FORUM magazine | Spring 2021

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Stewards of the Denali Wilderness Women of the North Conversations Across Generations An Unrelenting Leader

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f the past 12 months have shown us anything, it’s that our need for community and connection is greater than ever. This spring, we find ourselves slowly emerging from the reality of a once-in-a-century pandemic that has created conditions of fear and separation, unprecedented economic difficulties, and extended learning interruptions for young people. Add that to the volatile combination of sharpening political strife and growing dissatisfaction with societal inequity, and it’s no wonder that so many of us are feeling isolated, alone, and helpless in the face of such challenges. At the Alaska Humanities Forum we knew early that our work building and connecting community was going to be more vital than ever this year. To quote Helen Keller, “Alone, we can do little; together, we can do so much more.” We have worked hard to be responsive to the increasing community need for connection and conversation, and we developed new strategic priorities to focus our work on the issues most important to Alaskans. These include finding new ways to bring Alaskans into relationship with one another, building trust, and fostering awareness and appreciation for what we share and how we differ. We are also looking to build our capacity to serve more communities across the state, especially those that are underserved and underrepresented, with a renewed commitment to work collectively on the most important issues of our day and to address oppression and injustice. We want to continue to lean into innovative program design that is increasingly both community-informed and community-led. And, we’re looking to find new ways to share and amplify Alaska stories, particularly those that are not already widely known and those that complicate the narratives we take for granted. I want to take a moment to thank all of the people and organizations throughout Alaska that have supported the Forum this year. You have allowed us to keep moving forward to provide vital programming to communities throughout our state. I’m anticipating the time very soon where we can come back together for in-person gatherings. I look forward to seeing you soon. Warmly, Kameron Perez-Verdia President & CEO


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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 Aminata Taylor, 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

We’re looking to

Ben Mallott, Anchorage

find new ways to

Laci Michaud, Anchorage

share and amplify Alaska stories, particularly those that are not already widely known and those that complicate the narratives we take for granted.

Peter Metcalfe, Juneau Judith Owens-Manley, Anchorage Jeffrey Siemers, Soldotna Sheri Skelton, Anchorage Jeannine Stafford-Jabaay, Hope Sharon Thompson, Anchorage Mead Treadwell, ex officio, Anchorage

STAFF Kameron Perez-Verdia, President & CEO Emily Brockman, Youth Curriculum Manager Megan Cacciola, Director of Programs Jazmine Camp, Education Program Coordinator Amanda Dale, Education Program Manager Lev Greenstein, Alaska Fellow Nancy Hemsath, Grants Manager & Board Liaison Helen John, Youth Program Coordinator Erica Khan, Education Cultural Specialist Zach Lane, Education Program Coordinator Kari Lovett, Operations 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: Joe Yelverton, Debra McKinney, Lila Hobbs, Matthew Komatsu, Kenni Linden, Anne Vollertsen, Laureli Ivanoff, Asya Gipson, Toya Brown, Charitie Ropati, Susan Soule


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Paper dolls, circa 1940, are part of a diverse and wide-ranging exhibition at the Anchorage Museum called Extra Tough: Women of the North. See page 9. ANCHORAGE MUSEUM, GIFT OF CAROL CAREY, 1992.11.2

4 The Language of the Great Silent Places A century of dog sledding in the shadow of Denali

9 Extra Tough Anchorage Museum exhibition offers a transcendent vision of Women of the North

14 Writing is not a Passive Act A mother-and-daughter writing duo consider their relationships to poetry

19 An Unrelenting Servant Leader Gloria O’Neill, LA1 alumna and President and CEO of CITC, reflects on leadership, community, and collaboration

22 Anchored Histories Library of Congress grant supports Alaska educators in telling stories through film

26 Way to Kick the Demon’s Ass Matthew Komatsu remembers Sherry Simpson

28 KINDLING CONVERSATION Salmonberries and Saag Aloo Kenni Psenak Linden’s poem helps us reflect on how we navigate and carry heritages

30 GRANT REPORT In Other News The Alaska Teen Media Institute gives youth skills to investigate the world, find a future in media

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. ©2021.

34 A Conversation Across Generations What does racial equity demand of us?

36 Distinguished Service to the Humanities The 2020 Governor’s Arts & Humanities Awards

40 New Board Members This fall, the Forum welcomed five new board members

43 AFTER IMAGE Lost Treasure What happened when a box of slides from 1950s Alaska turned up in Holland

COVER: Nucha, one of 26 working sled dogs at Denali National Park and Preserve. See next page. PHOTO BY JOE YELVERTON.

