To explore the issues surrounding Alaska Native men's health and wellness, we interview Haida/Tłingit basketball star turned community health advocate Damen Nanggaahlaangstangs Bell-Holter (Part 1) and health worker and local musician Tyler "2essentialz" Young (Part 2).
"I've seen so many breakthroughs I've seen so many men open up because of that vulnerability and it's not even about me being me, it's about creating that safe space."
"You have to hold each other accountable while doing the work, which is very tough."
"Native and brown men don't benefit from patriarchy." - Damen Bell-Holter
Damen Bell-Holter was shaped by the land and people of Hydaburg, a small village community located in
Southeast Alaska. Raised in a Haida experience, his upbringing was grounded in the rituals and practices that maintained traditional regenerative social ecological and biocultural relations. As a young boy, Damen learned to speak Xad Kil (his Native language), draw, dance, sing, hunt and fish.
Like many Native children, Damen also developed a love for basketball and worked to excel at the game
as he got older. Motivated to chase his dream of competing at the collegiate and professional levels, he
left Hydaburg at 14 years-old to attend Mount Edgecumbe High boarding school, followed by Ketchikan
High School where he would become the first graduate to sign a Division I Basketball National Letter of
Damen competed at Oral Roberts University from 2009 - 2013, finishing his career ranked in the school’s
top-10 in rebounds, blocks and wins, respectively. He earned all-conference accolades in 2010 and 2013, and was also named a mid-major-all-American his final year. After college, Damen became a
professional athlete spending time his rookie season with the Boston Celtics - becoming the first Alaskan
Native to play in an NBA game.
Damen’s professional career would take him to Hungary, Turkey, Finland, Germany and Italy.
In thanks to those who supported his dream and in hopes of giving back to Native American
communities throughout North America, Damen established his first basketball camp as a college
sophomore in 2010. Traveling this path of gratitude and supporting the next Native dreamers has taken
him to over 50 US and Canadian communities and engagement with thousands of Native American
His passion to uplift the health and wellbeing of Native communities has evolved beyond the gym and
today, includes group work, classes, workshops and providing keynote speeches. Believing in the power of shared story, Damen speaks candidly and authentically about his journey. From growing up in the Hydaburg community of 300 people as the only (one of few?) half-black Haida,
through his growth as a basketball player, and now as a proud young native man and father advocating
for youth and community. Damen shares his personal experiences with substance abuse, domestic
violence and suicide and how we can work together to adapt survival strategies to be strengths that
empower youth to dream and communities to thrive. Skilled at weaving old with new, reality and
resilience, strength and vulnerability, Damen unabashedly acknowledges his own trials and what he has
learned from the thousands he has engaged with in community work. Damen’s is the story of a young
Native man joining the fight to restore relations with self, family, and community. Nang Gaahlang
Stangs, Damen’s Xad Kil name meaning Big Enough to Hold Two Souls, will empower you to step into
your own soul’s journey, to be the resilient and solution-oriented peoples our ancestors are, and to
respect and revere Native wisdom to guide our way forward.
In 2018, Damen made the decision to retire from basketball to dedicate all of his time to working with
Native youth. Damen is now the Director of Youth and Community Development for Sealaska
Corporation (www.sealaska.com) based in Juneau, Alaska.