FORUM Magazine | Fall 2020

Page 1


FA L L 2 02 0

Stephen Cysewski, Photographer Hymns in Cup’ig Language and Pictographs Women’s Power League of Alaska Four Decades of Alaska Quarterly Review



s I reflect on the past year, I find myself overwhelmed by the strength and character of Alaskans. Our willingness to step up in times of crisis and support one another is truly inspirational. Like many organizations in our state working to connect and strengthen our communities, the Alaska Humanities Forum has received messages of gratitude, acts of generosity, and words of encouragement. I am so grateful for this outpouring of support. It has been a powerful affirmation for our team. Over the past nine months, we have moved immersion experiences for educators and youth to online platforms, using creative tools and new resources (as well as old-fashioned methods like the telephone!) to continue to provide support, connection, and training. Our community conversation programs have shifted to radio, zoom, and social media, focusing on topics that are vital and current—racism in Alaska, civic engagement, gender and culture, and what impacts our capacity to care. Leadership Anchorage 24 began in late October launching a ten-month long cohort experience focused on civic leadership using a hybrid mix of virtual and distanced in-person sessions. We will be broadcasting the 51st Governor’s Arts and Humanities Award on KTOO in early January. And, our board members continue to lead our work from all corners of the state, committed to delivering on our vision of a culturally diverse, economically vibrant, and equitable Alaska where people are engaged, informed, and connected. The events of 2020 have shown us just how interconnected and interdependent our lives are and just how critical each of us is in this evolving, complex, dynamic ecosystem we live in. As we head into 2021, I am optimistic about Alaska’s future and the potential of our communities. I wish you and your family a healthy, hopeful holiday season and look forward to your continued partnership in the year ahead. Warmly, Kameron Perez-Verdia President & CEO


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

421 W. 1st Ave., Suite 200, Anchorage, AK 99501 (907) 272-5341 |

BOARD OF DIRECTORS Moira K. Smith, Chair, Anchorage Kristi Williams, Vice Chair, Anchorage April Albeza, Treasurer, Anchorage •

Cordelia Qigñaaq Kellie, Secretary, Anchorage Don Rearden, Member-at-Large, Anchorage Thea Agnew Bemben, Anchorage Stephen Qacung Blanchett, Juneau Bruce Botelho, Douglas Keneggnarkayaaggaq Emily Edenshaw, Anchorage Anne Hanley, Fairbanks

The events of 2020

Ben Mallott, Anchorage

have shown us just

Laci Michaud, Anchorage

Peter Metcalfe, Juneau Judith Owens-Manley, Anchorage

how interconnected

Jeffrey Siemers, Soldotna

and interdependent

Jeannine Stafford-Jabaay, Hope

our lives are...

Sheri Skelton, Anchorage Aminata Taylor, Anchorage Sharon Thompson, Anchorage Mead Treadwell, ex officio, Anchorage

STAFF Kameron Perez-Verdia, President & CEO Ani Alaberkyan, Alaska Fellow Emily Brockman, Youth Curriculum Manager Megan Cacciola, Director of Programs Jazmine Camp, Education Program Coordinator Amanda Dale, Education Program Manager Nancy Hemsath, Operations Manager & Board Liaison Erica Khan, Education Cultural Specialist Zach Lane, Education Program Coordinator Ted Leonard, CFO Kari Lovett, Administration Manager Emily Lucy, Youth Program Coordinator George Martinez, Director of Leadership & Youth Programs Jann D. Mylet, Director of Development & Communications Lisa Ragland, Education Program Coordinator Chuck Seaca, Youth Program Manager Alejandro Soto, Youth Program Associate Taylor Strelevitz, Conversation Programs Manager Kirstie Lorelei Willean, Education Programs Curriculum Advisor Cheryl Williams, Leadership & Conversation Programs Coordinator

FORUM MAGAZINE STAFF Jann D. Mylet, Editor Dean Potter, Art Director Nancy Hemsath, Copy Editor Contributors: Matt Carle, Debby Dahl Edwardson, Brendan Jones, Debra McKinney, Simonetta Mignano, Don Rearden, Maisie Thomas


FA L L 2 0 2 0

ABOVE : A pictograph of the hymn “Today the Saviour Calls.” Pictographs and audio recordings have been digitized as part of an effort to preserve and propagate the Cup’ig language. Page 26. COVER : The late Stephen Cysewski in Shaktoolik, where he served as a VISTA volunteer in 1967. The dog was named Sergeant after the Beatles song. Cysewski, equipped with a “philosophical predisposition” and a camera, left a photographic record of his experience of Alaska. Page 4.

4 Constantly Amazed by the Experience Remembering Stephen Cysewski, photographer and phenomenologist

12 In the Carving Shed Connecting to culture and natural heritage during a pandemic

16 Alaska Humanities Forum Annual Impact Report CARES Act grants and virtual conversations are hallmarks of 2020

20 DONOR PROFILE The Atwood Foundation Getting something done for the community—very “Atwoodian”

22 The Women’s Power League of Alaska Founded by Kimberly Waller, the League fosters careers and community

26 GRANT REPORT Threatened Cup’ig Language Finds New Life in Song Digital preservation of audio tapes and pictographs

30 KINDLING CONVERSATION How Does Technology Shape the Way We Build Community? Considering Homer and the telephone

32 No More Silence

Save Our Sisters Alaska campaign gives voice to unspeakable statistics

36 The Magic Behind the Words Life Lessons from Ronald Spatz and Alaska Quarterly Review

40 Decolonizing Suicide Postvention in the Arctic Wellness through Iñuit storytelling, Native science, creative expression

43 AFTER IMAGE Mother Thought of Everything Amy Meissner explores personal shelter during a time of failure

FORUM is a publication of the Alaska Humanities Forum, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, with the purpose of increasing public understanding of and participation in the humanities. The views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of the editorial staff, the Alaska Humanities Forum, or the National Endowment for the Humanities. Subscriptions may be obtained by contributing to the Alaska Humanities Forum or by contacting the Forum. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission. ©2020. Correction: Former Lt. Governor Byron Mallott’s name was misspelled in the summer issue of FORUM. We apologize for the error.

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0


Constantly Amazed by the Experience Remembering Stephen Cysewski By Simonetta Mignano


TEPHEN CYSEWSKI, who passed away on July 20, 2020, was a Fairbanksbased photographer and Professor Emeritus at University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) whose photographic work largely documents Alaska from the late sixties. The keystone of Steve’s approach to life and photography was that he learned to accept what was happening rather than holding on to his idea of what should have been happening, because he knew that doing so would have distracted him from reality. For Steve, photography was the interaction between what we see, what we experience, what we feel, and what we think. In the weeks preceding his death, Steve and I talked several times. In one of the last calls we had he told me, “Maybe I am one of those people who gets famous after they die.” We laughed and then I told him that I was committed to transmitting his work. “I wonder, will my death be meaningful to somebody?” he asked. I was struck by that question. I said, “Yes, it will be meaningful to many, and definitely it will be meaningful to me. You have touched me deeply with your work and as a mentor.” As Steve would say, it was serendipitous that we met. In February, I organized a solo exhibition of his work called All that we see is new but a photograph should age at Bivy, the art space I run in Anchorage. More recently, in collaboration with his daughter, Margaret Cysewski Rudolf, I curated an exhibition of his work called History and Personality are Both Revealed in Structures, curSIMONETTA: If you look back at your body of work, all rently on view on the website of the Anchorage these years spent taking photographs, what are some Museum. thoughts that come to mind? I am still humbled that Steve kept in touch with me during his last weeks. In one of our STEVE: Well, I’m excited about your discovery of my final conversations, I asked him to speak with photos on Instagram because those are just... “Now!”— me about his photography for FORUM. in the present moment. And they are unpredictable. I don’t go in with an intention—when I see something, I ask myself, “What is the feeling that I feel? Why do I want to take the picture? Is it to share? Is it competition? “I stop, I look, and Is it the joy of beauty? Is it a memory?” I’m trying to somehow in my be aware of that process. I notice something, I stop, I look, and somehow in my mind I calculate how that mind I calculate would be as a photograph or how I can express what I’m how that would be seeing as a photograph. Because whatever that was that catalyzed that feeling, the immediate thing that is there, as a photograph or that created a photographic moment—the composition, how I can express the light, a twig, or a distraction—I don’t want to lose what that was that becomes a stimulus for a bigger set of what I’m seeing as a interrogations of what I’m seeing.


SIMONETTA: In your photographic practice you

respond to what you’re seeing, without creating a specific condition or setting for a photograph. Has this always been your approach?

STEVE: It has pretty much always been my approach.

I mean, if you look back at the beginning it’s the same style all the way along. I love going to an environment that somehow is rich to me and just wandering around. Margaret [Steve’s daughter] and I sometimes will go back to places that we’ve both enjoyed. I’m looking at the old Tacoma photographs now... there is a deeper meaning especially in Tacoma and Seattle because I grew up there... the images of the brick buildings or the alleyways, they are images that have appeared periodically in my dreams.


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

PRECEEDING PAGES : Sandhill Cranes taking flight on a foggy morning at Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks. Steve walked at Creamer’s Field every morning since retirement.

Steve grew up in Washington state and often visited old haunts in Seattle and Tacoma to remember and document change. This photo was taken in Tacoma in the 1970s.


An Instagram/Facebook ‘Now’ photo taken May 2nd, 2020 inside Steve’s home.


A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0


SIMONETTA: Do you feel like your Buddhist practice

has informed the way you approach photography?

but also because you’re a photography enthusiast and you studied photography too.

STEVE: The other way around. Photography, the way of

STEVE: Just recently I was reading about an older

seeing, the way of responding was the dominant thing. Also philosophy, but that’s related to phenomenology, because it is the same thing as focusing on the experience. And in philosophy sometimes people get so immersed in what is true and what is false that they divorce themselves from their experiences. You see that same process happening to many photographers. But instead these are all organic processes. SIMONETTA: You’ve always

found joy in the experience of taking photos. Even more recently, and it’s understandable through your Instagram account, which I really like, in every photo there is now. And now. And now. In a way it illustrates how joyful it is to have the experience of being in the present moment.

STEVE: And also not looking for

“I have a philosophical predisposition, of finding how things connect together. But it’s not the driving force, it’s a result of experiencing.”

a photo... It all sort of amazes me. And then quite often I’ll think, “Okay, I’ll try to discipline myself, no photo today.” And then: “Oh look at that! Take a photo!” Some people use long lists of tags to attract viewers and I just don’t do it. If people find what I’m doing and find it useful to them, I want it to be a discovery for them, I didn’t herd them into doing something.

SIMONETTA: I remember

that the first time I visited your website was an incredible discovery for me. I instantly saw a great documentary and historical value in your work, but also in the composition. Even though you respond to what you see without too much of a visual pre-construction, the composition is always really good. There is a consistent, subconscious, visual response in your style, in effect, that goes hand in hand with your acceptance of reality for what it looks like.

