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GUEST COMMENTARY: Generation Indigenous

Native LPHS student plans to beat the odds

November 19, 2015
By BIRK ALBERT - LPHS junior , Lake Placid News

On a quest for finding summer college preparation programs for Native American students last spring, I fell onto the tip of an iceberg of an ever-expanding movement labeled "Generation Indigenous."

The creator of this national platform about and for Native American, Alaskan Native and Hawaiian youth is none other than President Barack Obama or as we know him, "President Barack Black Eagle," who was adopted into the Crow Nation as a presidential candidate.

In the past two years, Obama gave out marching orders to his team. All cabinet secretaries and top officials throughout the federal government now have the mission to help First American Youth get out of last place in every imaginable negative statistic category and into a fair shot in American 21st century life.

Article Photos

Lake Placid High School junior Birk Albert poses in front of the White House.
(Photo provided by Birk Albert)

It is not every day a 16-year-old displaced son of the Midnight Sun state of Alaska has a chance to participate as a "Youth Delegate" in the Obama Administration's seventh annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, which was recently held in Washington, D.C. This is a nation-to-nation important meeting.

Yet, this "education refugee" from bush Alaska who arrived here during the Tropical Storm Irene surprise weekend in 2011 to begin seventh grade at the Lake Placid High School, under the guidance of my uncle Mike McGlynn, did just that.

I also plan to beat the odds that have given Alaskan Native youth the second highest suicide rate on the planet. I plan to beat the odds that tell me I have only a 51 percent chance to obtain my high school diploma. I plan to not be one of the 37 percent of Alaskan inmates who are Native men yet are only 7 percent of the state population. My much-older brother was a teenage dad at the age I am now. I plan to encourage others from all backgrounds to seek out and grab opportunities. I need to be bold and fearless, and when I fail, I'll try again and then win.

This is what Iditarod Dog Race champion John Baker has told us: "Dream, Try, Win." This is what my mother, Eileen McGlynn, forever reminds me. The journey may be slow, the goal uncertain, but I have to keep on going for myself and for all the small eyes in remote villages across my home in Alaska's interior.

They have limited educational opportunities yet are rich in a culturally vibrant skilled community whose real challenges presented by global climate change are just beginning. The Obama Administration is working on prevention and remedies for Alaskan communities already negatively impacted by a changing climate. Bush Alaskans know how to adapt. Like courage, it is bred into us.


Generation Indigenous

Native youth from age 14 to 22 can become Generation Indigenous Ambassadors by volunteering and being part of a project and then accepting the Gen-I Challenge online. Whether you live in your Native community or 3,000 miles away from it as I am, youth have positive influence and actions to contribute to the world.

When Sen. Bryon Dorgan retired, he created the nonprofit organization, The Center for Native American Youth under the direction of The Aspen Institute. A million dollars of leftover campaign funds were well spent. Aligned with the White House initiative, Generation Indigenous, they are mentoring hundreds of Native American youth in every state and life situation in the U.S.

Because of searching for summer camps, we joined in the monthly national chats and became aware of this Gen-I Movement. Perhaps I would have known about it in bush Alaska, but I am on the road system now and can take actions to become connected to the greater Native community.

In July, I attended the 39th annual United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) conference in Washington, D.C. I stepped it up by becoming one of their Earth Ambassadors. I am learning about climate change in the LPHS Environmental Club advised by teacher Tammy Morgan. I am helping Alaskans network with her as well as Tupper Lake's The Wild Center by bringing the concept of a youth organized Climate Summit to Fairbanks, Alaska, hopefully next year.

The Internet is vital in forming these human connections. The White House has made bringing Internet to remote areas a top priority, and it will help carry educational content to children such as my nieces and nephews in the near future. My 17-year-old niece sits daily in an Alaskan village classroom with one teacher all day with 12 students ranging from grades 5 to 12. Do you think the teacher is certified to teach all subjects to all those grades at the same time, or do you think bush students are capable but year after year given a raw deal? High speed web will help them reach their potential. In return, they will reach out and help the next generation like I have been doing. And the hope is that those terribly depressing statistics will melt away in the Arctic.

In Washington, I ran into Alaskan delegates who traveled 3,000 miles, and one was a unknown cousin. So 'Native.' This elder from Koyukuk is my late grandmother's cousin. Yukon River village chiefs and staff of Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks sat in the front row and all shook President Obama's hand.

Tip to self: Next time, elbow in more and take selfies.

I sat with 25 youth just four rows off the stage when President Obama spoke and held a question-and-answer panel with youth. One was Brayden Sonny White from the St. Regis Awkwesasne Mohawk Reservation and urban Alaskan Native Tatiana Ticknor.

Indigenous people in America are not monolithic in any way. These Alaskan tribal leaders told me how proud they were to find a Native youth advocating and representing Interior Natives in Washington. That meant a lot.


Highlights and glitches

I was invited to the historic first White House Tribal Youth Gathering on July 9 to hear First Lady Michelle Obama speak and had to ask a taxi driver for tips on how to tie my tie. So the take-away is to practice.

Having your mother as your chaperone ensures you will have to talk during panels. I had to study issues on fossil fuel extraction, Fairbanks Four case and bush education. She also texted me from the balcony when she saw I was not taking photos!

Mom and I would never have made it without Google Maps on my tablet, especially driving around the New Jersey Turnpike. My dad rarely gets lost in the Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge, knows river switchbacks, sloughs and individual trees to negotiate his way.

I was still able to play in the soccer regionals the next day after a long drive back. Here's an interesting tie between my Nation and my team. A sandwich shop owner in the Ronald Reagan Federal Building where the conference was held is a walking United Nations as he grew up in Algeria, lived in England, France, South Africa and knows the universal world language of "soccer."

At the White House tour, my liberal mom insisted I pose for a photo in front Ron Reagan's oil portrait as he is a favorite of Ben, my friend Stuart's brother.

After our tour was finished, the news said President Obama just announced during a press conference that he was canceling involvement in the Keystone pipeline project.

Washington, D.C. is a user-friendly city, and the Metro employees are awesome.

Selling our canoe paid for this unexpected road trip and it was "good trade" as my dad, a full blood Koyukon Athabascan Indian man, likes to say, imitating the "Dances With Wolves" film script I grew up with.

A White House Intergovernmental Affairs staffer is a Native Alaskan who accepted my dad's present of small snowshoes on behalf of President Obama's actions on climate change and Native Youth. A Secret Service dog was summoned to sniff them. At least these were not the caribou and moose rawhide filled ones, as dogs like to chew on those.

Youth delegates met with White House staffers and the secretary of the interior about federal government careers, as they need diverse voices. It was held in the historic Treaty Room.

I hope by the time I graduate college and need to pay my loans, the government remembers this meeting, but their record of promises made to Native Americans isn't too good.

The Women Warriors in their jingle dress regalia holding flags from different armed services are a sight and a sound to witness.

I was there as President Obama announced Adidas will help 2,000 schools with questionable mascots and sports team names using derogatory Native images and will freely help them re-design and outfit their teams. and C-Span have videos of this conference as well as previous ones.

I definitely will remember being part of history during National Native American Heritage Month 2015, and I am grateful for this opportunity and Anaa' baase to those who have helped me in my life.


(Birk Albert is a junior at the Lake Placid High School and moved here in 2011 from his Native Koyukon Athabaskan village of Ruby, Alaska, to receive a better education. He lives in Lake Placid with his mother Eileen McGlynn while his father George Albert still lives in Ruby.)



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