You Belong Here: Honoring Alaska Native Community Values
In June, we connected with Luz Smeenk, a Community Educator for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium’s (ANTHC’s) Diabetes Program. Smeenk is a registered dietitian with a Public Health background. She played a major role in the development of Camp Fire’s Wellness Curriculum and has partnered with the Rural Alaska Program since 2016.
When Smeenk discovered the rural program, she saw Camp Fire Alaska’s commitment to building relationships with Tribal councils and partners. She wanted to support our approach of interacting with the whole community while providing fun learning activities for kids.
“You don’t give a baby a lecture on the benefits of walking. Babies see something they want and then try to get it. The motivation is coming from them. We support their actions (crawling or walking) and serve as examples…engaging with kids exactly where [the kids] are at…that engagement in this learning relationship provides an opportunity to share wisdom and values along with knowledge and skill,” said Smeenk.
Camp Fire and Alaska Native communities both honor relationships, so it is possible to approach wellness in this way.
The Rural Alaska Program believes in involving the entire community in activities, as they value intergenerational connectedness. This honors Alaska Native beliefs in sharing wisdom and supporting one another, encouraging inclusion.
When developing the experiential community-based wellness program, Smeenk drew on her own experience of community and memories of her childhood. Specifically, the support of her immediate family as they met her needs for safety and support as well as emotional and spiritual wellness. In rural Alaska, wellness is also directly linked to Alaska Native traditions and a subsistence way of life.
When the wellness curriculum was being developed, Smeenk knew it should be experiential-based rather than information disseminated in a classroom setting.
“When you’re young, you try things. That’s how you learn! When we play a game about strong lungs, kids can see how strong their lungs are today. They can process these ideas themselves and make it their personal choice to stay tobacco-free.”
Another activity in the curriculum is making a food—like oatmeal—and then delivering it to Elders. This shows respect towards Elders and acknowledges community connections. Elders can see that they are welcome and that they have a new opportunity and place to share activities, which incorporates traditional wisdom and values. Beyond cooking and meal deliveries, our programming also involves creating time and space for Elders and other adults to participate in activities with youth and staff and teach them about cultural history, subsistence living, and more.
The community-building Camp Fire Alaska has done over nearly six decades can be a catalyst for realizing a more holistic representation of community knowledge, as Alaska Native community members join in curriculum development and Elders directly share their wellness knowledge and wisdom.