By CIRI summer intern Lauren Culhane (Unungan/Aleut)

My name is Lauren Culhane, and I am honored to intern with CIRI in the Corporate Affairs department this summer. I am connected to CIRI through my father, Tim Culhane, and my grandmother, the late Sharon Lee Oskolkoff-Culhane, both original CIRI enrollees. I was born and raised in Anchorage and currently attend the University of Colorado Boulder, pursuing degrees in media studies and sociology.

My family are members of the Ninilchik tribe, which was strongly influenced by the Russian Orthodox church and comprises a blend of cultures, primarily Athabascan, Alutiiq/Sugpiaq and Unungan (Aleut). Growing up, I learned what it means to be a proud Alaska Native person primarily from my grandmother and other members of my father’s family. Although I obtained a valuable education from the Anchorage School District, the curriculum did not include the rich history, vibrant culture and beautiful traditions of my heritage.

My grandmother, Sharon, resided in Ninilchik until her passing in 2018. Since her mother was Russian and her father was a member of the tribe, she embodied the two most dominant cultures in Ninilchik. She taught her children and grandchildren subsistence fishing, how to clean the fish with an ulu, clamming and, most importantly, how to prepare traditional Russian and Native dishes. This year, thanks in part to my late grandmother’s efforts, the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Chapel in Ninilchik (built in 1901) will be recognized as a historic landmark, ensuring that valuable culture and artwork will be preserved and maintained for future generations. Additionally, my aunts and great-uncle are working to develop the Q’eschił Heritage Center, which will honor the distinctive identity and heritage of the Ninilchik tribe.

As we look ahead to the next 50 years, I feel that CIRI can best serve its Shareholders and Descendants by encouraging young people like myself to learn about and celebrate our Alaska Native history, and providing Shareholders and Descendants educational and cultural program opportunities. Ultimately, to establish a strong future with visionary leaders, we must preserve and honor our past.

Until next time,

Lauren Culhane