STEVE: Yes, that’s true. Composition is an organic

process that you have to tune yourself into. Things like the balance, etc., for me are not an intellectual process. I’m aware of the composition, and it’s really important to me, but it’s an organic process.

SIMONETTA: I suppose that composition is important

to you not only because it is part of the experience itself,


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

photographer who said that he was mentored by the history of documentary photography. And I think that’s true, and so many young photographers don’t have that, they don’t have that embedded awareness of what photography has meant for so many people, especially when they try to make it too perfect and all of that.

SIMONETTA: Is it fair to say, and I am not trying to

merely reduce you to certain labels, that besides being a photographer, a teacher, a meditator, and therefore being more rooted in the experiential component of the practices, you’re also an intellectual?

STEVE: Yes, and that goes back to the fact that I have

a philosophical predisposition, of finding how things connect together. But it’s not the driving force, it’s a result of experiencing. I had discoveries through the years but I didn’t find the avenues to present them, and now with my health, it is just not going to happen. But I much rather like to be in an environment where people ask me questions, it’s just much more rewarding for me.

SIMONETTA: You’ve been a teacher at UAF for many

years, and Alaska Pacific University before then. Do you think that being a teacher influenced your photography in any way?

STEVE: I wanted to help people to find their own vision

that expresses who they are, having confidence in what they’re seeing and not being distracted by judgments. The underlying sense of helping people express and discover themselves, as well as being vulnerable and exploring that vulnerability, learning from that and sharing it with others. Photography has helped me do that as a tool to guide others in finding their own centers of gravity. This one student I had took this very beautiful picture of a horse, a very close-up picture of a horse, it was very unintentionally abstract, and she just did it because that was what she saw. So there is an underlying unity, and that unity really has to do with people becoming fully who they are. Especially people who grew up in judging environments, or with racial and cultural prejudice, all those kinds of situations where the experiences you have devalue you in every step you take. And it’s not fair. It’s not true. It doesn’t have to be. And it can be overcome.

SIMONETTA: Yes, and that can be very empowering. STEVE: Yes. It’s also based on my own life experience,

to have empathy for people who experience the world that way. And Buddhism mixes in with all this stuff, it’s not the organizing principle or anything, more likely phenomenology is the organizing principle. Phenomenology is liberation.

As part of his role as documentary photographer, Steve made this photo inside the 1941 Fairbanks Hotel on 3rd Avenue right before it was demolished in 2004.



A Buddha Steve found in Bangkok, Thailand.

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0


SIMONETTA: Exactly, in that sense phenomenology is the

path to human liberation. Basically seeing it for what it is.

STEVE: Yes! SIMONETTA: I like these parallels between seeing it

for what it is and how what is can be translated into a photograph. But in a way, because you’re the one seeing it, it can’t be universal because there is your own eye, so there is a specific perspective and personality.

“Things like the balance, etc., for me are not an intellectual process. I’m aware of the composition, and it’s really important to me, but it’s an organic process.”

STEVE: As you’re talking I am thinking that I used to go

down to Bird Point two or three times a week before it was part of the State Park. Or Creamer’s Field is a place that I returned to very often because of the joy and the stimulus that environment offered and the things that I could see there. And see again. And see again. It’s so rich. I kept returning because of the experiences I was having.

SIMONETTA: It’s all about the experience. One can

intellectualize lots of things but then it all goes back to noticing reality, whether you’re practicing Buddhism or not, there is an alignment with the truth that happens when we observe reality, it’s just a matter of awareness. For instance, uncertainty is definitely part of reality and most things are unknown to us. Just taking the times that we are living in as an example, with the pandemic and other things that are happening. It can be profoundly unsettling, uncertain, unknown. Many people like to use the word unprecedented to describe them. But perhaps these times help us be in touch with the reality of uncertainty.

STEVE: For so many people who I care about and I

communicate with, I find that they’re in denial, or they will say things like, “We’ll pray and it will get better.” And I keep trying to help them by saying: “That’s just going to torture yourself.” Because we don’t know any of that. But people are trying to create certainty for themselves.

SIMONETTA: And yet, living with uncertainty seems

so unimaginable in the Western world. John Cage, an American artist who used to practice Zen, said: “I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I’m doing.” Does this resonate with you and your photography?

STEVE: I like that. That’s what you want because then

you’re constantly amazed by your experience.

SIMONETTA: It makes you appreciate every moment.

Life is a miracle, really.


May you be free May you be happy May you be at peace May you be at rest May you know we remember you ■


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

A 2019 photo of Steve, used as his artist profile photo. STEPHEN CYSEWSKI lived in Fairbanks, Alaska. He graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in philosophy in 1967, then moved to Alaska as a VISTA Volunteer. He lived in the village of Shaktoolik for a year, and worked at many jobs including as a high school counselor for Indian Education at West Anchorage High School. He earned a master’s degree from Alaska Pacific University and was hired as an Assistant Professor in Information Technology at University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1991, retired as a Professor in 2007, and was granted emeritus status at retirement You can see his more of his work at SIMONETTA MIGNANO is from Italy and lives in Anchorage. She is the co-founder and director of Bivy, a contemporary art space in Anchorage, and the School of Nonfunctional Studies. She was a recipient of the SEED Lab Fellowship at the Anchorage Museum in 2019-2020. She is a member of the Italian collective and publishing house Viaindustriae. She is co-author of Come Cucinare Cuore e Cervello, Kiwi: Deliziosa Guida di Rosarno and Happy Fashion, among other publications, and she is cohost of the Togetherings, the Forum’s conversation series on KONR.

In the 1970s, Steve would often visit Bird Point south of Anchorage for the ever-changing rock and sediment formations from the tide.


Steve would often capture people and their relationships in real moments, such as this photo taken in the 1970s near Mt. Rainer in Washington state.


A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0


TJ Young, Cadence Peele, and Greg Frisby work on a traditional dugout canoe in the carving shed at Hydaburg. PHOTO BY TJ YOUNG


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020



Connecting to culture and natural heritage during a pandemic By Matt Carle


hen the 300-yearold red cedar log T.J. Young was recently carving was a seedling, a group of Haida people were making their first migration to Prince of Wales Island. The land around where Hydaburg now sits featured scattered villages behind sloping beaches, with wood smoke rising from large communal longhouses. Totem poles towered over dugout canoes parked above the tide. Much has changed in the three centuries of that tree’s life. However—thanks to the careful stewardship and initiative of many passionate people—the bountiful natural resources of the area, and the proud arts and culture of the Haida, remain. Over the past four months, Young and three other artists have spent nearly 10 hours a day transforming that 27-foot, 30-inch-diameter log into a traditional dugout canoe. The project was funded by three grants secured by the Hydaburg Cooperative Association (HCA) that enabled the community to hire four local artists to work together on the project. Young was joined by Sylvester “Sonny” Peele, Greg Frisby, and Cadence Peele, Sonny Peele’s grandson. The project has been a healing “quarantine” of its own for the artists during the coronavirus pandemic. The community plans to use the canoe for cultural events, and the maiden launch and name giving ceremony for it will take place next summer. Young, who grew up in Hydaburg, is an emerging master artist who has devoted himself to the perpetuation of his culture. He returns home each year to work with other aspiring artists in the village. Over the years, Young and his brother Joe, along with several others in the community, have been instrumental in breathing life back into the traditional arts in Hydaburg. Young said he’s lost count of the number of totem poles he’s worked on in the past 20


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

years. He’s carved poles for galleries in Anchorage, received commissions for jobs in Texas and Washington, and completed a few projects for Sealaska Heritage Institute. When asked which one is his favorite, he didn’t hesitate to name his first totem pole, carved with his brother Joe in honor of their late grandmother Gladys Morrison. “She passed away in 1997 and the following year we decided to carve a little totem pole for her. It’s still sitting in front of her house. It was a gift in honor of my grandma and it had her crest on it — a beaver with an eagle on the tail and a watchman on top to represent my grandfather looking out at the ocean.” At 39, Young still considers himself a student of the art. In 2010, Young graduated from the Native Education College Jewelry Program in Vancouver, British Columbia, and learned the basics of engraving from renowned artists Dan Wallace (Kwakwaka’wakw; Haida) and James McGuire (Haida). From 2012 to 2016, Young worked as an ap-

prentice for Robert Davidson, one of Canada’s most respected and important contemporary visual artists. Davidson has practiced the Northwest Coast art form for more than 50 years. Young said he learned “what fine art looks like” by working on a daily basis with Davidson, who was born in Hydaburg. “That experience really shaped the way that I look at the art form and how I view myself as a Haida,” said Young. At one point, Young was joined in Davidson’s studio in White Rock, British Columbia, just north of the Canadian border, by artists from Skidegate and Masset. “My fondest memory of the apprenticeship was sharing stories with others from three different Haida villages,” said Young.

Sylvester “Sonny” Peele, TJ Young, Cadence Peele, and Greg Frisby. PHOTO BY TJ YOUNG

Young credits his grandfather Claude Morrison as a major influence in his life and his journey as an artist. Morrison introduced Young and his siblings to Haida art, language, and traditional practices during their formative years. When Young was a teenager, his grandfather first taught him how to hand-carve halibut hooks. In that moment, Young “Everyone is knew that he wanted to learn as much as he could. welcome here. It’s The HCA has been the catalyst in helpa safe place for the ing to resurrect the culture in Hydaburg kids to come by by investing considerable resources to renovate the totem pole park and build a and work on their carving shed where locals of all ages can projects.” work on projects. The carving shed has become a popular gathering place for the community where people can stop by to visit with the artists. In many ways, it’s almost fitting that the carving shed has become the cornerstone for the community. It sits at the center of town, just on the edge of the shoreline overlooking the narrows near the bridge that bisects the village.

On any given day, you’ll find Elders working alongside youth building bentwood boxes, practicing formline, painting paddles, and working on other art projects. The day that Young and his fellow artists finished the canoe, a group of students from Hydaburg’s Xaad Kíl language immersion preschool, Xántsii Náay, stopped by the carving shed. “This place is really a source of healing and strength for the community,” said Young, speaking of the carving shed. “Everyone is welcome here. It’s a safe place for the kids to come by and work on their projects.” For Young, the canoe project was special because it allowed the community to come together during a challenging time. Young’s Haida name is Sgwaayaans and he was born into the Yaadaas Eagle Clan. ■ Matt Carle is a lifelong Alaskan and a member of the Haida tribe. He currently serves as the Senior Director for Corporate Communications at Sealaska Corporation. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0





as Alaska’s state humanities council—one of 56 state and jurisdictional humanities councils across the country. Each functions as an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization to support the unique interests and needs within its state; collectively, the state councils work to “transform lives, connect communities, and enrich the nation.” Through events, workshops, grants, and partnerships, the Alaska Humanities Forum seeks to: Preserve, share, and amplify Alaska stories—particularly those that are not welldocumented or known broadly;

Strengthen community through face-toface conversations that encourage compassion, belonging, and connection across difference;

Engage people in dialogue around timely questions and themes that impact our lives and the shared human experience: our humanity. ■





The Forum invests in Alaska artists, writers, historians, filmmakers, and community conveners through grants that fuel creative projects to share and preserve the stories of people across the state and explore what it means to be Alaskan. In 2020, the Forum’s annual grant program was put on hold in response to the impact of COVID-19 as we pivoted to distribute and administer funds allocated by the CARES Act to assist cultural nonprofit institutions and organizations.

