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Arctic Youth Ambassadors Program

The Arctic Youth Ambassadors Program brings together diverse youth from across Alaska to serve as ambassadors for their communities and country in building awareness at home and abroad about life in the Arctic.

The inaugural cohort served for a course of two years, which coincided with the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council from 2015-2017. During this time, the youth ambassadors shared both their local perspective on Arctic issues and priorities and new knowledge they gained by engaging with partners and leaders from around the world. They added their voices and solutions to a global conversation about how to sustain communities, cultures and the environment in a changing Arctic. To read more about the inaugural cohort, click here.  The 2017-2019 cohort of Arctic Youth Ambassadors in worked with the Arctic Council’s Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group, which was chaired by the U.S as Finland assumed leadership of the Arctic Council.

Changes in the Arctic did not happen overnight, and some of the challenges the region (and the world) faces, such as climate change, cannot be solved overnight. Younger generations will play an important role in addressing these challenges. The Arctic Youth Ambassadors is one group of knowledgeable youth from across the state who understand the Arctic and its people and can explain it from a youth perspective for their peers across the United States and around the world.

Follow their lives and stories here and across social media by tracking #ThisArcticLife #USArcticYouth

The Arctic Youth Ambassadors program was originally established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of State in partnership with nonprofit partner Alaska Geographic. This page is hosted by Alaska Geographic.


In the News

Arctic Youth Ambassadors have been involved in programs and meetings around Alaska, in other states, and as far as Norway, Iceland, and France. Through interviews, media coverage, and blogs, their stories are spreading far and wide, raising awareness  about the changing Arctic and inspiring greater public involvement.

To learn more about the Arctic Youth Ambassadors program, see this video to the left.