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A century of dog sledding in the shadow of Denali By Joe Yelverton

The Language of the Great Silent Places

Cracking the cold winter air, a distinctive voice radiates through the forest, arousing three more voices, and a whimsical ensemble. A bemused raven observes from atop an old spruce tree, tilting her head at the growing commotion. Six more voices join in, creating a peculiar melody, now echoing across the hillsides. Countless others add their voices, making the once discordant chorus an affecting anthem, flooding the landscape with a visceral sound, overflowing with emotion. These passionate voices belong to 26 sled dogs, Alaskan huskies, each one with a distinct personality, all belonging to a complex social hierarchy, communicating in a way that might seem like a cacophony to some. But for the curious, for those who love


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nature and all its idiosyncrasies, the language of the huskies resonates with a transcendent quality that many of us yearn for—a connection to wild things, wild places, and deep meaning. In the most primal way possible, these iconic canines are expressing a collective sense of anticipation, excitement for the opportunity to fulfill their life purpose: feeling resistance against their muscular bodies, pulling a sled through a winter landscape, carrying a human who has formed a bond with them, built on a relationship of mutual trust. David Tomeo is one of these humans, serving in a unique position as the kennel manager for Denali National Park and Preserve. The 51-year-old Park Service employee talks about the process of readying the dogs for work and heading out on the trail—putting harnesses on jubilant bodies, unfettered in their display of affection for their handlers; then strategically hooking

One of the kennel teams on patrol in the Wonder Lake area, returning to the Wonder Lake Ranger Station. PHOTO BY DAVID TOMEO.

each one to a tow line, finally setting off where the dogs are most at home, out on patrol. “Forming a cohesive team, culminating in a singular focus,” says Tomeo, describing the orchestration of work, often done under the guidance of the assistant kennel manager, Julie Carpenter, also a veteran musher and a long time Park Service employee. Carpenter is preparing three separate teams for a day trip, aiming to keep the (snowy) Spring Trail from headquarters to the Savage River broken open for park visitors. On a morning in late March, despite the growing daylight, Denali is still locked in winter. Dog mushing kennels are common in Alaska and elsewhere in the northern latitudes, but there’s no other kennel in the world like Denali’s, supported by the U.S. federal government inside a national park. The dogs Tomeo and Carpenter work with are

known as freight dogs, a breed different from their smaller racing cousins. These are large huskies with muscular physiques and thicker coats that keep them warm, traits that were once common in Alaska, long before it became the 49th State. Carpenter and two volunteer mushers are nearly finished assembling their individual teams. The dogs look like kids on a grade school playground, pent up energy resulting in tangles and minor disputes. Carpenter sorts things out by having frank discussions with each of the problem dogs. She casts a sideways look to reinforce the message. The dogs, all of them, see her as the alpha—and a source of intense love. Hardware jingles as furry bodies wiggle, some with delight, some with impatience. Lead dogs anxiously turn their heads, looking back to check progress. Claws paw at the ground, throwing snow on neighboring dogs. A flurry of tails, all wagging. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 21


Assistant Kennels Manager Julie Carpenter with Prusik. PHOTO BY JOE YELVERTON.

Royal and S’more. PHOTO BY DAVID TOMEO

All three teams are like an array of loaded cannons, packed full of brightly colored confetti. Every single dog, beaming with intent, anticipating that feeling when they’re finally released, when the dog driver yells, “Let’s go!” And then it happens: unruly dogs suddenly become disciplined wilderness athletes. Resolute faces atop a blur of legs, the hiss of sled runners, followed by a descending quiet, the snowpack absorbing all but the ambient sound of silence. On this particular day, Tomeo stays behind to manage the dayto-day operation. Relishing a moment of peace, he summarizes what just unfolded. “It goes from chaos to focus,” he says, watching the last team disappear into the woods. Tomeo spends a good part of his time carrying on a 99-yearold tradition, working a few miles up the road from the park entrance, where the kennel was relocated in 1929. Built in that same year, a two-story log cabin still stands, one of a handful of structures in Denali that reside on the National Register of Historic Places. The preserved cabin remains fully functional, still serving the current kennel staff, supporting their mission, caring for the dogs, preparing for multi-day wintertime patrols, expeditionary field science support, and frequent daily runs to train the dogs. All of these outings are conducted within a relatively