The Forum’s leadership programs build capacity across industries and sectors, backgrounds, and experiences. We emphasize equity, critical thinking, and collaboration in addressing the complex economic, social, and political issues across Alaska’s communities.

The Forum leads, hosts, and funds public events, programs, and community discussions that bring people together to share their stories, ideas, and experiences so they may better understand themselves, one another, and the human experience.

The Forum’s programming for educators and youth uses cultural immersion, reflective learning, and exploration to better prepare and connect educators and youth in rural and urban communities across Alaska.

FY20: Leadership Anchorage: 16 participants, 5 community impact projects; Leader to Leader Exchange: 4 participants, Anchorage and • Utqiagvik

FY20: 76 grants, $446,500


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

Kindling Conversation, Facilitation Workshops, Culture Shift, Community Conversations, Togetherings FY20: 606 people, 43 gatherings, 3 communities; 17 virtual / statewide gatherings

Sister School Exchange, Creating Cultural Competence (C3), Tengluni, Alaska History Day, AK|Next FY20: Approx. 1000 students served, 52 educators, 42 communities ● BOARD MEMBERS


TARYN WILLIAMS Educator in Goodnews Bay

“When I applied to teach at my current school, I had had no exposure to Alaska Native culture or to the Alaskan Bush. I tried googling various blogs and articles about the area, but I was not able to find much that illustrated what life would be like from a

“I was able to integrate into the culture so much more quickly...” first-person perspective. That changed quickly with C3—I immediately had the chance to connect both with Natives and other transplants who now call the area home. I am grateful to have participated in C3 because I was able to integrate into the culture so much more quickly than I otherwise would have been, and this has made the transition that much more enjoyable!”

FACILITATION TRAINING LAUREN ROCCO Operations Director, Alaska Family Services, Anchorage

“Sylvia and I just co-led part one of a virtual strategic planning process. It went extremely well. Afterwards, we were reflecting on how one of the reasons it went so well was the training that we both received through the Forum. As an example, we crafted deliberate introductory activities at the start of the session (that were even celebrated in the feedback form). Thank you again for the opportunity to participate in the trainings. You are supporting Anchorage’s Coalition to prevent youth substance misuse!”

TENGLUNI Take Wing “Tengluni” students and instructors toured UAA in early February prior to COVID-19 travel restrictions. LOGAN PAUL of Kipnuk joined the Tengluni program this year and is interested in gaining vocational training after graduating. “Tengluni taught me about Yuuyaraq and how we live, and how we used to live. At UAA, I’ve learned about joining college and the many scholarship opportunities there are.” KASEY IGKURAK of Kwigillingok is a high school junior interested in pursuing a mechanical engineering degree. “The Tengluni program showed me that there are many opportunities after high school. There are many places we can attend college. Sharing this experience with other students from near our area also felt good because it prepared us to meet other people when we come to college.”

“Tengluni has shown me how important it is to keep it going no matter how far I am from home.” PAYTON CHANAR of Toksook Bay says she’s gained knowledge of not only postsecondary opportunities, but the knowledge of what is important in her culture. “I really want to thank Tengluni for giving me the opportunity to be part of this program. The Tengluni program has been helpful for my future. It’s taught me a lot about Yuuyaraq—our way of life. Tengluni has shown me how important it is to keep it going no matter how far I am from home.” Tengluni content was originally published in the Calista Corporation Storyknife, courtesy of Calista Education and Culture, Inc. and Russ Slaten/ Calista Corporation.

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0



LEADERSHIP ANCHORAGE BRITTANI KNIGHT Disabled Army Veteran, Veterans Affairs, Anchorage

“LA helped me to see that essential leaders need partners to create deep change within our community. Engaging in partnerships with mutual and opposing ideas incorporated into one vision helps to build the political power necessary to make an impact on everyone. Creating change requires you to move beyond your own beliefs and expectations.” CRYSTAL JACKSON Customer Experience Manager GCI, Anchorage

“One of the most important lessons that I took away from LA is that if you want to effectively connect with others, you need to understand yourself first.” JAKE DICKERHOFF Pastor at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, Anchorage

“Greatest lesson that I learned from my experience in Leadership Anchorage 23 is the deep need for us to be able to work across industry lines, whether in a nonprofit, ministry, for-profit, or government setting, the opportunity to coalesce all of our resources, all of our knowledge and experiences together to move forward in the same direction is such a gift to our community.”

FORUM FINANCIALS IN 2020, the Alaska Humanities Forum received federal funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The NEH funds are distributed to all state humanities councils in support of NEH’s founding commitment to critical, creative, and compassionate thinking and dialogue about the future of our country. This NEH funding requires a 100% match each year—investment from organizations and people throughout Alaska who want to make a real, lasting difference in communities across our state.






The Forum’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. At printing, these numbers are preliminary. Final financials will be available in January, 2021.


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M W I NTE R 202 0


ALASKA HUMANITIES FORUM DONORS INDIVIDUALS Donna Aderhold Aurora Agee Thea Agnew Bemben April Albeza James Alter Marilyn Alvarenga Jean Anderson Elaine M. Andrews Jane Angvik Anonymous Donors Chris and Maggi Arend Hans Arnett Leighanne Atwood Rachael Ball Janies Barlow-Alexander Barbara and Gary Baugh— in memory of John Cloe Micky Becker Scott Bell and Catherine Walling Marvin and Annette Bellamy Steve Bettis Erin Borowski Bruce Botelho Thomas Box Joan and Doug Braddock Gerry Briscoe Maida Buckley Rebecca Bunde Elizabeth Burke Jason Butler Megan Cacciola Annie Calkins Brenda Campen Teri Carns Heidi Catlett Jeffrey Chandler LeMiel Chapman and Waltraud Barron Su Yun Chon Jim and Susan Clark Michael Clark Carol S. Comeau Penelope Cordes Katie Ione Craney Tiffany Creed Richard Cresgy Melinda Dale Amanda Dale Cami Dalton Mark Dalton Carmen Davis Kathy Day Patsy Lee Day Bathsheba Demuth George and Brenda Dickison Louise Driscoll Robert Eastaugh and Suzanne Dvorak Barbara S. Eckrich Susan Elliott

Wendy Erd and Peter Kaufmann Alina Fairbanks Rogan Faith Judith Farley-Weed Katherine Farnham Eyvette Flynn Heather Flynn Mark Foster Margaret Friedenauer Orcutt and Mary Frost Kay F. Gajewski Rebecca Gallen Susan Georgette John Gerrish Jennifer Gibbins Amy A. Greene Lynn Hallquist Elaine Hammes Anne Hanley William Hanson and Kate Troll Mercedes Harness Carol Harris Elizabeth Hartley James and Judy Hauck James and Nancy Hemsath Joshua Hemsath Anne Herman William Heumann and Marjorie Menzi Jason Hill Mara Hill Dianne Holmes Patrick and Patricia Holmes Martina Hopson Eileen Hosey Karen Hunt Elayne Hunter Timothy and Donna Hurley Janis Ilutsik Marianne Inman Sara Jackinsky Mark Johannes Lisa Johnson Martha Jokela Aldona Jonaitis Lora Jorgensen Donna Judkins Diane Kaplan Barbara Karl Ronald L. and Ann Keffer Cordelia Kellie Nancy Kemp Martha Keskinen Stephanie Kesler and Peter Partnow Anne Kettle David Kiffer Caroline Kim Sandra Kleven Joanna M. Knapp Lynndeen Knapp—in memory of James Knapp and Robert R. Martin, Jr. Mary Ann Kondro

Carolyn Sue Kremers James Kubitz Don Kussart Kathy and John LaMantia Claire LeClair Marilyn Lee and Eric Johnson David Lefton Heather Lende Ted Leonard Nancy Levinson Steve Lindbeck Nancy Lord and Ken Castner Cheryl Lovegreen John Lovett Linda L. Madsen Ellen Maling Mary C. Mangusso Blythe Marston and Gordon Pospisil Jerry and Judith Ann McDonnell Alexandra McKay Vanessa Meade James Metcalfe Peter Metcalfe Selina Metoyer Laci Michaud Mike Chmielewski and Lee Henrikson Ken Miller Kerstin Miller Linda Mitchell Stanton Moll John and Rika Mouw Marcus Mueller Cathy Munoz Jann D. Mylet Roberta Nabers Angela Nelson— in memory of Wendy Romberg Kristine Norosz January O’Connor Marie Olson Judith Owens-Manley Krist Palmatier and Joe Sonnier Virginia Palmer Bruce and Meredith Parham Aaron Partnow Jeremy Pataky Kaia Pearson Kameron Perez-Verdia Rebecca Pottebaum Virginia Potter Margaret and John Pugh Don Rearden Joel Reynolds Richard Riordan Jeffrey Rubin David Russell-Jensen Monika and Hurley Scherffius Conni Schlee Richard and Ila Sellingham Turid Senungetuk Catherine Shenk Linda Shepherd Judy and Wendell Shiffler John Shively— in memory of Wendy Romberg Sheri Skelton Chellie Skoog Deborah and Philip Smith

Katherine Smith Moira K. Smith Jeannine Stafford-Jabaay Marcy and John R.D. Stalvey Jennifer Stansel Senator Gary and Rita Stevens Deborah L. Strode Jenny-Marie Stryker Susan Sugai Kathleen Tarr Sharon Thompson Christine Thorsrud Margaret Tileston Charles L. Tobin Loki Tobin Mead Treadwell Walter Van Horn Flory Vinson Tyler Watson John Weddleton Heidi Weiland Judith F. Whittaker Jetta Whittaker and Rob Steedle Shelley Wickstrom Kirstie Lorelei Willean Cheryl Williams Kristi Williams Kurt Wong Mary Bethe Wright Richard Yamada Members of LA13 raised funds to establish the Wendy Romberg Memorial Scholarship for Leadership Anchorage so that cost is not a barrier for future participants. ORGANIZATIONS Agnew::Beck Consulting Alaska Airlines Alaska Permanent Capital Management Company Alderworks Alaska, LLC AmazonSmile Foundation Atwood Foundation Bristol Bay Native Corporation ConocoPhillips Alaska Cook Inlet Tribal Council ENSTAR Natural Gas Company GCI John C. Hughes Foundation Law Office of Jacob Sonneborn Nordic Constructors, LLC Northern Compass Group, LLC Rasmuson Foundation Renaissance Charitable Foundation, Inc. Sealaska Heritage Institute The Aspen Institute The CIRI Foundation The Frances & David Rose Foundation The National Endowment for the Humanities TOTE Maritime Alaska

Donors listed here made contributions during the Forum’s fiscal year, which ran from Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2020.

