For Heidi Kritz, few things are more important than the shimmering flesh of a wild Alaska salmon. It means food, tradition, family and countless other things stirring at the heart of her Yupik heritage.
Kritz is one of several youth from the Bristol Bay area recently recognized for outstanding service to their community through the Spirit of Youth Award Program.
Kritz, who will be a senior at Mt. Edgecumbe High School next fall, was nominated in the science and environment category for her efforts advocating for Alaska’s wild fish — both in the water and on our plates.
The young leader has roots all over Bristol Bay, having grown up in Togiak, spending summers at a family fish camp in Aleknagik, and going to school in Dillingham.
While her advocacy of wild salmon and environmental awareness has taken many forms, she began her efforts as an activist.
“My focus on salmon is because of the Pebble Mine,” Kritz said, adding that she sees the mine as a threat to not only her family’s food source, but an entire way of life.
Kritz focuses on making other young people aware of this important issue, hoping to instill some of her own passion in them.
Most recently, Kritz produced a flyer called Salmon Series, and distributed it around her school. The flyer features salmon facts, a life-cycle description, Native values relating to nature and other notes on the environment, Kritz said. She helped place similar fish facts in the school newspaper.
Kritz is a member of Mt. Edgecumbe’s AYEA — Alaska Youth for Environmental Action. Through her involvement with that, she took part in an initiative to bring the Fish to Schools program to Mt. Edgecumbe. Those efforts resulted in the decision to serve fish to the students of that school twice a month.
Her involvement in environmental issues began with a group on her home turf with the Leadership and Assets Youth Coalition (LAYC) in Dillingham, a group dedicated to making a positive impact on their peers and community at large.
“They have truly done some amazing things,” wrote teacher Kathy McLinn. “They have sponsored wellness conferences, formed youth and elders gatherings and councils, run summer programs for youth, beautified Dillingham, taught anti-bullying to kids, given youth leadership presentations across the state, fought for protection of Bristol Bay, formed a youth court, and much more.”
Freshman Makenzie Flensburg, also a member of LAYC, is another Spirit of Youth Award nominee. She was recognized for her promotion of anti-bullying efforts.
McLinn called both girls inspirational, hard-working young women, contributing to the vitality of their community.
“In our test-crazed climate in school these days, often important life skills, such as leadership and service are treated as softer more dispensable skills,” McLinn wrote. “But in fact, those are the very skills that make reading, writing, and math so meaningful.”
Kritz doesn’t plan to let go of her environmental ambitions any time soon, but the high school senior’s plans branch into other realms. Namely pastry.
“I would like to go to a culinary arts school,” Kritz said. “Right now I really want to be a baker and make cupcakes.”