“Ciuqlirput ciuniurluku taugaam” or “towards our future only” which our family understands to mean ‘to draw upon our history and knowledge to think about our future and the ones coming behind us.’ ~ AlexAnna’s Grandmother, the late Mary Olympic
On the banks of Lake Iliamna in southwestern Alaska, pure potable water overflows from Alaska’s largest lake creating the Kvichak River that feeds into Bristol Bay. The village of Igiugig is situated here and named after ‘the place where Lake Iliamna is swallowed by the Kvichak River.’ Amongst the sand dunes and tundra are sandhill cranes and parki squirrels, wild geranium and beach grass. They all sway in the elements and stand through the seasons, as do the structures and personalities that make up the community of Igiugig, Alaska.
One such person, AlexAnna Salmon (Yup’ik, Aleut), grew up in this place and comes from a long line of stewards caring for its purpose and future. This legacy has been a constant guide for AlexAnna, during her studies at Dartmouth, where she gained degrees in Native American Studies and Anthropology, and since returning home and becoming Village President in 2008.
Armed with a clear vision rooted in “Ciuqlirput ciuniurluku taugaam” and genetic history reaching back thousands of years, AlexAnna works tirelessly to make Igiugig a community where future generations will want to live and raise their families. Explaining why traditional values and local knowledge are at the heart of every project the village undertakes, AlexAnna states: “Locally driven solutions are the only ones that will be sustainable and draw upon our ancient lived wisdom in place. We can use that, rooted in our Indigenous values system, to come up with self-determined solutions to the challenges we face. Whether it be climate, or sustainable economy, language revitalization, cultural revitalization, we need more holistic approaches, and we’re capable of that at a local level.”
Community and connection run deep in AlexAnna’s family. Her father, Dan Salmon, ran several local businesses and held positions of influence across the region, while her mother’s people have roots in Igiugig and Kokhanok going back generations. As a child, AlexAnna and her siblings were heavily influenced by their grandmother, Mary Olympic, who lived nearby. They grew up berry picking, egg picking, and putting up fish with their Gram. As a leader, AlexAnna understands that the ancient knowledge she learned as a child is essential for the future of the community: “It is important to raise our youth knowing how to live off the land because this teaches our Indigenous value system of reciprocity, respect, humor, humility, strength, and language.”
AlexAnna manages a tireless schedule and busy home life (she is a mother to six beautiful children) with a hopeful outlook and positive energy. Her tenure as Village President has proven highly productive. She has helped the community update resources and technology, created new jobs and opportunities for residents, and led a transition towards renewable energy. Successful initiatives include multi-million-dollar projects such as building a new health clinic, creating a booming agricultural complex, upgrading the village’s generator, and establishing a Yup’ik language program. With AlexAnna at the helm, the village has also embraced innovation, including the development of a unique hydro-powered alternative energy producer known as RivGen® that harnesses energy from the constant current of the Kvichak River. In the coming years, this RivGen® technology has the promise to transition Igiugig off diesel-generated power entirely.
Most impressively, all the work Igiugig has accomplished has been done using a consensus-based approach. While AlexAnna admits the technique front-loads the process a bit, ensuring that projects have full community buy-in helps generate the momentum necessary to overcome the inevitable difficulties of realizing such ambitious work.
Life in rural Alaska can be challenging, from acquiring fresh produce, to minding the weather to relying on air transport for services and materials, but along with the challenges come a lot of freedoms. AlexAnna explains: “I can raise my kids here and if they’re sick, I’m going to stay home for the day, or if it’s a beautiful sunny day, we’re going egg picking, take the day or the week off. It’s really flexible– I like the independence.” And independence is key to the people of Igiugig; they are not taking no for an answer, nor are they settling for the status quo. For Salmon, this independence is one of the reasons Igiugig has made such great steps towards its goals: “Our testimony of living in this homeland for over 8,000 years is the strongest voice we have for stewarding our lands and waters.”
AlexAnna is now focusing her time and energy on a longtime goal near to her and her community’s hearts–creating a community cultural center. Designed as the first modern fossil-fuel-free building in the region, the center will provide a venue for the cultural activities and learning that will continue to shape the future of the village. Building work begins in the spring, and AlexAnna’s work continues.
You can find more information about the amazing work AlexAnna is leading in Igiugig by clicking here. If you wish to connect with AlexAnna to discuss these projects or our broader work to support sustainable communities in the Bristol Bay region, you can reach her at email@example.com.