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0



The Atwood Foundation DONOR SINCE:


THE ATWOOD FOUNDATION has supported the Alaska Humanities Forum by providing grant funding and also collaborating as thought-partners in programming across the Anchorage community since 2014. Ira Perman has led the Atwood Foundation for eight years as its Executive Director, and for three years prior to that as a trustee. He also served as Executive Director at the Alaska Humanities Forum from 2000-2006. We recently asked Perman about the two organizations’ alignment of mission and vision, and his thoughts on the role of arts and culture in building community.

What is the Atwood Foundation’s mission and focus?

The Atwood Foundation supports programming within the greater Anchorage community that its founders, Bob and Evangeline Atwood, supported during their lives—primarily arts and cultural organizations, the military community, civic organizations, and journalism. Bob and Evangeline Atwood moved to Alaska in 1935 when Bob became the new owner, editor, and publisher of the Anchorage Times. Throughout the remainder of their lives, the pair were active in every aspect of building community and business life in Anchorage. Among his many contributions, Bob was instrumental in Alaska’s bid to achieve statehood as the Chairman of the Alaska Statehood Committee; he helped found Alaska Methodist University (now Alaska Pacific University); and was part of a group to finance construction of the Anchorage Museum. He played a role in securing federal funds for several construction and development projects including the Anchorage International Airport, and he worked to persuade international carriers


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

to make Anchorage a base stop on transpolar flights. ABOVE : Elaine, Robert, Evangeline, and Marilyn Atwood. Bob helped to organize the OPPOSITE : Robert Atwood was the owner, editor, and publisher original Anchorage Roof the Anchorage Times. PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE ATWOOD FOUNDATION tary Club and served as its president and he was also active with the Anchorage director, but the theme of the work is the Chamber of Commerce, serving as chair of same: bringing Alaskans together to build its military-civilian advisory board. Evangeline was committed to supporting and move communities forward. The first Forum program that the a wide range of community organizations, Atwood Foundation supported was including founding the Alaska World Affairs Council and serving as its Executive Leadership Anchorage (LA). The Atwoods were leaders and worked alongside Director. She was active in organizing other leaders in their community. They the Anchorage Chapter of the League of recognized the need to continue to develop Women Voters, Alaska Women’s Club, and new leaders for the future. LA does an Alaska Statehood Association. She was also exceptional job of preparing leaders an amateur historian and her interest in by grounding each cohort in history, Alaska history, politics, and journalism led readings, conversations—getting people her to write seven books featuring stories talking to each other. When your town’s from Anchorage and across the state. population grows, that’s not as easy to When they arrived in 1935, Anchorage do. And with LA’s project based-learning, was a remote town. The Atwoods had a there’s an immediate impact in getting vision of building a city in the image of something done for the community—very cities in other parts of the country and “Atwoodian.” Europe with music, arts, culture, and In the past two years, the Atwood a thriving civic life. They brought that Foundation has added grants to support the vision to life through the development Forum’s conversation programs that engage of the Times and as servant-leaders and people in thoughtful, purposeful dialogue philanthropists. and the exchange of ideas. We were How do you see the Forum’s work especially interested in the Forum’s Danger playing a role in fulfilling the Atwood Close Alaska programming focused on Foundation’s vision? Why does the building connections between the military Foundation invest in the Forum? community and civilians—Bob was very involved with growing and keeping the base The Alaska Humanities Forum and the here in Anchorage and a proponent of what Atwood Foundation are both about it could do for the city. community building. I think about the What future projects are you planning metaphor of a quilt—Alaska is such a culturally and historically diverse place. The with the Forum? Forum pulls all those diverse pieces of cloth We’re just starting conversations about together and knits a strong community out of that diversity. The Forum’s programming developing programming to recognize is more expansive now than when I was the the 50th anniversary of The Alaska Native


Your Humanities Council

... there’s an immediate impact in getting something done for the community—very “Atwoodian.”

Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 2021. We see it as an opportunity to reflect on how ANCSA came to be, what it achieved. I think of the Forum’s approach to programming as “propelling purposeful conversation.” I anticipate the Forum leading some phenomenal conversations among Alaskans who were involved in ANCSA’s creation and passage alongside young adults and teenagers, asking the questions, “Did it work? What might have been done differently? What role might ANCSA play in our state’s future?” It’s a chance to explore ANCSA as an historical initiative in a future-facing way. What do you see as the role of arts and culture in building community?

The live interaction that happens when people gather for a performance or exhibit—to share in a common, physical experience—is powerful. Arts and culture activities bring people together. We talk, connect, dress up a little, and share our common humanity with our neighbors and friends. It’s a community-building experience that goes back to the early days of the city – and to the beginning of humankind. Supporting arts and culture organizations is about 50-60% of Atwood Foundation’s funding focus. Right now, when COVID is keeping us from coming together, it’s important for the Atwood Foundation to preserve the fabric of our community by keeping our arts, culture, and civic organizations afloat at a time when they cannot generate revenue. We’re doing what we can so that organizations can be ready to start up again once COVID restrictions are lifted. ■ —Interview by Jann D. Mylet

The Alaska Humanities Forum serves Alaska as one of 56 humanities councils, located in all U.S. states and jurisdictions. Each council engages, informs, and connects the people of its home state through unique, localized programming. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) provides federal funding each year in support of state humanities councils, renewing its founding commitment to critical, creative, and compassionate thinking and dialogue about the future of our country. This funding requires a 100% match—an investment from partner organizations, corporations, and people throughout Alaska who want to make a real, lasting difference in communities across our state. Making a gift will help us to reach our match and continue important work across Alaska. Please make a donation today online at Thank you for your support!

Make a Gift • Give online at—make a monthly pledge or one-time gift • Call Jann D. Mylet, Director of Development and Communications: (907) 726-7191 • Mail a check to the Forum: 421 W. 1st Avenue, Suite 200, Anchorage, AK 99501 • Designate the Forum as your charity of choice when you shop on Amazon by visiting • Select Alaska Humanities Forum when you Pick.Click.Give.


The Women’s Power League of Alaska fosters careers and community By Maisie Thomas


laska leads the United States in several statistical measures; Alaskans take pride in living in the largest state in the nation, which is home to the tallest peak in North America, Denali. Alaska also boasts the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs in the country. But the state ranks first in less favorable measurements as well. Unfortunately, Alaska has one of the largest gender wage gaps in the country. According to a 2019 report by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, women make 72 cents to a man’s dollar. This can be explained in part by the fact that Alaska’s economy is dominated by historically male industries such as oil and gas and construction. Yet Alaskan women earn less than men even in female-dominated fields. While these findings are disheartening, Alaskan women can take comfort in knowing that organizations such as the Women’s Power League of Alaska (WPLAK) are


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

working toward equality. Though a relatively new organization, WPLAK is already making a big impact on the lives of Alaskan women. Founded in January of 2019, WPLAK seeks to empower women both socially and economically. Central to this mission is networking: WPLAK connects successful Alaskan career women with aspiring professionals through mentorship programs and career development workshops. The goal, in the words of WPLAK Founder and CEO Kimberly Waller, is to “pull up and pull in” the next generation of Alaskan women. While much of WPLAK’s mission is focused on helping women achieve their career goals, the organization extends beyond the purely professional realm. In uniting women through female-only conversations and forums, WPLAK builds unity and sisterhood. Ultimately, according to Waller, empowering women will lead to a stronger Alaska.


As a successful Alaskan woman now working to “pull up” others, Waller exemplifies the mission of her organization. Born in Fairbanks and raised in Anchorage, she left Alaska for nearly two decades for the East Coast. During this time, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from New York University and Harvard University, respectively, and built a successful career in media. After about 15 years, however, Waller decided she wanted a change. While working in New York City, she met her husband. Approaching 40, Waller felt the pull to return to Alaska to focus on starting a family and on her ultimate goal: to create an organization in her home state. She incorporated WPLAK in graduate school (while also hosting a radio show and becoming a mother) and moved back to Alaska in June of 2018.

THE WOMEN’S POWER LEAGUE OF ALASKA Learn more about the Women’s Power League of Alaska at

Waller was inspired to start WPLAK both because of her own experiences as a woman growing up in Alaska and because of the “existing reality” of the wage gap statistics for Alaskan women. “I didn’t achieve success on my own,” Waller explained, adding that she was fortunate to have influential personal and professional mentors who helped her meet her goals. She was also motivated by the work that needed to be done. Upon returning to Alaska, Waller was dismayed to see that not much had changed for women in the 49th state. In fact, she said, in some ways women were faring more poorly than they were 20 years ago. “The concerns of women are talked about but not resolved,” said Waller, citing the gender wage gap as well as high rates of domestic violence, including domestic homicide. “Alaska is a great place, I love the state [and] there are so many good things [about it]...but we should also be critical of the things we love.” She decided to take action to improve the lives of Alaskan women, launching WPLAK about six months after moving to Anchorage. THE WORK OF THE WPLAK

According to Waller, WPLAK empowers women through several methods, including professional development, volunteerism, activism, and community-building forums. An initial step in addressing social and economic inequalities, Waller said, is providing women with the opportunity to connect with other women. Female role models and opportunities for female empowerment are particularly important for young Alaskan women because the state is disproportionately male. To both showcase female success and to provide Alaskan women with needed resources, last year WPLAK launched a mentorship program. The 20-Something Mentorship Program pairs aspiring career women in their 20s with professionals who are established in their desired field. Mentors have included attorneys, chief executive officers, and small business owners. This year, WPLAK paired 23 young women with professionals in their areas of interest. During this six-month mentorship, mentors and mentees meet monthly, helping young Alaskan women to learn more about the field they are interested in and to build connections. According to Waller, mentors help their mentees in a variety of ways, including scaling up their businesses and navigating career changes, applying for graduate school, and creating business plans. “The women who sign up to mentor are all accomplished professionals and have had plenty of time mentoring

“Alaska is a great place, I love the state [and] there are so many good things [about it]... but we should also be critical of the things we love.” others along the way. They have skin in the game,” said Waller. Waller said that another tenet of WPLAK is civic engagement and community service. Although nonpartisan, the organization promotes volunteerism and activism through involvement in various initiatives. Since 2020 is an election year, the recent focus has been on voter education. “Regardless of who you are voting for, we want to make sure that women are making informed choices and voting for candidates who will support women,” said Waller. Earlier this year, WPLAK held Courageous Conversations, discussions about race led by women which Waller said were “necessary.” While neither voting nor race is necessarily directly tied to gender, women approach issues such as racial injustice differently than men. Promoting female participation in social issues is important because women, according to Waller, “have a level of sensitivity that [lends itself to a] truth telling environment.” For Waller, discussing issues is an initial step toward addressing them; she said she believes Alaskans can eventually close the gender wage gap, but to do so we must first talk about it. 46TH STATE WOMEN’S FORUM

