Avery Herrman Sakamoto saw a lack of Alaska Native activities in her hometown, Petersburg, so she decided to do something about it.
Herrman Sakamoto, an 18-year-old Girl Scout ambassador, said she heard concerns from community members that youths were disconnected from Tlingit culture, so for her Gold Award project, she organized a Tlingit culture camp at Petersburg’s Sandy Beach Park.
“We introduced the Tlingit culture to everyone (at the camp),” Herrman Sakamoto said in a phone interview. “We summed up the history of it. How we’ve been here for 10,000 years. I showed them my regalia that I made. I introduced them to some food they’d never tried before.”
The Gold Award is a distinction similar to the Boy Scouts of America’s Eagle Scout award, and Gold Award earners must complete a service project. A culture camp is an event becoming more common in Southeast Alaska at which attendees are introduced to Alaska Native culture.
In Juneau, organizations including Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Sealaska Heritage Institute and Goldbelt Heritage Foundation have held culture camps. Culture camps have also been held in Hoonah, Kake and other places.
Petersburg is located about 115 miles south of Juneau. It has a population of 3,221, according to census data, and the population is about 75 percent white and 11 percent American Indian or Alaska Native.
Herrman Sakamoto’s culture camp was a free eight-hour event held last March attended by 12, and its menu included salmon roe, herring eggs, seaweed and other items. Herrman Sakamoto said family members helped demonstrate Tlingit song and dance, too.
She said Tlingit culture is something that has always been important to her because it is important to her mother.
“It’s really important to her, so it’s always been really important to me,” Herrman Sakamoto said.
Tina Sakamoto, Avery’s mother, said her children grew up subsistence gathering and learning to value Tlingit culture, and she is glad the culture camp could help pass some of that on.
“It’s just something I always took my kids out to do,” Sakamoto said in a phone interview. “My kids teethed on gumboots.”
Herrman Sakamoto was one of five Alaskan Girl Scouts to earn Gold Award honors and be recognized at a leadership luncheon last Thursday in Anchorage.
“Gold Award recipients are an elite group of Girl Scouts,” said Leslie Ridle, CEO at Girl Scouts of Alaska, in a press release. “They are go-getters, leaders, and the change-makers in their communities. We are so proud of them and can’t wait to see what they do next.”
Sakamoto said she is incredibly proud of and happy for her daughter.
“I know that when she was around 10 years old there was another girl in the troop she had witnessed getting her Gold Award, and she said ‘I want that,’ and I said, ‘Well, let’s go get it,’” Sakamoto said. “It’s amazing to me at such a young age that she knew what she wanted. It was really refreshing and filled me with pride.”
Herrman Sakamoto thanked both her mother and Sue Harai, her troop leader, for helping her reach a scouting summit.
A close relationship with her troop leader made it easier to stick to the program, Herrman Sakamoto said, and Sakamoto said Harai helped foster both her daughter’s interest in Tlingit culture and growth as a person.
“My troop leader is kind of my family, and it’s something that’s always been a part of me,” Herrman Sakamoto said of Girl Scouts. “It’s something I’ve learned I was passionate about. I saw it, and I wanted to do it, and I conquered it.”
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.