Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

New program uses culture to connect with Native youths


Angela Williams, 26, had a hard time growing up in Haines.

She dropped out of school at age 16 and suffered alcoholism, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

“I wasn’t in a very good relationship and attempted suicide,” Williams said in an interview this week.

About two years ago, she moved to Juneau, landed a job with SEARHC, established some structure in her life and made new friends who didn’t want to party all the time. “I even had a normal boyfriend for a little bit. I never had that here.”

Willliams said she learned she could “work through” the problems of her life and get past people who doubted her and thought she would never change.

Williams now heads up Resilient Alaska Youth in Haines, a federally funded, statewide program aimed at helping Native youths facing some of the same problems she experienced. “I’m a prime example of resilient Alaska youth. My life inspired me to start doing something like this.”

Her program helped put on last weekend’s Community Crab Dig and this week has organized a beach cleanup Saturday at Chilkat State Park. Future activities will include a summer fish camp at 4 Mile Haines Highway and a project videotaping elders and the eulachon run for the public library’s Storyboard, a digital tool for learning about Tlingit life here.

Sponsored by AmeriCorps and RuralCAP, the purpose of Resilient Alaska Youth is to build resilience among Alaska Native youths to forces like substance abuse and suicide, using culture, including subsistence activities. “Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from something,” Williams said.

When she was at her lowest, Williams said, subsistence activities like eulachon and salmon fishing helped keep her afloat when she felt alone. “I felt connected to something, like I belonged.”

Williams said when she returned to Haines last May, she worked as a deckhand, then went looking for a way to tell her story. Resilient Alaska Youth seemed a natural fit. “(Cultural activities) are the easiest way for me to connect with youth, to get to know them and share my story. So my personal and professional goals tie together a lot.”

Her goal is to provide healthy alternatives to harmful influences on youths, like partying, and is open to ideas. “I’d love any idea on things that people would like to see their kids learn.” Contact her at the Chilkoot Indian Association office, 766-2323.

Charlie Ess, who supervises Williams from Anchorage, said Resilient Alaska Youth replaces the former “Birch” and “Raven” programs, coordinated by AmeriCorps volunteers.

“We have evidence if you create connections between youths and elders and cultural events, there are more things to hold (young people) together,” Ess said.

Ess said he’s hopeful that Williams will be effective here. “She has this courage. Other people who experience what she has just get through it. People who are stronger can capitalize on it and she’s made that brave move. She has quite a story.”


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