Last November, the WPLAK held its first annual 49th State Women’s Forum. The day-long forum, put on by and for women, featured workshops and discussions about different Alaskan issues as they relate to women. It provided a place to talk about gender issues and experiences as well as resources for career development. The first half of the day was devoted to panels on topics including the impact of the State budget and voting, while the second half of the day offered workshops on topics such as managing finances and self-marketing. The 49th State Women’s Forum also realizes a core goal of WPLAK: to provide women with platforms to talk about gender issues with other women. As Waller explained, women need more exclusively female spaces to share their experiences and

Receiving a Gracie for "Power on the Block": Waller (right) on the red carpet with her sister, Chantalle Rufen-Blanchette. RIGHT: The 49th State Women’s Forum (2019) provided a place to talk about gender issues and experiences as well as career development. LEFT:

grievances. The organization values its male allies, but the reality is that women have different experiences and process events differently. “Our roads look different from men’s and we need to talk to people who understand where we are coming from,” she said. For instance, women have different experiences than men both in the workplace and the home and it is vital to talk about these differences not only for the sake of progress, but also to create community among women. In all-female environments, women can be themselves because of the “unspoken camaraderie of being in the presence of those who know,” Waller said. Surrounded by others who understand, women feel heard and valued in a way (as the wage gap demonstrates) they sometimes are not. Providing women with a space to speak with other women about their experiences and problems is both empowering and productive. For Waller, the social empowerment that stems from conversations with other women “directly intersects” with economic empowerment. Through such discussions, women better understand challenges facing the gender as a whole, which allows them to brainstorm ways to solve issues and mobilize. And, to return to the focus on community engagement, this applies not only to women’s issues, but also extends to other social problems. “Women are the best organizers ever,” said Waller. So when women band together to work toward a common goal “no one does it better.” But in order to address


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

In all-female environments, women can be themselves because of the “unspoken camaraderie of being in the presence of those who know.”

these greater issues, women must first receive the wages and treatment they deserve. The saying “secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others” is applicable: women are better able to serve both themselves and their communities when they are empowered economically. In this way, uplifting women will strengthen Alaska as a whole. Waller believes WPLAK is particularly critical now as the world has become extremely polarized and political. “Women aren’t down for the fighting and ugliness. Not only is the divisiveness unpleasant, but polarization has not gotten us anywhere,” she explained, “because if it did we wouldn’t be where we are now.” Thus, Waller emphasized, it is important not to get caught up in the division because “if we play into that political divisiveness, we weaken our gender.” This is why WPLAK is not “green, red, or blue…We’re about women, not politics.” Moreover, she said, women are uniquely positioned because so many are mothers who want to make the world a better place for

their children. So, instead of adding fuel to the fire, women display the values they want future generations to uphold. Waller said that it is more important now than ever to show youth the value of empathy, compassion, and giving back to the community. Looking toward the future, Waller said she would like to turn WPLAK into a membership organization so that women who want to join can officially be part of the effort. Waller also hopes to expand the mentorship program while working to keep it affordable, and to extend professional development opportunities. Another goal is to expand geographically. Waller wants to “deepen our connection to women across the state by bringing in women from all areas of Alaska.” She explained that most female leaders are currently based in Anchorage, but she would like the organization to live up to its name—Women’s Power League of Alaska—and better reflect and represent Alaska women throughout the state. Lastly, Waller wants to build upon the positive momentum WPLAK has gained thus far. It is crucial, she said, to remain focused on the organization’s goals as well as community and philanthropy because, “It’s going to take all of our collective lifting to get us where we want to go.” Maisie Thomas of Nome is a 2020 graduate of Whitman College in Washington state. She has received two Alaska Press Club awards for her articles printed in the Nome Nugget.

Unlocking Alaska’s Energy Resources


A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0



A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020


The pictographs seen here and on the following pages were used to record the words of hymns in the Cup’ig language, rather than using English characters. The notations were passed down from Nona Amos’ mother to Muriel Amos of Mekoryuk. PHOTO BY KEVIN SMITH

he first time I listened to the deceptively upbeat Cup’ig hymn, “I Have Heard of a Land,” I heard a strange shifting in the background. The faint, rhythmic shirring sounded like someone was rubbing two sand blocks together. Strange, because the other 141 hymns, which have recently been digitized, a project funded in part by a 2019 Alaska Humanities Forum grant, were performed a cappella by Nona Amos. “Oh, that’s Harry Mike,” Muriel Amos, 65, explained to me from Anchorage. “The brother of Nona Amos, my mother-in-law. He’s probably sanding ivory, or maybe wood there in the back.” It was Harry Mike, Amos went on to explain, who, in the 1990s, convinced his sister Nona Amos to sit down in their house in Mekoryuk, the only inhabited town left on Nunivak Island, to make a recording of Cup’ig hymns. (The letter “c” is pronounced like the English sound “ch.”) The audio cassette tapes that resulted are some of the best recordings of the rare island dialect, which is in danger of dying out. Located off the southwest coast of Alaska, Nunivak is a land pocked by craters, a barren tundra spreading over 1,625 square miles, just slightly larger than the state of Delaware. Inhabited for 2,000 years by the Nuniwarmiut, or Nunivak Cup’ig people, the island is the second largest island in the Bering Sea, and the eighth largest in the United States. Nunivak plateaus out of the sea about 30 miles from the mainland, at the vertex of the triangle between the Yukon and Kuskokwim delta. Dwarf willows grow along the edge of rivers, which swell with salmon in the summer months. Summers hover around 60, and snow flies October through May, with the temperature rarely dropping below zero. Musk oxen—introduced from Greenland in 1934—and reindeer are the largest inhabitants, with humans right behind them. Wool from the musk-ox are woven into sweaters and hats, while reindeer are culled each year for food. “It is a paradise,” Amos said.

Threatened Cup’ig Language By Brendan Jones

Finds New Life in Song


In the summer of 2018, Indra Arriaga Delgado, president at the time of Out North, an Anchorage-based arts organization supporting under-represented voices, traveled to Nunivak, flying from Bethel into Mekoryuk, on the northern shore. As the Language Compliance Manager for the Division of Elections, she was introduced to Howard and Muriel Amos, to work on election materials translations. “We were sitting around eating and talking,” Arriaga recalled. “Then Muriel said, ‘I have these tapes. My motherin-law recorded them.’” As a Mexican woman with her own indigenous roots,

“I have these tapes. My mother-in-law recorded them.”

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0


Arriaga said that the project struck a chord with her. The hymns, introduced to the island by missionaries in the early 20th century, represent some of the most comprehensive recordings of the Cup’ig dialect in existence. Just as the hymns were once used to teach Cup’ig people English, so today the hymns help revitalize the Cup’ig language. “I love music, all kinds, and the histories that music holds. When Muriel told me about the tapes, there was never a second thought. How could I not help?” Arriaga said. “There was such immediacy to the project, due to the loss of people speaking the language.” Arriaga mobilized Out North, and secured a grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum in 2019. Arriaga, who has a background in political science and is currently the Grants and Operational Director for the Alaska Institute for Justice, split the project into three phases: preserving the music, teaching the music, and producing the hymns. The first phase, she says, is the most pressing. “The audio tapes are deteriorating due to their age and environmental conditions,” she wrote in the grant. With funding from the Forum, Out North hired J.W. Frye, a sound engineer, songwriter, and music producer, to digitize the audio cassette tapes. Frye, 37, who describes his job as “letting my fingers do the work of other people’s brains,” said that he tried to make himself invisible, working less as a producer and more as a scribe. Frye said that the project came about in the nick of time. The more audio tapes are played, the more endangered they become. “It was critical. Now we are at a crossroads, with this renewed sense of the value of learning and speaking your indigenous tongue,” Frye said. “By digitizing them, you’re ensuring that they’re not just sitting in someone’s box in an attic. It’s a remarkable project.” Nona Amos has a lilting, sunny voice. “Amazing Grace,” for example, is performed lightheartedly, the hum of what sounds like the ocean behind it. In the hymn, “Yet There Is Room,” you can hear the far-off clanging of a bell, perhaps one of the churches established by missionaries a century ago. The Nuniwarmiut first came into contact with Europeans in 1821, when explorers from the Russian-American Company arrived on the island. The Russians recorded 400 people living on 16 different settlements around the island. A census in 1880 recorded 117 people at Koot, near present-day Mekoryuk. In 1920, the Spanish flu epidemic depleted this village to only four families. In 1939 an anthropologist from Berkley recorded 200 people spread across 16 villages.


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020



“By digitizing them, you’re ensuring that they’re not just sitting in someone’s box in an attic. It’s a remarkable project.”

Today, Mekoryuk, the central village on the northern shore, is home to just under 200 people. The Nuniwaarmiut School teaches preschool through high school. There are 50 students. A graduate of University of Fairbanks, Amos taught elementary education for 33 years at the Mekoryuk Day School and the Lower Kuskokwim School District, which covers an area the size of West Virginia, and in Bethel. She now works as a substitute teacher in the Anchorage School District. Peter Hawkins, the site administrator for the school, said that “The Herders,” as they’re known in reference to the reindeer herd on the island brought to slaughter each year, use a dual enrichment program. Students from kindergarten until fifth grade learn social studies and science and Cup’ig language arts in Cup’ig. Afterward, students get 50 minutes of Cup’ig a day. Hawkins has also been working with elders in Mekoryuk to translate textbooks into Cup’ig. “The village is filled with wonderful people,” Hawkins said. “The textbook project is coming along great, helping to ensure that we don’t lose the language and the culture.” On Nunivak, anyone over 50 can fluently speak, Amos said. “But they are getting fewer and fewer every year.” Amos, 65, has passed down Cup’ig to her adopted daughter, who can speak, but seldom practices, Muriel said. In 2003, with the help of her husband Howard, Amos wrote a Cup’ig dictionary to help codify the spelling of Cup’ig words. Hawkins says that students often disagree over the correct spelling in English of Cup’ig words. “There’s just no right answer,” he said. Amos, who has also written a genealogy of the island, a record of the connections between a people separated by 30 miles from the mainland, said that the language differs between families. “People just have different ways of saying things.” PICTOGRAPHS

