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When the Opening Ceremony let out, Josh and I ran across the street to Dark Horse Brewing Company and bought delicious coffees.

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I had a Banana Foster soy latte and I had never tasted a drink so good.  It beat our Starbucks by far.  Then Josh and I looked at my schedule.  I had my oral presentation in the afternoon and I was very nervous.  We decided to scope out the specific location of my presentation so I could relax and find it later.  We walked a couple blocks over to the Egan Center, then wandered downstairs and located my presentation room.  It was empty, so I stood at the podium and got a feel for the room.  Then Josh and I went in search of food downtown, settling on a place called Scottie’s Sub.  I got a vegetarian stir fry and ran through the gist of my presentation with Josh.  “It sounds really cool,” he said.  “Offshore wind turbine foundation design… very high-tech, and very relevant.”

Although Josh’s words were comforting, I was still very nervous.  He had to rush back to prepare for a presentation of his own, but I lingered a little longer.  Then I walked several blocks to the Anchorage beach.  I hadn’t seen it yet.  It was very cold and windy, so I threw on my hood and looked out across the water at the mountains in the distance.  I could see boats stalling here and there.

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I sat down on a bench and decided to call my mom.  “Can I practice my presentation?” I asked.  “I have an hour and I should run through it quickly.  It will be about 20 minutes long.”  “Sure,” she said.  As I began, some people came up the path near me.  I felt awkward, so I started walking back towards the Egan Center.  The surroundings and street crossings were so distracting that I trailed off more than once.  “This is taking too long,” I said at one point.  “I give up.  I’ll just do… something.”  Mom gave me some feedback, then wished me good luck as I went into the Center.

I decided to arrive early so as to watch the presentation before me and settle in some.  I apparently walked past the registration table and didn’t realize.  Once inside, I watched Kelsey Lopez from the University of Hawai’i – Manoa talk about manure research she did in New York.  It was a somewhat funny topic.  I looked around and saw several students had come to watch.  When Kelsey was done, I clapped and tried to look pleased for her.  The questions finished, I stood up and took my place.  I loaded my presentation, watched as people settled in, then got the cue and began.

I stuttered a couple times.  I was too nervous thinking about how much time I had left and all the things I had yet to say.  I talked about my companies and what brought me to this research, about the two types of foundations I used, the data relevant and the data not used, the models made, and what is left to be done and improved upon.  I got several questions, all positive.  I took advantage of these questions by elaborating slightly and flashing my knowledge.  I got a solid round of applause.  My photo was snapped, I was thanked for the great topic, and I packed up and walked out.

Josh followed me out.  He had come to watch, as he had promised.  “Did you see?  You had an audience,” he said.  “It was great, too.  Those students stayed from the presentation before,” he said, referring to Kelsey and her friends, “and there were some people there who I didn’t recognize.  I’m pretty sure they scoped out your project!”  “Really?” I asked, and he nodded.  That felt good to know.  As we turned the corner, we ran into a bunch of the Menominee group.  “Oh, we wanted to see your presentation but we couldn’t find it!” one lady said.  “How was it?”  I filled her in, then Josh and I ran across the street to a gift shop, The Kobuk, to buy some coffee.  “I want to see the ‘Evaluating Your Job Offer’ presentation next,” he said.  “Okay,” I said, and followed him there.

The presentation was a little slow, but I made a point of asking questions.  A woman sat in front of me and Josh and asked for a pen.  She was dressed in a Navy uniform of sorts.  She was very friendly and gave us information for a program she was representing.  We smiled, showed some interest, then decided to move on to the next thing – Student Orientation.  It was upstairs in the Egan Center.

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I took a little time at the booths downstairs before going up to the orientation.  There was one booth in particular that I found intriguing.  It was an old Yupik man with paintings.  He spent a long, detailed time telling me the symbolism behind his bright paintings.  He lingered a lot on this one piece of a woman with three faces.  The third face was actually a wooden mask of a raven that he hung over the front of the painting.  I really liked his paintings.  I love totem poles, and he had one of Arrowhead Mountain in Sitka with a Russian Orthodox steeple beside the totem pole.  It represented both European and Native cultures, Alaska, and the town of Sitka, which I remember having a shirt growing up that said Sitka and wishing I had been there.  I still haven’t been to Sitka, but I bought a copy of his painting.

At this event, we learned that over 600 nations were represented at this year’s conference.  Several youth speakers went on stage, including the fun representatives with their accents as well as some awkward speakers.  One Elder went on stage and extended an offer for any of us to visit his house in New Mexico and see his family any time.  His name was Stan and he preached advice about communication and technology in a traditional light.  It blew me away to hear Stan, an elder, tell us to all get on Twitter and hashtag this, that, and the other thing.  Then he got deep and stressed, very sternly, that it is our duty to protect our planet.  “You are the dream that the old ones dreamed,” he said.  “They survived for us.”  And it was that very way of thinking that made me nearly laugh out loud in recalling my friend at home who once told me, “Why should I care about the future?”  “Don’t you care about your children?” “Yes.”  “Grandchildren?”  “Yes.”  “Their grandchildren?”  “Not if I don’t ever know them.”  “How can you say that?  What about your ancestors and how they protected the planet for you.  Shouldn’t you appreciate that?  Try to do the same.”  “No,” he said.  “Why should I?”  Needless to say, he is not the least bit Native.

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Finally, I had found people who think like me.  At AISES, we were birds of a feather, flocking together.  We just chose to flock in a really cold place.

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That evening, Josh and I had dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse.  We ended up sharing a table with the woman we saw earlier, this time she didn’t have her uniform on.  She introduced herself as Christine and had us meet her friend, Alysse.  Neither of them were Native, but both looked like they could have been.  They were very nice and friendly.  Josh and I had to leave, though, to check out the Opening Reception which was supposed to be held at the Anchorage Museum.  We learned that it wasn’t, and the event held in its place was a poor substitution.  Instead, we returned to the Brewhouse and were pleased to discover that Christine and Alysse were still there.  Joining them was Jacob of the Mohawk Nation.  We spoke so long and intensely about our cultures that Josh eventually left, saying it was too late.  We stayed a few hours more, then walked outside and split off until we were all on our separate ways.  I was tired, but I was meeting people and having fun, just like I was supposed to.

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By the time I got back to the Alaskan Backpacker’s Inn, I had just enough energy to change, brush my teeth, and set my alarm before passing out on my crooked, toasty mattress.