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Kennels Manager David Tomeo with Pika. PHOTO BY JOE YELVERTON

undeveloped park that’s eight times the size of Yosemite, but with a fraction of the amenities, including roads. A blanket of quiet lays over Denali in winter, by far the longest season, when the land remains pristine, save for the meandering tracks of Denali’s wild animals and, occasionally, a single ribbon of trail revealing where the dog teams travel across the park. Inside the original kennel building, the smell of leather and oil is punctuated by the squeak of old floorboards. Shelves are loaded with a veritable library, chronicles of history, backcountry manuals, books on dog physiology. Cabinet drawers full of dogsled parts and, below that, tools for repairs. Dozens of dog harnesses hang from the walls. Winter gloves, strung on a clothesline. Among a neatly organized hodgepodge, rough cut beams display nameplates of every dog who has made Denali home. Celebrating a long lineage of huskies, some monikers give insight into demeanor, others suggest origins of bloodline. Names like Attla, Patch, Savage, Pingo, Lupine, and Pixie. There are dozens more; names of legendary places, nicknames suggesting femininity, playfulness, shyness, leadership. Tomeo talks about the purpose for using a seemingly antiquated mode of transportation, painting a stark contrast to faster and easier methods, like snow machines and helicopters. “The concept of wilderness, and restricting what happens in the wilder-

The original kennel building displays the nameplates of every dog who has made Denali home. PHOTO BY JOE YELVERTON

ness, can sometimes be an off-putting topic to relay to people,” he says. “But using these dedicated canine rangers and this unique method of travel, helps convey the importance. The dogs are one of the top attractions at the park,” he says. “They’ve become great ambassadors.” Tomeo’s attributes lend credence to his words, having the weathered look of someone comfortable in harsh elements, a quality complemented by his Alaska stoicism. He’s spent the last twenty years working in different capacities associated with the park, which partly explains why he’s so fluent in Denali’s rich history. He talks philosophically about the value of cultural traditions, and how dogsledding symbolizes an important part of Alaska’s heritage, especially related to Denali’s history before and after it was federally designated as a park. Dating back to the late 1800’s, small teams of explorers began reconnaissance of the region, leading to interest in claiming the first ascent of then-named Mt. McKinley. Around that same time, hundreds of would-be miners arrived too late to capitalize on the Klondike Gold Rush, and those still struck with visions of gold ventured to more remote locations, one north of Denali, where gold was discovered in the Kantishna Hills. The area was lit with frenzy. The objective of most early explorers and miners

was resource extraction and conquering high places, activities that were often done at any cost. Ironically, these “discoveries” and early explorations were made in a region already well known to Athabaskans and even earlier Alaska Natives, the later dating back 13,000 years, who left such little trace of their existence it required deliberate efforts of National Park Service archeologists to actually find evidence of their passage, left behind in nomadic hunting camps. Much farther north and east, dating back long before the time of early, White exploration, Inuits made use of dog teams at least 2,000 years ago, and the modern Alaskan husky is thought to have descended from their northern, coastal cousins. Over a hundred years ago, the use of sled dog teams was prolific in the Denali region, at first supporting exploration, prospecting, and even unchecked harvesting of game used to support the rise of new activities and life in the growing town of Fairbanks. Professional “market hunters” would kill countless sheep, moose, and caribou, and haul the meat away to sell, feeding the influx of people. Hunters may have naively believed that resources were unlimited. It took the vision of an unlikely conservationist to signal alarm. Denali’s natural bounty had limits, and a wealthy hunter-turned-naturalist recognized this. Originally from Vermont, A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 21


National Park Service plane on Wonder Lake. Left to right: intern Mitch Flanigan, pilot Seth McMillan, and Assistant Kennels Manager Ashley Guevara. PHOTO BY DAVID TOMEO

Charles Alexander Sheldon made three trips to Alaska, the first in 1906. His last trip cemented his concern, compelling him to use his connections and political savvy to convince Congress to establish Mt. McKinley National Park, which eventually happened in 1917. Surprising to some is the fact that forming the park had nothing to do with honoring the tallest mountain in North America, and everything to do with preserving the flora and fauna that existed in its shadow. Something First Alaskans had already been doing, Tomeo points out. “Thousands of years before Charles Sheldon, Alaska Natives were coming through this area and making use in a way that left little impact.” In that same tradition, Tomeo says, “There’s some value in knowing there are places where there’s wilderness, where it’s relatively untrammeled by human development, and human incursions into those areas are as minimally impacting as possible.” “We’re using the least impactful tools possible, the most historic mode of travel,” he says. Tomeo describes how conducting sled dog patrols into the