The hymns presented unique challenges in the sound booth. Due to the isolation of the island, Nunivak Cup’ig is different from Cup’ik and all other dialects of Yup’ik. “Must I Go Empty Handed?” is filled with a clicking and snapping typical of Cup’ig, Frye says. “An editing program would have gone in and taken out so much of that sound. But that would have been changing the meaning of the words.” After Frye told me this, I spent some time listening to the hymns, trying to get a sense of the structure of Cup’ig. Slowly, I tried to say, Quyana niicugnillua, which means “Thank you for listening to me.” Speaking the syllables, I had no sense where the emphasis—or the clicks and snaps—should fall. Frye said that, along with working to make a difficult language more accessible, he also worked as something of a detective. At one point, on the recordings, he noticed that Nona Amos stopped singing, and seemed to explain something. “Muriel translated, and she said that, before one of the hymns, Nona said, ‘This song that I’m about to sing, is going to come from pictographs.’ She was essentially reading a pictograph to sing the hymn.” In other words, instead of reading the Cup’ig in an English alphabet, Amos’ mother-in-law was announcing that she was using the pictographs to help her sing the hymns. Amos said that the pictographs were given to her by Nona, who had received them from her mother, to keep safe. The

words correspond to symbols and pictures. Symbols represent particular words. One looks like a sun, with streaks. This means God. “We’re hoping this will be the next part of the larger project,” Arriaga said. At the moment, COVID-19 has brought a halt to the conversation. Arriaga and Frye were supposed to fly to Mekoryuk this year, but the pandemic made this impossible. Tribal police refuse entry to anyone without a permit from the tribal judge, Hawkins said. Muriel, who also couldn’t fly from Bethel to Mekoryuk due to COVID restrictions, said she hopes to use the time in Anchorage to finish transcribing all of the songs, a painstaking process. She has been working with other Elders in Anchorage, who have also been scoring the songs. “It’s not easy,” she said. By way of illustration, she said that the Nunivak Cup’ig word for “go” is Ay-a-tuk. “It’s three instead of one syllables. We couldn’t figure out whether to keep the meaning, or make the music sound better, because the lyrics were too long. They didn’t know how to speak English very well, but they did their best.” Of all the hymns that he has listened to and digitized, Frye says that it’s the pictographs that remain with him. He hopes one day to see a book published of the images. “It’s just so human, a common language of all earth. You see it all over, symbols scratched in the sand, or on a rock. And it’s happening on this island as well.” At the moment, Arriaga said, the pictographs are being photographed—the process of scanning risks damaging the already-fragile paper. “It’s incredibly exciting, how this grant has opened another door.” Following my conversation with Amos, I returned to the Out North website, to listen once more to “I Have Heard of a Land.” I thought, for a moment, that Harry Mike might have been sanding in rhythm with Nona’s voice. I tried to imagine the scene, brother and sister in a single room, Nona Amos singing while her brother works sandpaper. Then the sanding stops, perhaps Mike pausing to brush away ivory or saw dust. Nona Amos continues to sing over his shuffling, her words clear and intentional, as if she could see the lyrics in front of her. A few days later, Arriaga sent five images of the pictographs. The figures are drawn in black ink on paper with wide spaces between the lines, such as one might use in kindergarten to practice spelling. I examined the pictograph for “Watchman Tell Me.” In the last line, two men in widebrimmed hats appear to ascend a ladder toward a sun. A quick check brought up the lyrics. Pilgrim, yes, I see just yonder, Canaan’s glorious heights arise; Salem too appears in grandeur, Tow’ring ‘neath its sunlit skies. ■ Brendan Jones is the author of the novel The Alaskan Laundry, awarded the Alaskana Prize by the Alaska Library Association, and Whispering Alaska, upcoming with Penguin/ Random House in 2021. He has also written for the New York Times, NPR, and Smithsonian magazine. He lives in Sitka, where he is a builder, with his wife and three daughters. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0


How does technology shape the way we build community? SINCE MARCH , we’ve almost all become experts in the technologies that support virtual connection. Whether you use Google Meet, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom, it’s likely that you are videoconferencing now more than ever. These platforms are influencing the way we connect with our families, at work, and as communities. And yet the question, “How does technology shape the way we build community?” is not new. In these pages, you’ll find images of artifacts and transcripts of oral histories from the Pratt Museum’s archives in Homer that show the ways the telephone influenced their community connected during the first half of the 20th century. How does that history help us better understand the technology changes we’re experiencing today? How were they able to push past the limitations of the technology of the day, and how might that inspire us now and into the future?

TAKE WING ALASKA Dig Deep and Host Your Own Conversation Are you interested in bringing these conversations to your community?


Springboards for Discussion Articles, films, images, exhibits, and texts create common ground and allow everyone to contribute.

Conversation Toolkit A facilitator guide, promotional materials, and participant surveys are ready to go.

Facilitator Training We’ll walk you through the process and materials to ensure your community event is a success.

IMMOBILE DEVICES: Homer had a cooperative telephone system as far back as 1923. In addition to this “party line,” some residents set up private systems strung up between several houses or for children to call home from the end of a long driveway. Those hand-crank telephones were “dialed” by different combinations of the length and number of rings.


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

Funding A non-competitive $200 microgrant defrays the cost of hosting.


General Alarm “Oh, we had a phone, it was a community affair, everybody had a phone but when everything was really important going on in the little village, they used to ring one long, long ring. And then everybody would come listen in, and we knew what was going on in town and if there was a big dance or something coming up. Everybody knew about it because everybody would go to the phone, because it was kind of a general alarm you know. But we had our phone, it was quite unique I think because you could talk to each other and, like I say, everyone knew what was going on because everybody listened in.” —Buddug Waddel

LONGS AND SHORTS: Homer Telephone Subscribers (ca. 1919) This listing of the Homer area telephone exchange lists 21 subscribers and their “phone number,” comprised of a combination of long and short rings. This is the earliest telephone directory in the Pratt collection. The original document was treated by a paper conservator to mitigate ink stains and general degradation, but is unfortunately too fragile to display.

Lifeline “The one convenience we had was a telephone—the crank-up kind, you know, three longs and two shorts. The fellows got together and kept the lines up, as the moose used to tear them down with their antlers as they walked across the fields. The telephone was our lifeline. Three longs was the emergency ring. One ring: a state trooper just landed, so no one without a license plate drove their car into town. Two rings: Fish and Wildlife officer just landed, so everyone buried their out-ofseason moose meat in the snow. And four rings: the dreaded house fire.” —Elva Scott PRIVATE NETWORK: The Thorn and Seppi family homes were connected by a private phone line in the early 1960s. Although it only served two buildings, the families enjoyed the novelty of self-publishing their own phonebook, including an extensive classified advertising section, for such services as pie-baking, rodent control, saloon music, and general gossip (all directed to either the Thorn or Seppi households).

By the People “There were phones in Homer when we first came here, but it was just one line that was put up by the people and then taken care of by the people. It was just one of those old-fashioned phones where your ring would be one long and mine would be three long and one short, and that was our first phone...” —Marion Waddell

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0


Save Our Sisters Alaska campaign gives voice to unspeakable statistics By Debra McKinney


mos Lane needs answers. He needs to know the full story behind what happened to his mother on July 9, 1985. He was the oldest of five children, growing up in the whaling village of Point Hope on the coast of the Chukchi Sea. On that night, three men tortured, raped, and murdered Harriet Lane. Thirty-five years later no one has been arrested for her brutal murder. Point Hope is a small, remote community, with a population of around 300 in those days, about half of what it is today. Many were related and, for the most part, everyone knew each other. Neighbors had to have heard his mother’s screams; some had to have known who did this. Why has there been no justice? “I keep being asked the same question: Are you okay? I’m not okay, but I’ll be okay. I would like to see my mother rest in peace.”


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

Amos and his youngest sister, Eunice, tell their gut-wrenching stories of childhoods lost, spirals into self-destruction, and the quest for healing in the film Justice for Harriet. He speaks of his anguish from his carving studio in Anchorage, and she from her home in Point Hope, a place of ancient ancestors, strong traditions, and sun-bleached whale bones. The 22-minute documentary is the first in a series on missing, murdered, and sexually abused Alaska Native women, part of a multimedia campaign initiative, Save Our Sisters Alaska, produced by Affinityfilms, Inc. The campaign aims to raise awareness, improve reporting, and inspire the search for solutions to Alaska’s devastating violent crime statistics for women and the justice system that often fails them. Alaska has the highest per capita rate

“I’m not okay, but I’ll be okay. I would like to see my mother rest in peace.” — Amos Lane, above with his sister, Eunice, has been searching for answers in the murder of his mother since 1985. Their story is told in the film Justice for Harriet.

of violence against women, and these rates represent only cases reported to law enforcement. Indigenous women are at least four times more likely than others to be victims. The state also has the highest rates of rape, more than twice that of the next two highest states, Michigan and Nevada. The campaign’s film series, Silent No More, as well as its podcast component, Resolve, tell the stories behind these statistics. MEDIA WITH MEANING

Justice for Harriet, a contender for several film festivals, is in its final editing stages, and more films are coming as funding allows. A trailer for the series can be viewed on the Save Our Sisters Alaska website,, with haunting vocals and sound design by Pamyua. Showcasing Inuit culture through music

and dance, Pamyua’s world tour was cancelled by COVID-19, so the timing was right, as was the cause. “It was a special opportunity to do something very sincere,” said group member Phillip Blanchett. “The film is a really good way of opening up the dialogue… “I come from a rural community and have witnessed firsthand the depth of trauma and almost countless stories of trauma and abuse that are a part of the fabric in the lives of so many people,” he said. “So much of this abuse is hard to talk about. All the more reason we need to be able to talk about these things in a safe environment, where the focus is on growth and healing. We need to find a way to deal with the past.” Affinityfilms—“media with meaning”—is an Anchorage-based nonprofit media production company that has produced docu-

mentaries on a wide range of social issues, including health, mental illness, homelessness, and environmental justice. “We at Affinityfilms have a long history of using storytelling for healing and support,” said Mary Katzke, founder, filmmaker, photographer, writer, and producer. “It’s our hope that we’re going to be able to make some differences here in the horrible numbers we have.” The Save Our Sisters Alaska creative team includes Katzke, producer; Deborah Schildt, filmmaker and director; Alice Qannik Glenn, podcaster; Rhonda McBride, journalist and “supreme networker,” as Katzke says; Tami Truett Jerue of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center in Fairbanks; Keeley Olson, Executive Director of Standing Together Against Rape (STAR), and Tara Bourdukofsky, advisor on how to best A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0


interview those who’ve suffered trauma in a culturally sensitive way. In addition to films, the campaign is producing a series of podcasts with survivors of rape, childhood sexual abuse, trafficking, and other forms of violence against Alaska Native women, children, and men. Four Resolve podcasts have been released so far, with more episodes in the works. As host, Alice Qannik Glenn already has a large following of her regular podcast, Coffee & Quaq, which celebrates and explores contemporary and traditional Alaska Native ways of life. The Resolve content, she said, is new territory. Difficult conversations sometimes come up in Coffee & Quaq, she said, but this is going straight into a difficult conversation. “In Alaska, we suffer a lot of negative statistics, so we talk about that a lot. But numbers don’t always connect with people. They don’t connect with me. I minored in math, but still I’m not a numbers person. I think the stories really bring a name or face to the statistics. We’re not always comfortable doing that, but we have to if we’re ever going to be connected in some way on a deeper level. We have to humanize these statistics.” Glenn is often praised as an exceptional listener. She grew up in Utqiaġvik with gifted storytellers in her family and community so she’s had a lot of practice. It’s all about respect. For her Resolve podcasts, she runs questions by those she’ll be interviewing so they can prepare and not be taken off guard. “It’s part of the reciprocity thing,” she said. “I feel like they are sharing a really vulnerable story about themselves, and we have to give back in every way we can. We want to make sure they’re comfortable with everything they share.” “Alice is a really gentle, careful interviewer,” said Katzke. “She backs off if anything starts to feel like it might be too much. But most people, once you give them the platform, they surprise even themselves with how well they can tell their stories and why it matters so much. And that, frankly, is what makes people interested. It’s what makes people feel compassion and empathy and want to support what they’re doing.” In Resolve’s third episode, Glenn speaks with Britney Baier of Nikiski, a survivor of childhood sexual trauma and, as a young adult, sex trafficking. “It was the first time I’d done a podcast so I was a little bit nervous,” Baier said in a subsequent phone interview. “Alice is amazing.


