Twenty nine years ago life for Alaska Natives changed drastically. Alexandra J. McClanahan's job is to write about it.
McClanahan's new book, ``Growing up Native in Alaska,'' features the reflections of 27 young professionals on what it means to be an Alaska Native and how the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act changed their lives.
``I think a lot of people are struggling with what it means to be an Alaska Native in today's world,'' McClanahan said. ``Not that the book gives an answer to that question, but it has 27 different stories on how people are dealing with the same question.''
McClanahan works for the regional Native corporation Cook Inlet Region Inc., or CIRI. She has written two non-fiction books published by the CIRI Foundation, the corporation's division for cultural heritage projects.
``As a corporate historian, my work is focused on the Alaska Native Settlement Act and how people were affected by it,'' said McClanahan from her office in Anchorage.
Originally from Nebraska, McClanahan moved to Alaska in 1982 to work as a reporter for the Anchorage Times. Four years later, she authored ``Our Stories, Our Lives,'' a collection of 23 interviews with elders of the Cook Inlet region.
She also served as publisher and president of The Tundra Times, Alaska's only statewide Native weekly newspaper, before moving to CIRI as the corporation's historian in 1998.
The mother of an adopted Inupiaq Eskimo, McClanahan frequently thought of her daughter's future as she researched, compiled and wrote ``Growing up Native in Alaska.''
``As an adopted Inupiaq, she will struggle with the same issues as the 27 people involved with this book. It's been a tremendous honor to share their stories and quite a moving experience,'' McClanahan said.
For Jaeleen Kookesh Araujo, a Tlingit and Athabascan woman featured in the book, being included in McClanahan's project was an honor in itself.
``This kind of exposure is important because it shows that there are young Native people getting involved and taking on leadership roles. We, as a people, are not in panic mode trying to figure out how to run a contemporary corporation any more,'' said the 27-year-old attorney from her office in Washington, D.C.
``We're finally at the point where we can get involved and it's really wonderful to see people gathering strength from our customs and traditions and looking back from where we came from,'' she said.
Born in Juneau and raised in Angoon, Araujo is employed by Van Ness Feldman, a law firm where she spends most of her time working on Alaska Native issues.
Although she loves her work in the nation's capital, Araujo is homesick and hopes to return to Alaska in the near future.
``There's a lot of things happening in D.C. that are important to Alaska and that justifies being so far away from home. But I definitely intend on coming home within five years,''she said.
Riccardo Worl, a Tlingit and member of the Thunderbird Shungookeidee Clan, was also featured in ``Growing up Native in Alaska.''
``At first I was hesitant to share my personal experiences,'' Worl said. ``But I realized that the stories told in the book could help young Native kids balance the differences between the western and Native worlds and achieve happiness.''
Worl works for the Tlingit and Haida Regional Housing Authority in Juneau. As the father of two children, he said he is committed to helping the next generation achieve its goals.
``It's important to teach kids about their historical and cultural background along with using the tools of the western culture about business, politics and economics,'' said Worl, who volunteers his time with Junior Achievement and Native Youth Olympic programs.
A Dartmouth College graduate with an anthropology degree, Worl is optimistic about the future for Alaska Natives.
``We've always been traders and business people. That's part of our identity, as well as being very progressive,'' he said. ``The economic and political strength of our Native corporations are our links to the western economy and our ongoing commitment to our cultural survival will continue to create new Native Leaders.''
``Growing up Native in Alaska'' is available at Hearthside Books. The book can also be purchased through the CIRI Foundation's Web site:www.ciri.com or by calling (800) 764-3382.
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