2017-2019 United States Arctic Youth Ambassadors

Alliana Salanguit
Manila, Philippines/Anchorage, Alaska
Alliana Salanguit was born in Manila, Philippines and moved to Anchorage, Alaska when she was five years old- it has been her home since. She is pursuing a degree in Economics with minors in Mathematics, Political Science, and French at the University of Anchorage-Alaska. Alliana has participated in multiple Model Arctic Councils and student forums. She also interned for the Municipality of Anchorage under the Mayor’s Office and now works as legislative staff for a state representative. She hopes to pursue a career in economic policy analysis and address income inequality and sustainable development.
Laurel Katchatag
Unalakleet Alaska
Laurel Katchatag is Inupiaq and from Unalakleet Alaska. She graduated from Frank A. Degnan High School in 2014 and is a senior at North Park University in Chicago, Illinois. Laurel is an active member of various student clubs at NPU and has interned with First Alaskan’s Institute and Norton Sound Health Corporation. She is taking a semester off from college and works in administration at NSHC in Nome, Alaska. After graduating with her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology, Laurel hopes to return to Nome to continue working for NSHC and the healthcare of her people. She enjoys traveling to different countries, meeting new people, and sharing food with others. You can find her in coffee shops listening to podcasts and audiobooks, playing board games, playing outdoors, or hanging out with her family.
Tasha Elizarde
Juneau, Alaska
Tasha Elizarde is a lifelong Alaskan from the state’s capital city, Juneau. Tasha was involved in many activities while in high school; her favorites included being a peer health educator with the Juneau Teen Council, writing through her freelance business, organizing environmental events through Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, and competing in Academic Decathlon. Since graduating from Juneau-Douglas High School in 2017, Tasha has taken a gap year to work for a law firm in Louisiana, the Alaska State Legislature, and to travel around the Philippines, Thailand, and Alaska. Not quite willing to give up the snow, Tasha left Juneau to attend Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, where she’s studying Economics, Public Policy, Communications, and Cognitive Science. She hopes to use her education and past work experience to better understand, tell the stories of, and solve problems impacting Alaska. Tasha is excited to use her role as an Arctic Youth Ambassador to advance the dialogue on arctic issues in an international setting.
Eben Hopson
Utqiagvik/Barrow, Alaska
Eben Hopson, 17, is a Senior at Barrow High School. He was born in Anchorage, but raised in Utqiagvik, both a traditional and modern way of life. Eben has been taking part in the traditional Spring and Fall Whaling hunts his community partakes in the State of Alaska the past few years. His interests are in the field of Photography and Cinematography. Eben has produced 2 films, 1 about how climate change has affected his community, and about the recent fall storms Utqiagvik has experienced. He plans to go to film school, and graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Film Production. His Grandfather and namesake, Eben Hopson Sr., was an influential Alaska Native Leader and the 1st Mayor of the North Slope Borough. He feels that his aspiration for a paramount role in his community, Alaska, and the Arctic, comes from his grandfather. Eben has noticed a lot change, such as the weather, seasons, and temperatures in his community and the surrounding villages, and hopes that being an Arctic Youth Ambassador will help his goal of getting his community and other communities affected by climate change, noticed by big media networks, who will help him and his community deal with Climate Change.
Kate McWilliams
Bethel, Alaska
Kate McWilliams was born and raised in Bethel. In high school, she was active in sports and student government which allowed her to travel all over the state and engage with other Alaskan youth to learn about the diversity of experiences and challenges that exist in Alaska. Kate is currently a sophomore at Pomona College in Southern California, where she studies Sustainability in the Built Environment and Ecology. She plans to work in the non-profit sector, educating people about socially sustainable practices and pushing for cleaner, greener communities. She enjoys being outside as often as she can– on the water, in the mountains, covered in snow, or at home on the spongy tundra.
Shania Wells
Noorvik, Alaska
Shania Wells is 17 and comes from Noorvik Alaska, a small village above the Arctic Circle. She enjoys living off the land by picking berries with her family, helping with fishing season, making seal oil and storing fresh caribou.
Keeping the land clean is very important to her, she participates in various community activities, such as Spring trash pick-up, community gardening, and volunteering at her local city building to teach younger teenagers how to live a healthy, clean, and humorous life.
She has been involved in student government since her freshman year, she served as vice president and later becoming president her senior year of high school. She attends biannual conferences focusing on issues that are controversial or deleterious to not only schools, but also communities. She has been in Teck John Baker Youth Leaders, in which she is a Youth Leader Captain. This program focuses on suicide prevention and anti-bullying. She also participates in cross country running and volleyball.
She volunteers her time to be a teacher’s aide in an elementary class because she felt her presence among the young students would be very beneficial to their future. She is overall dedicated to the wellbeing of her land, people, and way of life. And she hopes to one day fulfill her goal of teaching in rural Alaska.
Margaret 'Kayla-Jean' Booth
Kotzebue, Alaska
My name is Margaret ‘Kayla-Jean’ Booth. I am 17 years old. My Inupiaq name is ‘Saqik’, I was named after my great-grandfather, Saqik Sours. I am currently a senior in High School. I grew up in Kotzebue, Alaska, located 30 miles above the Arctic Circle. I enjoy spending time with my grandparents who live at camp year-round. I enjoy living a subsistence life style, as well as spending time outdoors. I plan on attending University of Alaska Fairbanks. I’ve always wanted a cabin of my own, to live and grow with the land. I plan on building my own cabin in the years to come, and spending a majority of my time there, just like my grandparents.
Benjamin Hunter-Francis II
Marshall, Alaska
Greetings, my name is Benjamin Hunter-Francis II, I am Yup’ik Eskimo and I am 19 years old and recently graduated from West Anchorage High School. I was born and raised in Marshall, Alaska which is in Southwest Alaska on the Yukon River. While I was in Marshall, my parents took me hunting, fishing, gathering wood, being around my aunts, uncles, and cousins when we go and visit them along the Yukon River, and on business trips to Anchorage. In 2010 I moved to Anchorage with my mother.
The hobbies I like is being around family and friends, listening to music, participate in outdoor activities like camping and berry picking, hikes, watch sports like hockey, basketball and little football. Since I graduated, I’ve participate on the job with Municipality of Anchorage with Youth Employment in Parks (YEP) and my employment lead me to pursue a career in landscaping, at this time I am waiting for acceptance into the Alaska Job Corps.I am passionate of my culture and I feel that our generation should keep our cultures alive by having Alaska Native language classes and Arts and crafts, and Native Dancing in the Urban cities in the near future. I love to drum when given the opportunity and dance when I feel like dancing. Once you get in to drumming and dancing, you would have a lot of fun and you would want to learn as many songs as you can so that we can keep our stories and traditions alive and pass it down to the next generation and make our ancestors proud. I am excited to be an Ambassador and to sharing my stories/experience, about my community and learn as much on being a leader within your community!
Alejandro Soto
Anchorage, Alaska/Dominican Republic
Alejandro Soto is a graduate student from East Anchorage High School and currently attends the University of Alaska Anchorage where he is majoring in Environment & Society with a concentration in Social Science, and minoring in Political Science. During the past few years, he has served a member of the Alaska Geographic Youth Leadership Team, A member of the National Park Conservation Association (NPCA) Next Generation Advisory Council, and as a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar. Alejandro’s ultimate goal is to help diversify the field of Conservation and introduce people to the beautiful outdoors. As a member of the Arctic Youth Ambassador Program Alejandro hopes to learn how he can connect or perhaps bring awareness about what is happening in the rural communities of Alaska to the urban neighborhoods of Alaska but as well to rest of the world.
Vanessa Farley Duhrsen
Anchorage, Alaska
Vanessa Farley Duhrsen is grew up in Anchorage. She is a senior at West Anchorage High School, and has been a leader in numerous environmental and youth organizations including Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, West High’s Partner’s Club, Nordic Journeys, and Citizens Climate Lobby. As a tribal member of the Chippewa Cree, Vanessa cares deeply about protecting indigenous culture, advocating for climate change mitigation in order to preserve Native ways of life. Vanessa enjoys exploring the wilds of Alaska on foot, bike, and boat, and is passionate about protecting Alaska by advocating for environmental conservation and empowering others to take action.
Brian Conwell
Unalaska, Alaska
Brian Conwell has lived in Unalaska, Alaska for his entire life where he was brought up by his dad from Montana and his mom from Japan. He graduated from Unalaska City High School where he enjoyed taking on leadership roles in student government, Teen Council, National Honor Society, and Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA). He also played basketball and participated in the One Arm Reach event of Native Youth Olympics. Since becoming involved in the world of environmental advocacy when he joined AYEA as a Junior, he has thrown himself at environmental issues in Alaska, helping to start an AYEA chapter in Unalaska, joining the board of The Alaska Center, and being involved in Our Children’s Trust. Someday, he hopes to become a leader in his state that can inspire others. Next fall, he will be attending Harvard College to study either Economics or Social Sciences.
Gabriel Stenek
Shishmaref, Alaska
Gabriel Stenek is a 17 year old junior from Shishmaref, Alaska. Gabriel is Inupiaq, was born in Nome, Alaska, and attends Shishmaref High School. Gabriel is interested in sports, snow machine riding, and subsistence hunting. He participates in extracurricular activities such as basketball, volleyball, cross country running, and youth leadership. In his teenage years Gabriel has noticed the effects of climate change near his hometown of Shishmaref. Witnessing the changes around him gave Gabriel a passion to advocate the negative effects of climate change and to inform others on the toll climate change takes on earth.

Follow the Arctic Youth Ambassadors on social media!