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

“Most people, once you give them the platform, they surprise even themselves with how well they can tell their stories and why it matters so much.”

I felt safe talking to her. I was excited about it because I want to get my story out there. I want to give others hope.” In the podcast she tells Glenn of growing up in a home besieged by alcoholism and domestic violence, of being sexually abused by a cousin at six for a couple of years, then by a step-aunt at 12. “I never told a soul,” she said. “I kept that in. I was kind of this walking ball of shame.” As she tells Glenn, then came alcohol, drugs, sex, stealing, and dealing, anything to numb the pain. Her downhill slide accelerated at the hands of a big-time dealer and sex trafficker in California, to whom she ended up owing big money. He forced her to go to California to work off her debt. “He was going to kill me and my family. He’d already killed my dog. We came home and he was dead and there was a note.” Addicted, selling her body, and far from home, she was buried so deep in despair she didn’t care if she lived or died until a random man in a pickup truck rescued her from the street. That wasn’t the end of it, she tells Glenn. But back in Nikiski, she eventually did start getting her life together through sobriety, faith, and sharing her story. Now a married mom of five, she loves her new path, which includes a career in marketing for the local radio station. “I first told my story to my sponsor at Alcoholics Anonymous, just that one-on-one between me, her, and God,” she said. “Once I did that, there was just a huge weight off my shoulders. I no longer had any deep, dark secrets and I started the process of healing.” She’s shared her story many times since, to individuals, to groups. “A little bit more of my story is revealed almost every time I speak. The process is just beautiful.” LISTENING WITH HEART

Sealaska Corporation is among the organizations that have stepped up to help fund the campaign. “After just a very brief conversation with Mary Katzke, it was apparent there was a lot of value,” said Matt Carle, Sealaska’s Senior Director of Corporate Communications. “For us down here in Southeast, the initiative was close to home.” Watching a rough cut of Justice for Harriet cinched it. “It was just such a powerful piece,” he said. “To us, it spoke to the human impact

“A little bit more of my story is revealed almost every time I speak. The process is just beautiful.” — Britney Baier, left, with Alice Qannik Glenn, host of the podcast series Resolve. The podcasts are part of the Save our Sisters Alaska campaign.

and why (the campaign) is so important. It really forces communities and families to confront what’s happening under their nose. “It’s such an important initiative, and we’re really proud to be able to support it in a small way. I’m just really impressed with Mary. We look forward to more great work from her and from the campaign.” If more funding can be found, plans for the campaign include pamphlets, street murals, posters in airports, panel discussions through Alaska Public Media, as well as an additional nine films and eight podcasts. Katzke and Deborah Schildt, director of Justice for Harriet, have worked together for more than 20 years. “We’ve been involved with lots of causes, and this is one that hits to the center of our hearts,” Schildt said. “We see it as a human rights issue.

“As women first and Alaskans second, we feel compelled to do something about it. How can we make a difference with the skill sets that we have? How can we help get a message of change out there? People have been assaulted physically, emotionally, mentally in our state, how do you begin to help right that wrong? “I think it starts by listening, listening really, really carefully… listening hard with your heart. Listening and thinking about how we can find a synergy, a way to collaborate, a way to work with our fellow sisters and our fellow Alaskans to bring about change.” ■ Debra McKinney is a frequent contributor to FORUM magazine. She is the author of Beyond the Bear. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0


The Magic Behind the Words Life lessons from one of Alaska’s finest editors By Don Rearden


first heard of Alaska Quarterly Review the day I received acceptance into graduate school at UAA. I taught high school English in my hometown of Bethel at the time, and shared the news with Ben Kuntz, a good buddy, and now a professor at the Kuskokwim Campus. He’s easily the most wellread person I know and he became noticeably excited when I said my advisor would be Ronald Spatz. “Whoa,” Kuntz said, “that’s great. He’s the editor of AQR!” As a Bethel kid, I’m no stranger to acronyms. The tundra town is awash in letter abbreviations for everything from the hospital, to the store, the high school, and every business and building in between. I’d never heard of AQR, or the full name Alaska Quarterly Review, and the look Ben gave me when he realized I’d never heard of this prestigious Alaska literary journal was two parts, are you serious? And one part, and you call yourself a writer! I instantly understood from Ben’s befuddled look, this outsider and new to Alaska, that AQR was something I should not only know about, but should probably read. And, like most things literary, my pal Ben was correct. What I didn’t know then, as I poured over one of Ben’s copies of the journal, was the role this Ronald Spatz character and AQR would come to play in my development of becoming the writer and educator I am today. Ronald Spatz, a UAA professor and founding editor of AQR, took me under his tutelage and, to be completely honest, nearly broke me. He saw something in my work worth fighting for, but he also somehow knew a deep dark dirty secret about my writing, and he was the first one ever, in the


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

history of my entire education, to call me out. He saw and recognized my raw talent, but he knew I was cheating and relying on that talent to dazzle and trick readers without knowing the craft, without knowing how to slow down, or make the work meaningful. This lesson didn’t come easy for me. When I sat down with him after turning in a draft of my final thesis project, my first novel, he flopped the giant manuscript down on the desk with a resounding thump and said two words: “Rewrite it.” “Revise it?” I asked. I’d been through several creative writing workshops with Professor Spatz and also had an internship as a grad student reading submissions for AQR, so I knew he could at times be difficult, or not communicate as gracefully as one might like, but I knew his genius and trusted his advice. Still. He couldn’t be saying what I thought he said. Could he? “Rewrite it,” he said. I think I eked out something pathetic and desperate like, “But I’m graduating in a few months!” He proceeded to tell me that my novel felt rushed, plot driven, and sloppy. I asked for an example and he flipped to a random page and read it aloud and I sat there dumbfounded. The passage he read sounded cliché, alien, and horrible. Never had anyone challenged my work. Never had I been told to rewrite something. Never had I been told to slow down. To make the work matter. I struggled for a bit with the news I wouldn’t be graduating that spring, and that my novel was a bust, but ultimately, I sat down and went to work. I rewrote that novel and learned as much about myself and the writing process as I had in the entirety

“Ronald Spatz and his crack team of editors put together one hell of a magazine. Read it cover to cover; put it on your coffee table; impress your friends. This magazine’s so hot, it makes any number of editors in the Lower 48 look like they’re living in the ice age.” — JOHN MCNALLY, LITER ARY MAGAZINE REVIEW

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0


of my time as a young writer. Not only did I come away from this experience with a better end product, and a manuscript that would ultimately land me my first agent and high level interest from major publishers, but my life had been enriched by someone with the chutzpah to call me out on my flaws and help me become the artist I am today. Without his vision as an editor and advisor, I don’t think I would have gone on to produce writing that I would call art. I would still be a writer, and continue to write, but I know for certain that without Ronald Spatz, I’d never have written a novel that would go on to become something Alaskan students read in their high school or college classes. Since its founding 40 years ago (August 1980), Alaska Quarterly Review has created strong outward facing connection between Alaska and the larger literary community in the U.S. and abroad, and has been an influential force in support for new and emerging literary work. “With Alaska Quarterly Review’s vantage point here at the top of the world, I have always sought to connect Alaska to the rest of the United States as well as to the global literary community,” says Spatz. “Over these four decades those connections have grown stronger and stronger.” AQR is considered a national treasure when it comes to literary journals, publishing both literary giants and new first-time writers alike. The accolades and acclaim are too numerous to list here, but they are noteworthy and significant and come from places like the The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Washington Post, National Poet Laureates, Pulitzer Prize, and MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant Winners. And while all that is impressive and justified, to me, what is more important is that Spatz and AQR have pushed the literary envelope and given a voice to so many new writers from Alaska and beyond. “I like to say that Alaska Quarterly Review is of Alaska but not Alaskan,” Spatz recently reflected. “That Alaska’s borders define us more by what they encompass than what they keep out. Integral to that view is the rich Alaska Native culture and heritage. We have been mindful of Alaska Native tradition bearers who keep their cultures alive through their stories and words. AQR’s special issue Alaska Native Writers, Storytellers & Orators was published as a book and has gone through multiple editions with collaborating editors Gary Holthaus, Nora Dauenhauer, and Richard Dauenhauer (for the original edition), and Jeane Breinig and


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

This is a poem that I wrote about a wilderness lesson learned while bird hunting on the tundra when I was twelve. —D.R.

Without a Paddle the motor sputtered a lifetime away from the village John lifted the gas tank into the blue sky with one swift jerk empty no current to carry us home across the shallow lakes down the winding river no wind to blow away the growing fog of buzzing vampires the fourteen feet of aluminum boat carried only the following: one 8th grade whiteboy in hip boots one 10th grade Yupik bird hunting machine two shotguns several dead ducks (various species) one empty red gas tank one silver anchor with yellow rope missing: gas, oar, radio

we knew this much: no one would look for us no one would worry about us until several hours after dark and that was a month away we also knew this much: we had to save ourselves or get lucky and hope for other hunters

I stuffed my Remington barrel first into my hip boot and began to paddle John threw out the anchor towards home and began to pull in the line the shotgun paddle didn’t work I removed the outboard engine cover and scooped singing row row the boat progress came an arm-length and anchor throw at a time hungry and thirsty we stopped and devoured tundra blackberries drank the murky water throw, pull, paddle paddle, pull, throw the sun circled the Arctic and threatened to return home still not even on the watery horizon our stomach’s ached but we laughed, told stories we would get home eventually mosquito bitten and tired and would never forget to check the fuel or how an anchor is nothing until it is everything

we didn’t get lucky

“Without A Paddle” is taken from Without A Paddle, Don Rearden’s new collection of poetry from Di Angelo Press, released in November 2020.

