Encouraging a new generation of climate champions in Alaska


6 April 2021

One of Cassidy Kramer’s favourite things is going hunting and fishing with her father to help provide for her community. The Inupiaq community in rural Alaska, the US has been living off the land for thousands of years. Recently, Cassidy has witnessed firsthand animals’ disrupted migration patterns. For example, she and her father normally hunt caribou in the autumn, but there were none last year. She fears that her way of life could be gone before she starts a family of her own.

There are many opportunities for employment in Alaska, but obtaining a college education can be challenging for an Alaska Native living in rural Alaska. One of the real barriers to success is the high cost of tuition, which has more than doubled over the past 20 years, and the costs associated with relocating for college.

Kawerak, Inc. is an Alaska Native regional tribal consortium serving 20 federally-recognised Tribes of the Bering Strait region. Kawerak believes that more Alaska Natives would be interested in pursuing degrees and becoming successful college graduates if they felt financially secure and supported. Beginning in 2012, Oak provided a 10-year grant to Kawerak to help advance this vision through a scholarship programme named in honour of Caleb Pungowiyi, a renowned Siberian Yupik leader originally from Saint Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. For over 30 years, Caleb Pungowiyi was a strong advocate for conservation, subsistence, Alaska Native culture, the education of Alaska Natives, and the creation of vocal Alaska Native leaders who work cooperatively with businesses, advocacy groups, and government organisations to preserve and protect marine resources.

The aim of this prestigious scholarship is to increase the number of Alaskan natives to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees in the areas of arctic marine science, research and advocacy. “We continue to strengthen the pillars of our programme as we take a holistic approach to Inuit-led conservation advocacy, supporting our students in academia while also supporting their community involvement and cultural connections,” says Denali Whiting, director of Caleb Scholars.

Since inception, the Caleb Scholars programme has awarded 22 new scholarships and 45 continuing scholarships. A total of 10 Bachelors and five Master’s degrees have been earned by Caleb Scholars. In addition, many scholars also benefited from paid internships so they could gain firsthand experience in their fields of interest. “I am inspired every time I get to visit with our scholars, they are all so amazing!” says Denali. “The impact we have made so far feels mighty, and I know there is more to come.”

Cassidy Kramer is one of the students who has been able to avail of the Pungowiyi scholarship. “There’s a direct relationship with the ocean life and my life,” she says. “There is no middleman. I enjoy every minute of it.” Check out this BBC video to find out more about her story.  You can find out more about the Caleb Scholars programme here.

This grant falls under the Marine sub-programme of our Environment Programme, which promotes sustainable development; contribute to the integrity of marine ecosystems; and enhance the wellbeing of coastal and indigenous communities. You can learn more about that here.

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