Alaska Humanities Forum's rose urban rural exchange: connecting communities, building cross-cultural ambassadors.

Author:Evans-Dinneen, Laurie
Position:SPECIAL SECTION: Alaska Native Corporations

The, modern generation of Alaskas youth finds themselves as connected as any youth in the Lower 48 with cell phones, high speed internet, and more television channels than their parents ever dreamed possible. Alaskans also have no shortage of cross-cultural opportunities given all the tourists who visit the state each year in urban and rural communities.

However, outside of hunting and fishing trips, most urban folks never make it out to rural Alaska to understand those communities-and similarly, most rural folks come to town to shop or visit relatives rather than living the pace and routine of urban families. This sometimes leads to difficult discussions over important statewide concerns: subsistence rights, education funding, or health care. The Alaska Humanities Forum is building young states-men and -women, through its Rose Urban Rural Exchange (RURE) programs, to be cross-cultural ambassadors who learn about their own culture which leads to exploration of other cultures.

The Forum's Sister School Exchange program pairs urban and rural middle and high schools to give the students a glimpse into the lives and communities of their peers. They spend one week living with host families--go to school, eat meals together, meet culture bearers, attend church--and they explore areas of concern in the community, such as climate change, alternative power, local governance, and other educational/cultural issues that lead to understanding life in a community.

'Develop Understanding and Insight'

The Rose Urban Rural Exchange/Sister School Exchange program began in 1999 with a grant from the US Department of Education under the Alaska Native Education Equity Act program funds. The impetus for the program proposal was the Urban Rural Unity Study (September 2000) conducted by Commonwealth North to address issues of importance to the state and to provide insight that would lead toward a "unified vision of Alaska's future."

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While the state was grappling with subsistence at that time, then Senator Ted Stevens was discussing the issue with his Chief of Staff, Mitch Rose, of Anchorage (currently a government relations consultant in Washington, DC). Rose remarked that when he was young, his mother had to work in Bethel for an extended time, so she enrolled him in the Bethel elementary school.

"We were only there a short period," Rose said, "but when we left, my Native friends threw a party for me." He told the Stevens that if "urban...

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