Tlingit tribe’s Alyssa London prepares for life at Stanford

The secret to Alyssa London’s destiny lies somewhere between her passion for pow-wows, her desire to practice law and her ability to set track records.

The secret to Alyssa London’s destiny lies somewhere between her passion for pow-wows, her desire to practice law and her ability to set track records.

Each is a telling characteristic of the 2008 Inglemoor High graduate, who begins her freshman year at Stanford University this fall.

London is part of the Tlingit Indian tribe, which is rooted in southeast Alaska.

Forgetting her Native American heritage would be easy as she strides into the world of movers and shakers who are bred at places like Stanford.

Something about the way she embraced skinning and honoring a seal at a Tlingit culture camp last summer says that won’t happen.

“I learned about a whole different lifestyle there,” London said. “It was the most memorable experience I’ve had.”

Mary Wilber works with London on a regular basis as an adviser for the Native American Education Consortium, which provides academic assistance and cultural programs for young Natives in the region.

London has been involved with the group since she was a small child.

“Culturally, I think she’s blossomed like a rose,” Wilber said. “Over the years, she’s just really grasped what it means to be Indian, and I know she’s going to carry it on.”

London took it upon herself to stay connected with the consortium as she grew older and her parents stopped taking her to the meetings.

“I think it says something about a person when they take the initiative to come,” Wilber said. “I know she leads a busy life.”

London says her goal is to work on behalf of Native American interests as an attorney. She plans to represent Sealaska, the largest of 13 Alaska Native corporations created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.

Getting to that point will take a competitive edge.

Something about the way London set two track records at Inglemoor says she’ll succeed.

“I think she can do whatever she wants to do,” Wilber said. “She has the determination and the motivation. I think the world is open for her, and that’s exciting.”

The young go-getter recently won first place in the Young Native Writers Essay contest, sponsored by the Holland and Knight law firm.

Her prize included a $5,000 scholarship and a trip to Washington, D.C., where she met with U.S. Congressman Jay Inslee, toured the National Museum of the American Indian and visited the Smithsonian Institute’s artifact-conservation facility.

London also attended a public honor ceremony for the contest winners, where she spoke with former Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Tribe.

“It was great to talk with him because of all the work he’s done shedding light on the things that need to be done,” she said.

London hand-crafted her own ceremonial dress for the event, creating an authentic Tlingit robe, headdress and apron.

“Everything about the regalia is as traditional as it can be,” she said. “It all means a lot to me.”

The outfit is adorned with abalone-shell buttons, spiritual symbols such as the Tlingit Face of the Creator and a baby killer whale representing her clan crest and her potential for growth.

London’s award-winning essay explained her appreciation for the Tlingit culture camp and her admiration for Native American civil-rights lawyer William Paul Sr., who helped fight for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

That agreement provided Alaskan tribes with 44 million acres of land and $963 million. It also led to the creation of more than a dozen Native corporations like Sealaska, each of which operates companies that deal in anything from resource management to plastics.

London insists that the work of Native American activists isn’t complete, despite gains that have been made over the years.

“I think what people don’t understand is that there are so many things on the law side that still haven’t been dealt with,” she said. “Name, land and money. Those are the big issues.”

London says she chose to attend Stanford because of its thriving Native American community.

One of the school’s largest student-run events is a pow-wow that takes place every year during Mother’s Day weekend. The event drew more than 30,000 people in 2007.

Stanford’s Native Americans also have a history of advocacy. They campaigned successfully to change the school’s “Indians” mascot in 1972.

Sports teams at the university now go by the name “Cardinal.”

London has already lined up enough internships to keep herself busy through most of her undergrad years. She landed open-ended offers from Congressman Inslee, the Holland and Night law firm and the National Museum of the American Indian during her stay in D.C.

She’ll be participating July 26 in the Miss Seafair pageant. Winning the event would bring in even more scholarship money and a chance to represent Native American interests throughout the state.