• Youth creating sustainable communities in rural Alaska

      Gram-Hanssen, Irmelin (2012-08)
      In this thesis I discuss the ability of the people of Igiugig to define their strengths and vulnerabilities as a village, and their ability to create innovative solutions in their conscious efforts to become a more sustainable village now and in the future. I argue that this process provides the village of Igiugig with a high degree of self-determination and increases its ability to move into the future on its own terms rather than terms defined solely by world politics and economics. A key component of Igiugig's process of becoming more sustainable is the accommodation and empowerment of its youth. The village makes an active effort to instill a feeling of belonging in its youth and encourages the young people to take an active part in the shaping of the village. The youth, categorized in this thesis as residents from age fourteen to thirty-one, make up roughly one third of the population in Igiugig and they contribute with a diverse set of resources that combined greatly enhances the strength of the community. Although all residents play an important part in Igiugig's sustainability efforts, it is this group of young people that in many ways is leading the development of the community. In order to accommodate the youth in this way and enable them to take on leadership the village has had to open up to change and compromise. While this has come with certain challenges, it has also to some degree strengthened the village by increasing diversity and thereby the ability to respond to change without jeopardizing the quality of life of the people living there. With this thesis I attempt to show the strengths of a rural Alaskan community and explore the idea that there is tremendous potential for creating innovative and healthy solutions to the problems faced by many rural villages, in Alaska and elsewhere. I also emphasize the great need for open communication about values and goals within a community, and the equally important need for intergenerational collaboration and acceptance. Furthermore, I argue that state and federal policy can both aid and hinder this positive change, and that rural villages need to be shown the trust and help needed for them to become more sustainable.