Doyon Gives Back: Denakkanaaga, “Our People Speak”
Doyon, Limited is a proud supporter of Denakkanaaga, which serves as the voice for Native Elders in the Doyon region. Denakkanaaga was founded in 1982 by the late Poldine Carlo when she saw a need for an Elders’ program in the Fairbanks area. Its mission is to be the “Elder Voice for the People” of Interior Alaska.
Denaakkanaaga hosts its annual Elder and Youth Conference in different rural communities. This provides the opportunity for federal, state and regional representatives and delegates for the 42 villages to discuss current issues faced by both the Elders and youth, and ways that the issues can be addressed. The conference is held in a rural village to provide attendees from urban communities a first-hand experience of life in rural Alaska.
“Doyon has been our number one donor and supporter,” said Sharon McConnell, Denakkanaaga executive director. Each year, Doyon contributes $125,000 to Denakkanaaga for space at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center, the annual conference and daily operations.
“Being involved in Denakkanaaga has helped me transition of growing into old age and better understand our Elders. In the village, you gracefully grow old and the younger generation takes over,” said Rev. Anna Frank, Second Chief of Denakkanaaga. “In Fairbanks, it doesn’t happen like that; the Elder involvement in the city is so different than in the village. When you move to the city you lose some of your traditional ways and there is a lot of big changes. So, we become Elder advisors and teach our culture and language to the younger generation.”
A popular program offered by Denakkanaaga is the Monday beading class from 2 – 4 p.m., where Dr. Elizabeth Fleagle often teaches. Between 15 – 20 Elders attend this event and teach people of all ages beading techniques while sharing stories of cultural and traditional practices. This gives the Elders who reside in Fairbanks the opportunity to socialize while passing on their knowledge to those who want to learn. While they teach beadwork, the Elders tell stories of how they were raised.
“I am so happy to be a part of Denakkanaaga; we get to know each other and we get visitors from all over,” Dr. Fleagle said. “It’s so amazing to see the children’s faces when we tell the stories of how we grew up!”
As the Elders share their stories, they are passing on knowledge to the next generation regarding cultural values, art, traditions, language and the Native way of life. Their stories validate the experiences of Alaska Native people and encourage others to keep the Native voice strong in unity for positive action.
“As an Elder, I see the urgency to know Native traditions and Native protocols,” Denakkanaaga First Chief Luke Titus said. “We are the Elders now and we have to think about what part of our Native traditions we are going to leave for our people.”
Denakkanaaga provides a safe place for those who are interested in learning more about Native culture, language and traditions.
“The knowledge our Elders have is phenomenal,” McConnell said. “They have so much wisdom and I have learned so much from them. It’s a joy and an honor to work on their behalf.”
For more information on Denakkanaaga, visit www.denakkanaaga.org.