Keemuel Kenrud drives a boat in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Keemuel Kenrud
Keemuel Kenrud comes to conservation naturally.
His grandfather, Pete Abraham, works for the Service at Togiak National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. He raised Kenrud to respect the land and its natural inhabitants.
Kenrud quickly found a new world opening up. “I would explore the wilderness and observe birds and game to learn how they lived their daily lives. What came from those experiences was something I couldn’t learn from a book,” he says.
Kenrud fishing in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Keemuel Kenrud
This past summer, Kenrud joined his grandfather, as a Refuge Information Technician (RIT) for Togiak Refuge, a job he loves and respects. As an RIT, he plays an important role both to the Service and to Alaska Natives by being the physical and cultural bridge between the two.
He teaches Service staff about cultural issues and acts as a translator, adviser, biology technician and outreach specialist. In addition, he participated as a youth facilitator at several coastal resilience workshops in Alaska.
And he serves as an Arctic Youth Ambassador, playing a critical part in this unique program established by the Service, State Department and Alaska Geographic.
As an Arctic Youth Ambassador, he builds conservation awareness at home and abroad about lives in the Arctic and some of the issues impacted by climate change. One key topic for him is his Native culture and values.
His grandfather gave him a deep understanding and appreciation of them, and now he seeks to instill them in others.
“Being outdoors is important to our Yup’ik culture,” says Kenrud. Photo by USFWS
Being an Arctic Youth Ambassador “gives a 19-year-old like me the opportunity to voice my opinions and beliefs about my culture, and why it is important to spread the knowledge of who we really are.”
But, as fewer people embrace the outdoors, Kenrud says, “My Yup’ik culture is slowly washing away.”
That’s where the Service and the RIT program come in — reaching Alaska Natives and others no longer at home in nature.
Kenrud says he thinks the Service does “a good job reaching out to people.”
But, as with everything, he adds, “there is room for improvement.”
He mentions several ideas to help children find their connection with nature, including “having more school visits.”
Kenrud escorts Togiak National Wildlife Refuge Supervisor Ronnie Sanchez on a trip on the Togiak River. Photo by USFWS
He’d also like to help Togiak with a program Abraham started, “River Ranger for a Day.” The program is intended to get children to feel the connection to nature by exposing them to the beauty of the Togiak River and its diversity of wildlife.
Programs such as River Rangers and Arctic Youth Ambassadors make Kenrud’s hope for future generations — “that they get to experience the power of nature, in the same way I’ve experienced it, and our grandparents before us” — possible.
MATT TROTT, External Affairs, Headquarters
|This article is a preview of the winter issue of Fish & Wildlife News, our quarterly magazine. The issue is due online in finished form in early February.|