Darla Graham

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My dad (James “Jimmy” Graham) and grandmother (Mary Graham/Johnson) were both original CIRI shareholders. My sister Nicki and I grew up in Anchor Point and Homer, Alaska, where we practiced subsistence activities and grew up commercial fishing.

My grandmother and great-grandmother were born and raised in St. Michael, Alaska, but I didn’t grow up with a connection to my Yup’ik heritage. My grandmother didn’t really talk about being Native, but we did eat lots of fish! It wasn’t uncommon for a game animal to be hanging in our garage awaiting processing. Even though I hated the smell at the time, I’m thankful I can now remember these experiences and relate them to my heritage.

It wasn’t until I was older and began my career that I started to really explore my Alaska Native culture and heritage. I worked for Coastal Villages Region Fund, a nonprofit organization that works to create fisheries jobs for residents living along Alaska’s Bering Sea coast, and for seven years and I traveled all over the western coastline of Alaska and really immersed myself in Yup’ik culture for the first time. I made so many friends and had so many experiences that made me feel connected to my ancestors—being on the land and experiencing the lifestyle and culture first-hand is something for which I am forever grateful. It changes your perspective and challenges you to think about what is really important in life.

Since that time, I have always been dedicated to exploring cultures, and that is what CIRI means to me. It is a connection to the land and my family, my relatives and my fellow Alaska Native brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles. It is a connection that goes beyond the corporation and dividends, and I hope that is a lesson imparted to the next generation of CIRI shareholders.

For an amazing book on my family, check out “Our Fur-Fathers of Southwest Alaska” by my cousin Bev Sims. Through historical records and archives, she traces our family heritage back to the 18th century!

 

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