- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Alaska Native language and its cultural importance are the focus of the annual First Alaskans Institute’s Elders and Youth Conference that’s taking place this week in Anchorage.

The three-day yearly event kicked off Monday. It will be followed by the annual conference of the Alaska Federation of Natives that runs from Thursday through Saturday.

Devlin Anderstrom, a 17-year-old Yakutat High School senior and Tlingit language apprentice, gave the keynote speech at the downtown Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center, the Alaska Dispatch News (https://is.gd/qreHOk) reported.

“Our language connects us to our land, connects us to our past and to the people who love us more than anybody else. Our ancestors. Our grandparents. Our parents,” Anderstrom said.

The teenager gave his speech first in Tlingit, then in English, telling conference attendees that the values of elders and ancestors only really come across in the Native language.

“There are things that just cannot be expressed in English, that we can express through our language,” he said.

Also attending the conference Monday were members of the new Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council. The panel was created two years ago by state lawmakers and has been collecting recommendations statewide on saving Alaska Native languages.

Council members on Monday presented recommendations, such as calling for research on the use of Native languages across Alaska and seeking more information on existing opportunities to learn Native languages.

One of the council members is Bernadette Yaayuk Alvanna-Stimpfle, who has taught Inupiaq for years and is the Eskimo heritage program director for Kawerak Inc., a regional nonprofit corporation providing services to Bering Strait residents. On Monday, she apologized to those who were never taught their Native language or were punished for speaking it.

Also on Monday, participants of the conference gathered into various language circles to continue the discussion.

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Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, https://www.adn.com

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