, an information technician for the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, said he was able to share his perspective on life in Southwest Alaska, and also learn about similarities in other regions.
"One of my favorite experiences and memories there was when we got to sit down with the model arctic council, which is also a group of youth and members from around the world, spanning from Alaska all the way to Norway," he said. "I asked them a specific question, 'Do they have a subsistence lifestyle, and do they treat the animals with respect?'"
That's just what the ambassador program, orchestrated by the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alaska Geographic, was designed to do. The ambassadors come from 16 communities, and serve for the duration of the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which goes through 2017.
Of the 80 participants at the Model Arctic Council event in Fairbanks, Kenrud said he found that some lived a subsistence lifestyle and had a similar relationship with the land.
"A lot of them are the same," he said. "They have a deep, deep respect for land just as we do. And I like that a lot."
Beyond talking about life in each region, Kenrud said the group met with arctic policymakers from around the globe, including Admiral Robert Papp, America's special representative to the Arctic Council.
"The 22 arctic youth ambassadors met with them to kind of give them an idea of what it's like here in Alaska, and our stories," Kenrud said. "We told them about how we live and why we became an arctic youth ambassador and we shared our stories with them and they did enjoy our stories and they seemed to like it. They seemed to like having us there."
The most memorable official was U.S. Senior Arctic Official Julie Gorley.
"She reminded me of kind of my parents," he said. "She seemed to keep in mind that not everything needs to be based on work, but she can have a little bit of fun. We went to go see unmanned aerial vehicles and she was out there too and she was giggling and having a good time and she really did seem like she wasn't very uptight and she really did enjoy her work with the youth."
Kenrud is taking the program's mission a step further, trying to share other stories about his region with the world, not just his own. He's working on sharing stories from Togiak through the Frontiers of Change radio program, which airs on Anchorage's KNBA Radio.
"Through that I can interview elders and spread the word of how the culture is, and how it was back then, and the climate that we're living in," he said.
Listening to elders has helped define who he is, Kenrud said.
"I've grown up working with the elders, and my grandfather," he said. "... I've learned so many things through him, I've learned a lot about my culture and who I want to be and specifically, who I am."
Kenrud is still getting equipment and making his plans, but once he starts, he wants to kick-off his interviews with his grandfather Pete Abrahams, a former Togiak National Wildlife Refuge information technician who helped get him involved with the refuge and the program.
"He's one of my biggest inspirations and I look to him as a hero, as a very big idol in my life, he's the reason why I'm doing all of this," Kenrud said. "He's shown me the way and what I want to do. I really want to help him share his stories because I grew up with him, and he's shared some amazing stories with me. I'm still in awe to this day with some of his stories."
Molly Dischner can be reached at email@example.com.