CIRI’s 2008 Shareholder of the Year is Jon Ross, the president and chief executive officer of the Alaska Native Heritage Center. In his five-year tenure at the helm of the Anchorage-based cultural center and museum, Ross has developed and improved the Heritage Center’s facilities and programs, to the benefit of not only Alaska Natives, but all Alaskans and the many visitors to the state that come through Anchorage.
One of Ross’s accomplishments has been further developing the Heritage Center’s facilities, particularly the six authentic life-sized Alaska Native dwellings situated around Lake Tiulana just outside of the center, all while handling more than 100,000 visitors each year.
Ross and his staff have supported the broader Anchorage community by facilitating cultural awareness workshops and training sessions, including participants from federal agencies, local businesses and radio stations, the armed forces and numerous nonprofit organizations. Ross and his staff also played an important role in the effort to give Anchorage’s new Dena’ina Civic & Convention Center a name that recognizes and honors the region’s original inhabitants.
One of Ross’s priorities has been youth and their role in securing the future of Alaska Native cultures. He sees Alaska Native young people as our future Elders and aims to arm them with a cultural foundation that will make them successful in the 21st century. To accomplish this goal, Ross helped institute the Heritage Center’s summer and winter programming aimed at teaching young people not only about their culture, but also to be proud of who they are.
One of these youth-focused efforts is “Principles of Cultural Knowledge: Continuing Native Ways of Being,” the Heritage Center’s summer internship program. This program teaches the interns (ages 14 to 25) skills and information, such as survival and subsistence skills and Alaska Native arts, from elders and tradition bearers not only at the beginning of their internship, but throughout the summer. The program also teaches them professional skills, such as stage presence, public speaking and customer service. Interns can earn salary increases throughout the summer by mastering these skills. This motivates them to advance their knowledge and skills and teaches them the value of hard work, an important lesson in Alaska Native cultures.
Ross Is Dena’ina Athabascan and Scottish. He has been actively studying his Dena’ina language, and creating systems that help others learn the language.