Hearing from Alaska Native and Polynesian Communities on Anchorage’s Diversity: A web video series.
The diversity of Anchorage residents is skyrocketing. Though the Metro Area was still 69 percent white in 2009, the percentage of Hispanics increased 67 percent, Asian Pacific islanders increased 41 percent and Alaska Natives Increased 28 percent between 2000 and 2009 according to the Harvard School of Public Health. While the city’s white population only increased 10 percent during the same period
Exploring the city’s diverse cultures, languages and stories, The Northern Light is beginning a six part series of web videos: “Cultures of Anchorage.” Part one and two on TheNorthernLight.org feature speeches by Yupik Community Leader Quinten Simeon and president of the Polynesian Association of Alaska, Lucy Hansen.
Quinten Simeon won the Alaska Native Oratory Competition three years in a row and earned the Student Diversity Award as a UAA student in 2004. He delivered the 2006 UAA commencement address alternating between English and Yupik, to deliver a message encouraging students to hold on to their dreams.
Simeon now serves as the Education and Training Coordinator for the Knik Tribal Council.
In Cultures of Anchorage Part one Simeon explains Alaska’s 21 indigenous cultures and how they can be divided into five culture groups.
“When you say Alaska Native, it’s like saying European. It’s that diverse,” Simeon said.
Lucy Hansen is the President of the Polynesian Association of Alaska and has worked tirelessly to organize and support her community for decades.
Simeon and Hansen describe common experiences of growing up in communities of around 300 people, learning English as a second language, and overcoming difficulties to graduate from high school before coming to Anchorage.
“Its another universe, another world” Simeon said, describing coming to Anchorage from his home in the village of Aniak on the Kuskoquim River. Thoughts echoed by Hansen, who grew up on the “tiny” island of Minua in American Samoa, before arriving in Anchorage in 1985.
Polynesian culture is third most common culture in the Anchorage School district, according to Hansen, with nearly 5,000 Polynesians in Alaska.
Simeon and Hansen are both Board members of the Anchorage chapter of Bridge Builders. An organization with a long history of bringing different ethnic communities together to help them work towards the needs of their communities, according to Malcolm Roberts, a Founder and past President of the organization.
“We believe really strong communities go beyond tolerance and build really strong friendships between cultures and share in each other’s riches. It’s a great way to head off hostility,” Roberts said.
Violence and misunderstanding between different ethnic groups has occurred repeatedly in Anchorage. Leaders like Hansen and Simeon often end up stepping in to help find a resolution.
“The elders came because the police couldn’t get this Samoan kid to put his gun down,” Hansen said, telling the story of a shooting that tested the Anchorage’s Polynesian community.