Pat Partnow (for the expanded edition). Individual works by Alaska Native writers have also appeared in various issues of AQR and we have published special features of the works of Richard Davis Hoffmann (poems), Joan Kane (poems), and Susie Silook (Memoir as Drama).” “The impact of Alaska Quarterly Review,” U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski said in a tribute to AQR on the floor of the U.S. Senate, “extends far from its origins in my home state and is worthy of celebration by this body and all Americans who recognize the power of the literary arts to shape our thoughts, our ideals, and our country.” The Washington Post put it this way: “That one of the nation’s best literary magazines comes out of Alaska may seem surprising, but so it is.” And now, in his 41st year at UAA, Spatz continues to innovate with AQR and has put together a series of virtual readings in a celebration that spans from now until Spring. In true AQR fashion, the readings will come from as diverse of a collection of award winning and bestselling authors to up-and-coming writers as anyone could gather. From literary icons like Celeste Ng, Jane Hirshfield, Yusef Komunyakaa, Naomi Shihab Nye, Tracy Kidder; to beloved Alaskans Peggy Shumaker, the late Eva Saulitis, Emily Wall, X’unei Lance Twitchell; and former Alaskans John Luther Adams, Sean Hill, and Liz Bradfield. In an editorial note from a recent edition, Spatz sums up the purpose of a journal like AQR, and gives us a glimpse into his life’s work and perhaps our own, “Each of the essays, stories, and poems in this edition is about a certain truth and, by extension, about the experiential and revelatory qualities that express fundamental human values. Ultimately, that’s why the literary arts (and all arts) matter.” He elaborates further on the importance of this work, “The literary arts help us overcome an inherent myopic tribal nature, whether it be based on national, racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual identities, in order to forge the connections that come from the shared experiences that are created. That body of work is a reservoir of truth that is critical to our understanding of social justice and human liberty. The stakes could not be higher or the need more urgent.” The needs of life today on so many levels are certainly urgent, and yet we find ourselves with access to meaningful and important homegrown work like AQR that we can slow down and immerse ourselves in, and in doing so, become better human beings.

“That one of the nation’s best literary magazines comes out of Alaska may seem surprising, but so it is.” — THE WASHINGTON POST

Ronald Spatz has been editor of Alaska Quarterly Review since its founding.

I know for certain that what I’ve learned from Ronald Spatz and the artists on the pages of Alaska Quarterly Review has made me a stronger writer and a better person, and I am grateful. It is worth reflecting on those educators and the art that we encounter in our lives that change and shape us. Rarely do we have the time or opportunity to express our gratitude to the person who inspired or motivated us to strive a little harder, or stretch ourselves, to believe we are capable of doing better. To the teacher who handed us the book that would alter the trajectory of our life. The musician who struck a chord of a heart string. The painter with brushstrokes that transported us beyond the canvas. The editor who saw the magic in our own words. ■ Don Rearden is a masked and socially distanced author and professor. He’s currently the Chair of the Department of Writing at UAA. His books include The Raven’s Gift, Never Quit, Warrior’s Creed, and a new collection of poems called Without A Paddle.

Pièces de Résistance Pièces de Résistance is a weekly benefit series celebrating AQR ’s 40th anniversary that began on October 4 and continues through May 2, 2021. The event features 21 free, live online readings and conversations with 58 exceptional new, emerging, and established poets and writers who have appeared in AQR. It is sponsored by the Center for the Narrative & Lyric Arts, hosted by the Anchorage Museum, and moderated by author Heather Lende and AQR co-founder and editor Ronald Spatz. Learn more at and on the Alaska Quarterly Review YouTube Channel.

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0


Wellness through Iñuit storytelling, Native science, and creative expression

Decolonizing Suicide Postvention in the Arctic By Debby Dahl Edwardson

“Something is stalking the village people,” wrote Howard Weaver in his Pulitzer prize-winning series of reports, “A People in Peril,” published in the Anchorage Daily News in 1988. “Across the state, the Eskimos, Indians and Aleuts of Bush Alaska are dying in astonishing numbers... there is roughly a one in 10 chance that a 15-year-old Native boy will kill himself or make a serious attempt to do so before he is 25,” Weaver wrote. This story hasn’t aged well, unfortunately. The statistics have gotten worse. The CDC now says that Alaska Natives have the highest rates of suicide of any racial group in the country and that the rates of suicide in this population have been increasing since 2003. In recent years, the story of increasing suicides in Inuit communities has crossed borders, encompassing circumpolar Inuit communities from Alaska to Greenland, with screaming headlines like: “The Inuit Youth Suicide Epidemic in Arctic Canada” or “The Suicide Capital of the World: Why do so many Greenlanders kill themselves?” None of this is news to those living in these Arctic communities, where virtually every family has been deeply affected by suicide. “I’ve lost two uncles, a half a dozen cousins, and way too many friends and classmates to suicide,” says Aaluk Edwardson of Utqiaġvik. “For me, it’s personal.” Edwardson is the artistic and ex-


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020

ecutive director and founder of Bright Shores, a North Slope organization dedicated to developing projects that support creative expression in the service of community and cultural wellness. One of the projects she’s currently working on is a suicide postvention program, which she sees as a way of reclaiming the conversation around suicide, a conversation too often led by those who have no real understanding of the affected communities. Suicide postvention, as opposed to suicide prevention, focuses on the way a suicide affects families and communities as well as individuals. Research shows that in tight-knit Native communities, suicide can indeed appear to be contagious. “Knowing someone who has committed suicide is a risk factor which significantly increases one’s chances of dying by suicide,” Edwardson explains. Research shows that suicide prevention and postvention programs are more successful when facilitated by those who have suffered a suicide loss or suicide attempt. Research also indicates that the most effective facilitators are those culturally connected to the communities they serve. “This points to the need to ground suicide prevention and postvention programs firmly within a decolonized cultural context, training mental health specialists and community members in

Learn more about Bright Shores at

“The story of the universe and our place in it is an inspiring story... that encourages people to place themselves in a context much bigger than that of any one person or even of any one people.”

cultural safety and culturally responsive practices. Suicide is not a cultural thing, but its treatment needs to be rooted in cultural values and worldviews,” Edwardson says. Edwardson, who has herself suffered from severe depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicidal ideation, has been working on mental health issues in rural Alaska since she was in high school. As the Arctic Slope representative to the Alaska Federation of Natives Youth and Elders Conference, she led a working group which developed a new resolution for mental health, pointing to the need for more comprehensive mental health services. “We thought we needed to reframe our understanding of social issues to highlight mental health, because focusing on an addiction-only model doesn’t allow us to address the root cause of why people reach for drugs or alcohol, violence or suicide,” Edwardson said. Edwardson, who describes herself as a multidisciplinary artist working on com-

munity wellness, attended Dartmouth College where she studied the use of creative expression, specifically theater, as a healing medium. She describes Bright Shores as “a strength-based, solutionfacing organization.” Art as used in Edwardson’s programs is a spiritual, culturally-rooted medium that emphasizes the strengths of indigenous people and their communities rather than focusing on the deficits created by colonization. Through Bright Shores, Edwardson is testing the waters in her home region, the North Slope, with a slope-wide wellness campaign using theater in a community-focused healing program called ATTA. It’s named after the play that’s at the core of the program, a play which Edwardson began working on as a student at Dartmouth. The ATTA project uses traditional Iñupiaq stories in a drama-based curriculum that culminates with a performance. Bright Shores employs the use of story and storytelling in a variety of ways to help develop personal and community narratives. “The study of narrative psychology shows that storytelling does in fact support cognitive, social, and community wellness,” Edwardson says. As creative guidance for the ATTA project, Bright Shores uses the four realms of the Iñupiaq world as elucidated by Jana Pausauraq Harcharek in the North Slope Borough School District’s Iñupiaq Learning Framework. The play centers on a traditional Iñupiaq story about Nuliauk, commonly known as Sedna, with references to social, cultural, environmental, and scientific data. It was written with the expectation that there would be breakout sessions with discussions around certain scenes in the play. These discussions touch on important issues in the Arctic such as suicide, environmental change, and cultural resiliency. “Expressive arts therapies, such as performance, use the body as an instrument for healing and can be very helpful in working through trauma, including suicide,” Edwardson says. The show has been produced twice, once in New Hampshire and once in Alaska. Along with the use of traditional stories, Edwardson also uses science and A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 0


research from a number of disciplines to spark wider discussion and contemplation. “Suicide tends to separate you from everything,” Edwardson says. “People tell you to just get over it but you can’t. So, one of the tactics we use is to bring in research about how humans evolved during times of crisis by exploring ancient stories about rebirth, trauma, and change.” In the evenings leading up to the production of the play, Bright Shores will host community learning workshops on ancient Iñuit engineering, the commercial whaling period in Alaska, and climate change in the Arctic, both ancient and contemporary. “This work focuses on a central theme for Bright Shores that supports facing the pain of the planet body through the lens of the human body and vice versa,” Edwardson says. “The story of the

“One of the tactics we use is to bring in research about how humans evolved during times of crisis by exploring ancient stories about rebirth, trauma, and change.” universe and our place in it is an inspiring story with the kind of imagery that encourages people to place themselves in a context much bigger than that of any one person or even of any one people. This results in a healthier perspective on personal challenges and struggles, a perspective shift critically important for people who are struggling with mental illness” she adds. The cumulative experience is that ATTA is not just a performance; it uses drama to involve the community in a deeper way to not only deal with the pain of suicide, but to teach history and climate science because, as Edwardson writes: “Every culture has its own understanding of the science of the world and in many cases the universe. The parameters around what is known varies as does what is defined as truth or fact.” The goal is to empower the Native scientific worldview which has been devalued and ignored by the forces of colonization. With the understanding, as researcher M. Ogawa writes, that “western science is only one form of science among the sciences of the world,” the ATTA project emphasizes Iñupiaq science which tends to be holistic, locally-rooted, contextual, and well-steeped in the values of the people. The premiere of the ATTA project on the North Slope began successfully with a performance in Utqiaġvik in the summer of 2019 and Edwardson hopes to tour the Arctic in 2022. Bright Shores as an organization will continue to foster projects like ATTA which use creative expression in the service of the kinds of cultural engagement programs which support indigenous wellness through indigenous science and suicide postvention. The organization, Edwardson says, is growing “like the tundra as it emerges from the spring’s last frost: rooted and ready to grow.” Debby Dahl Edwardson lives and writes from Utqiaġvik, her home of 40 years. Her most recent novel, My Name is Not Easy, was a finalist for the National Book Award. She teaches history and writing at Il• isaġvik College.


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M FA L L 2020


Working together with

Alaska Humanities Forum to connect our community.

Thank you for being a great neighbor and helping to make this such a wonderful community to be a part of.

Invest in Alaska. Our communities. Our future. Your donation deepens understanding, trust, and connection across Alaska. It's an investment in programs, grants, events, and publications that connect people through stories, ideas, and experiences. Please support Alaska Humanities Forum by

making a gift to sustain these opportunities and resources into the future. Your donation makes a real, lasting difference in communities across our state. Thank you.



The first impulse is to bundle and hide my children. Mother Thought of Everything is a project by Anchorage artist Amy Meissner, in collaboration with photographer Brian Adams, using Tyvek, abandoned quilts, vintage labels, and used household protective equipment. This project creates personal shelter from meager supplies and inadequate skills, seeking an alternative space of care and tending through the merging of the domestic and vast; of inner and outer realms;

of mundane and ridiculous. Isolation, gearing oneself for moon, sea, storm, and safekeeping all formed the conceptual scaffolding for this work, but the physicality of constructing such protection followed by the wearers’ sweltering complaints intensified all the unseen labor involved in loving someone fiercely—let alone saving them—during an era of environmental, political, and body failure. Learn more at

421 West First Avenue, Suite 200 Anchorage, AK 99501 (907) 272-5341


Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.