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park is a good metaphor in discussions with park visitors. During the summer tourist season, staff at the kennel sometimes face skeptics. Visitors ask, “Why would you do it the hard way?” Tomeo responds philosophically, “There’s a whole lot of things we could make more efficient.” “Why not just whip out your smart phone?” he says with a hint of sarcasm, but then explains valid reasons for learning in more authentic ways, resulting in knowledge that becomes more intuitive, more meaningful. In some cases there’s value in doing things the hard way, he professes, similar to the effort required to preserve our heritage. “There’s value in that process,” he says, especially in passing on knowledge and history. “We’re preserving traditions to help carry forward stories, the stories of our elders,” he explains, evoking the notion that our culture benefits from people and agencies tasked with preservation. “Being stewards,” Tomeo says, “we need to watch out for death by a thousand cuts.” Otherwise, he suggests, “Your baseline for what’s historic changes,” implying that one compromise can lead to another, and another, and then an unraveling of the very fabric that forms our culture, leaving us with nothing of importance to pass on to future generations, leaving us unmoored. “This wilderness was preserved, and development kept out, for the American public now and the American public in the future,” says Tomeo. “Imagine if you could only see bears in zoos, or if you could only see dogsledding in old videos.” When Sheldon explored Denali in the early 1900s, he hired a veteran dog musher as his guide, Harry Karstens, a true Alaska sourdough who would later be on the first ascent of Denali. Knowing Karstens’ reputation for being tough and uncompromising, Sheldon was instrumental in Karstens being selected as the first superintendent of the park, a time when dog teams were used extensively, including on poaching patrols. When the park was in its infancy, no one knew the land better than Karstens. It’s likely he also knew how dependent he was on his dogs, for without their help and companionship, he never would have learned “to understand the language of the great silent places,” as he aptly described Denali to a meeting of the Women’s Club of Anchorage during his tenure. Perhaps Karstens also understood how dogs reveal our intentions, reflecting our better selves, our mindfulness, and what we choose to nurture. The dogs reveal the truth inside of us. Denali’s dogs are a bridge to a world we are always at risk of losing touch with, places that deeply inspire those who love nature, especially Karstens, when he said, “Here will be found an indescribable calm.” Even among howling huskies. ■

“Imagine if you could only see bears in zoos, or if you could only see dogsledding in old videos.”

Joe Yelverton is an Anchorage based writer and photographer.

Anchorage Museum exhibition offers a transcendent vision of “Women of the North”



“Lena & Pete with the Laundry & the Meat,” by Kathryn C. Mallory (b. 1962), 2007. ANCHORAGE MUSEUM, RASMUSON FOUNDATION ART ACQUISITION FUND, 2008.20.4

By Laureli Ivanoff


got downtown and took 30 steps from the car that day, forgetting to pay for parking. I was already a bit late because, like the stereotypical “villager,” I misjudged traffic. A bit anxious, I walked back with my credit card and rented the tiny spot of land to leave my rental car. I had two hours. I wouldn’t get a ticket this time. So I reset. I took deep breaths and walked. Walking to the Anchorage Museum, it was one of those calm, clear, and sunny spring Alaska days. The kind of day some of us in Unalakleet beg the weather to wake up to. “Please let it be sunny A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 21



Woman with a baby belt. ANCHORAGE MUSEUM, FIC COLLECTION, B1981.19.56 Image of “My Arctic Home,” Bergman, Alaska, 1899.



and calm tomorrow,” because when it is, the earth gives the best conditions for ice fishing. There is nothing like ice fishing on those days when the sun’s heat just begins melting the snow. When you can take your gloves off, bait your hook, and leave the gloves on the snowmachine. When you can take your jacket off and fish in a sweatshirt. When everything is warm. Your face. Your hands. Your feet. Your friends from town you really only see when ice fishing tell stories. Of the big fish they caught the week before. Of the nothing they got the day prior. After the long winter, we find relief from the cold and finally enjoy the sun. I did not know an exhibit at a museum could bring these same feelings. As someone who grew up in Unalakleet, Alaska, where no institutional museum exists, I perhaps have a narrow view of what a museum is. Having visited museums in New York City and Florence, Italy, I view museums as places of colonial construct. Italians show Middle Eastern biblical figures as pale white Romans in their celebrated art. The very placards next to white Jesus tell with an authoritarian voice that the art is to be revered and is exceptional. I guess, maybe. If you are into propaganda. In museums like


