Inaugural CIRI C3 Experience a Success

Young shareholders and descendants immerse themselves in Alaska Native culture while planning for college and future careers

By Darla Graham, CIRI Shareholder Programs manager

Fifteen young shareholders and descendants turned out for the CIRI C3 Experience, held Aug. 13 to 15 in Anchorage and at Birchwood Camp in Chugiak, Alaska.

The Denai’ina phrase “un nitqetni” translates to “they’re calling one another to come.” It was the theme behind the first-ever CIRI C3 Experience, a three-day, two-night camp designed to foster leadership skills in CIRI shareholders and descendants ages 15 to 19, help prepare them for higher education and careers, and teach them about the rich and varied cultural heritage of CIRI’s Alaska Native shareholders.

Held Aug. 13 to 15 in Anchorage and at Birchwood Camp in Chugiak, Alaska, campers heard from Alaska Native professionals and engaged in collaborative exercises to hone their skills to successfully apply for college, draft the perfect essay, and learn about scholarship and internship opportunities. They also engaged in Alaska Native cultural activities, ranging from traditional games and dances to learning about the history of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). Transportation, housing and meal costs were covered by CIRI.

C3 stands for college prep, careers and culture. These elements formed the pillars of the camp and were the result of feedback received from young shareholders and descendants when asked what CIRI could do to better engage and support them. The feedback was provided in connection with a survey CIRI conducted on behalf of its Shareholder Participation Committees.

“The idea for the camp came about last summer when we asked ourselves, ‘How do we provide not only the opportunities for our young people, but access to the opportunities?’” recalled CIRI summer intern Autumn Olson, who interned in CIRI’s Human Resources department in 2017 and 2018. “Covering costs so as not to place an undue financial burden on participants and their families was a big part of this.”

Any CIRI shareholder or confirmed descendant ages 15 to 19 with a serious interest in higher education and professional development was invited to apply to the CIRI C3 Experience. Applicants were required to submit an application and a personal statement expressing their interest in the camp. Of the 15 applicants ultimately selected, many had never set foot in Alaska.

The CIRI C3 Experience schedule was jam-packed with a range of activities, programs and workshops. First up: an overview of ANCSA and CIRI’s land story with Roy Huhndorf, CIRI’s former president and CEO (1975-1995) and a current CIRI Board member; CIRI executive Greg Razo; and former CIRI Shareholder of the Year (2014) Aaron Leggett, who serves as curator of Alaska history and culture at the Anchorage Museum. Other cultural activities included painting traditional Tlingit raven designs, learning traditional tattooing practices from Inupiaq artist Holly Nordlum and engaging in traditional dances, games and songs.

On the careers and college-prep front, participants received guidance on how to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, apply for scholarships, and tell personal and impactful stories for their college application essays. Guests from the Alaska Native Student Council at the University of Alaska Anchorage spoke about the transition from high school to college, and campers received tips from CIRI’s summer interns about how to make the most of their future college experiences.

Alaska Native career professionals and CIRI staff members jumped at the opportunity to engage with the group, making the trip out to camp to provide career insight and guidance. Mini-mentoring sessions complemented the career exploration activities led by Cook Inlet Tribal Council.

“C3 was an amazing experience,” said Noah Wittman, age 19, of Washington. “I felt a great connection to everyone in the group; by the end, it was like a big family. I wish I could do it all again next year with the same people.”

The CIRI C3 Experience would not have been possible without the help and support of summer interns Charles “Chas” Anderson, Rachel Crosley, Autumn Olson and Ron Perry; CIRI staff and executives; representatives from CIRI-affiliated nonprofit organizations; and the many individuals from our community who enthusiastically donated their time and talents. CIRI’s values of Mission Driven and Unity truly shined during the CIRI C3 Experience.

The deadline to apply for the 2019 CIRI C3 Experience is March 15, 2019. More information will be made available in the coming months.