Rural Alaskan youth are encouraged to pursue higher education in order to enhance individual and community resilience. However, the dwindling number of youth that return to their home communities after attending post-secondary education is a concern. In the context of Native communities, some argue that a university degree has little value and prevents the youth from returning. At face value, this presents a dilemma in which rural Alaska Native youth must choose between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ ways of life – between staying or leaving. However, this process is more complex than can be understood from these dichotomies. This paper presents research done with an Alaska Native community (2011–2012), focusing on the role of youth in community resilience. Rather than the question of staying or leaving, maintaining a connection to the community is the main driver of youth mobility. The village does not try to control the pathways of its youth but works to instill a feeling of belonging in the youth by involving them in community planning and guaranteeing jobs and housing. By actively shaping its institutions and linking individual ambition with community well-being, the community is able to transform otherwise challenging conditions into sources of empowerment and resilience.