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this all I see is a power play. If Jesus was a brown person, why is he shown as white? And why am I paying good money to view this? At the American Museum of Natural History, artifacts likely stolen from our communities are shown as possessions. Like it’s our privilege to view sacred items from my ancestral history behind a glass case. Like it’s my good fortune to pay hard-earned money to view objects once used by my great-greatgreat grandparents to live and thrive. “Here, world,” this museum said to me. “From our good grace and our right to possess what we want, you can see our greatness we achieved through thievery and deception.” It’s cold, right? Harsh. And then you see Extra Tough: Women of the North. I finally met the museum’s Chief Curator, Francesca DuBrock, on that spring day. We had emailed numerous times for various unrelated projects, her from her Anchorage office, me from my home in Unalakleet. From the emails I got the sense of her solid, focused energy. From meeting her in person, I was inspired. Compassion usually evokes light, airy, and soft feelings. Compassion in

Francesca is grounded. Solid. Her compassion mixed with confident truth telling is the grit and love that brings exhibitions like Extra Tough to life. Her example taught me you don’t have to be brawny to be strong. Francesca walked me through the entire exhibition that showcases the life of women in the North. It reflects our history. It shows modern day. While the bulk of the exhibition shows the experience of women in Alaska, some pieces show life of Sáami in Finland, Inuit in Greenland, and other northern areas in the world. Extra Tough: Women of the North does not separate or discriminate. Throughout the entire exhibition, a woman feels as if her history and experience is indeed a part of the rich fabric that makes up the story of who we are in northern latitudes. A nice contrast from the typical macho, mustache-wearing, lands-claiming pioneer or the crab-throwing “Deadliest Catch” image usually evoked of those seen as extra tough in Alaska. “Obviously it has the pop culture reference to xtratuf boots which are a thing here,” Francesca said of the exhibition’s title. She said her colleague Aaron Leggett thought of the title Extra Tough: Women of

Display of makeup at the exhibition Extra Tough: Women of the North. 2020, ANCHORAGE MUSEUM


the North and it just fit because it’s “thinking about toughness as not only in this masculine sense but about resilience and care and warmth and compassion,” she said. And beauty. One of my favorite displays is a clear case showing makeup. Some makeup made for women in France in the early 19th century, right next to makeup created today by Black, Indigenous, and LGTBQ+ entrepreneurs, made for whomever wishes to wear it. From this one case I knew I’d enjoy this visit. Seeing the items in the same case forced me to visualize a world where women are equal. There is no fake constructed hierarchy. It’s dismantled. We’re the same. We’re equal. Intersectional feminism exists. We belong in the same space. There’s strength in community. Viewing the lipstick I recalled a story my friend Greta tells of her grandmother who spent a lot of time at camp up the Squirrel and Kobuk Rivers. In the morning she’d look in the mirror and apply some lipstick. “You never know who might stop by,” she’d say. I pictured her photo above that display case. Strong. It sounds silly but seeing that makeup displayed, I felt safe. What should be taken for granted by all women is not reality for many

women with darker skin tone than white, pink, or peach. As an Iñupiaq writer, I’ve often dealt with imposter syndrome because so much of what’s reflected in the media, in school curriculum, and in museums is not who I am as an Indigenous person. The feeling and sense that I don’t belong is replaced with, “I can take up space. I can take up space in a society made by others and for others. I can assert my voice. I belong here.” I got all this from makeup. In a case. In a museum. In the first five minutes of my visit. And this idea continued. In another clear case, a Yu’pik story knife sits beside factorymanufactured vintage paper dolls, sitting next to a Yup’ik or Iñupiaq paper doll made with crayon, sitting next to a Fiona Fisherman Doll Magnet currently sold on the Salmon Sisters’ website. “There’s not really a hierarchy between art, objects, archival photos, and even things like social media and viral videos,” Francesca said. “It’s really meant to be a blended presentation.” And the entire exhibition truly is. The exhibition shows the experience of women in the North today and in history. It shows the experience of women in leadership and in domesticity. It shows the experience of women in whatever skin A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 21


A still from the film Birds in the Earth, 2019, by the Sáami director Marja Helander (b. 1965). ON LOAN FROM THE ARTIST

tone your body shows to the world, in the many ways we have contributed and continue to contribute today to life in Alaska. For me, it gives a sense of togetherness in a world that today feels more divided than ever. A sense so solid you carry it throughout the exhibition as it grows heavier, strengthening your spine, fine-tuning your vision of who we can be. Not everything in the exhibition is an item from the Anchorage Museum collection, Francesca said. One borrowed piece is an Indigenous short film by Sáami director Marja Helander showing twin Sáami ballerinas in white ballerina costumes performing throughout landscapes in Finland, showing how “civilization” alters land and the organic beauty in the Arctic. For me, the film questions the idea of what civilization is. Civilization does not equal Western development and government. Civilization does not equal fossil fuel-dependent societies. Civilization does not equal land ownership.


