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Tobacco-Free Alaska > Community Spotlight > February 2017

February 2017 Community Spotlight: Genlaaghe’- A Play in one Act

Performers in Genlaaghe' in 2017

Interior Alaska has a lot to offer. The region not only boasts the highest mountain in North America but is home to a uniquely Alaskan ice hotel, berry-laden tundra, an abundance of wildlife, and is one of the best locations in the world to view the Northern Lights. In the heart of it all lies Alaska’s second largest city, Fairbanks, and in this city lives Frank Yaska, one of the state’s biggest allies for youth tobacco prevention.

Frank, a Tobacco Prevention Specialist, has worked at Tanana Chief’s Conference (TCC) for over ten years. TCC, an Alaska Native non-profit corporation provides a variety of services such as advocacy, job training, youth education, and health, wellness, and prevention services- that include screening, intervention, and education around tobacco use. Frank and TCC’s Tobacco Prevention Policy Director, Rebecca Fisher, work tirelessly to educate adults and youth about the dangers of tobacco use and encourage cessation in order to reduce use and mortality rates in their region. They create culturally relevant prevention material for the 42 villages TCC serves, continually work to translate material into Gwich’in, and strive to promote the message of “choose tradition, not addiction.” Recently, Frank has taken on a creative new approach to help this message reach youth.

A thespian and advocate for the arts, Frank is putting his passion for theatre to use in tobacco prevention, holding weeklong theater camps in six villages across the Interior to provide tobacco prevention education through public speaking, traditional Athabascan song, and improvisation. Youth, ages 12-18, learn fundamentals of theatre throughout the week, culminating in a performance of a play, written and directed by Frank and creatively interpreted by the youth. “Genlaaghe’,” Athabascan for “not good for you,” depicts the peer pressure that many Alaska Native youth feel around tobacco use. The camp drives home the theme that today’s youth are tomorrow’s chiefs and empowers them to tell big tobacco companies they do not want to be the next generation of addicts, that they have their friends, family, and village to live for. With a staggering 31% of Alaska Native youth reporting that they smoked in the past 30 days, Frank’s camp, play, and advocacy are sending a strong message to Alaska Native youth that they do not have to be part of this statistic.

Although Frank will admit it hasn’t always been easy, his passion, energy, and zest for life have kept him going in the face of resistance. Yet another powerful message for the youth he is working with. Break a leg, Frank!

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References
  1. Tanana Chiefs Conference. (2017). Who We Are. Retrieved from https://www.tananachiefs.org/about/who-we-are/
  2. State of Alaska. (2016). Tobacco Prevention and Control Regional Profile: Interior. Retrieved from Regional Profile: Interior