Sealaska shareholder descendant Andrea Ts’aak Ka Juu Cook will serve as one of two conference guides for this year’s First Alaskans Institute Elders & Youth Conference, which starts Sunday, Oct. 11. The three-day event will be held entirely online.
Cook, who will turn 21 this month, is Haida from Hydaburg. Cook spent the summer as a virtual intern for First Alaskans Institute (FAI) and Sitka Conservation Society; her work there and connections at FAI are what led to her selection as a guide for the virtual conference, where she will help introduce speakers and guide participants through the event.
Cook said during her internship, she participated in a regionwide initiative of the U.S. Forest Service to help determine the value of different tree species used for culture and heritage. Part of the job involved interviewing Elders and other community members about how they use local trees and recording their first-person accounts.
“I liked that the work involved gathering data that shares the voices of our community,” Cook said. “It was really positive reinforcement. I want to be an artist — a carver — and the resources I’ll be using are red and yellow cedar, so to be able to hear how the resource is valued by my people and also other people — how it should be protected and honored — was really valuable.”
Cook’s intern supervisor, Karla Booth, the Indigenous Leadership Continuum Director at FAI, approached her about the opportunity to speak during the Elders & Youth Conference.
“She basically told me she values the way I speak from the heart,” Cook said. “It was kind of a touching thing to hear.”
Cook is currently attending the University of Alaska Southeast full-time as she works toward an associate degree in Northwest Coast art. “I’ve been practicing formline since I was really young,” she said. “As part of my internship I got to do an apprenticeship at the carving shed in Hydaburg and got to really improve my formline. That was really exciting for me.”
Cook has been in Juneau for three years as she works toward her degree, and before that she attended Mount Edgecumbe High School in Sitka. She plans to return to live in Hydaburg eventually, but is enjoying life in Juneau. She recently completed a mural on the front of the Juneau Arts and Culture Center building, a raven and starry night theme.
“I love this community,” she said. “It’s really allowed me to indulge in the art I want to do. I get opportunities here that I haven’t had before. This just feels like another home away from home now.”
Elders & Youth will be held daily through Wednesday, Oct. 14. The theme of this year’s event is “Asirqamek Apruciluta” (Sugt’stun, Chugach), “Asisqamek Aprut’liluta” (Alutiiq), which translates to “We Are Making a Good Path.” The theme was selected to exemplify “our ancestral responsibilities to protect and advance our peoples and communities, including through this time of COVID-19.” The entire event is free, and First Alaskans Institute is encouraging young people engaged in distance learning throughout the state to participate. More details on each day’s events, as well as registration, are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2020-statewide-elders-youth-conference-tickets-81872702457.