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The film, Birds in the Earth, to me relayed the very real truth that it is often Indigenous women who gracefully assert and sacrifice themselves to protect the earth. That, like Indigenous peoples, the earth is sovereign and cannot be owned or dismissed or killed for profit. It is often women who walk up the government steps to fight for the protection and rights of the silent earth and, in turn, Indigenous sovereignty, as the two often go hand in hand. “My fight is your fight,” the film said to me. And it’s alive. Francesca and her team took the extra time and effort to include quotes in the placards next to the artwork. An installation called The Affirmation Chair tells stories from women today about what it means to be tough. Walking through you hear sounds, songs, and voices. The Anchorage Museum is not simply showing our past in artifact and art form. The use of living words gives power to women’s voices and in turn gives courage to use voice. We can make a difference. We are relevant. We are here. We are alive. What we say matters.

“Miowak, 1937.” Fred Machetanz (1908-2002). ANCHORAGE MUSEUM, GIFT OF MRS. LEVI BROWNING, 1972.106.1


Paintings showed women doing work in homes. Hanging laundry. Amaaqing, or what hipsters now call babywearing. A piece by Kivetoruk Moses shows a mermaid he saw one day while out hunting. You see women working to build and contribute to what Alaska is today. Women who built log homes. Dried seal gut for rain gear. Women who taught, piloted, provided healthcare, and, as displayed by an enlarged photo greeting visitors, built the pipeline. One historical painting stopped me. I had heard her name my entire life and I had always thought it beautiful. Mayuġiaq befriended renowned artist Fred Machetanz when he first visited Unalakleet in 1935. He resembled the son she had just lost and later she culturally adopted him. Machetanz, usually known for his cool, white and blue scenes of hunters and animals, paints Mayuġiaq in rich browns, reds, and emerald green, perhaps showing warmth of emotions for the strong and capable woman. Something about her gaze brought to my mind her great-great granddaughter Eliza-

beth. I realized later that evening it’s their shared poise. Their knowingness. Their delightful ability to find humor while keeping grace. And I felt the power strengthen my legs and spine. We, as women, carry a living history, whether we know it or not. And today, whatever our skin tone, whether we like it or not, we collectively carry Alaska’s history. Bettye Davis is next to Elizabeth Peratrovich, who is next to Margaret Murie. There is no separation between the Indigenous experience and the settler experience. Each has contributed. Each has given. Each has lived, loved, lost, gained, and provided leadership and has built Alaska to what it is today. The work continues. And it truly feels we can step into the light and do it together. ■ Laureli Ivanoff is a writer who lives in her hometown of Unalakleet, where she makes seal oil, dries fish, and drinks strong coffee.

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I’m Asya Gipson. I’m a part-time poet and a full-time student. I’m currently a senior at West, but I’m also a future Brown student (whoop!). I plan on majoring in political science and Modern Culture and Media, a.k.a. film. One of the things I want to learn how to do is screenwrite. I plan on making my own movies, so stay tuned for that.

I’m Toya Brown. I’m a mother, writer/ poet, human. I’ve been writing the majority of my life. I started journaling and writing poetry when I was 10. I needed an outlet as a child and I found comfort in sharing my most intimate thoughts with the page. I honestly didn’t want to suffer the consequence of saying some of what I considered terrible thoughts out loud. I believe there is catharsis in writing and when used as a mechanism for healing, it can be life changing. Now I’m a mother of one and I’m very happy she has also picked up the craft of writing. In fact I’m really happy to be able to share this moment with my daughter Asya Gipson today.

Writing is not a Passive Act

A mother-and-daughter writing duo consider their relationships to poetry

Question: What is your earliest memory of poetry or writing in our household?

Asya Gipson (daughter): My earliest memory writing and my earliest memory of poetry are completely different [laughs]. My first memory of writing...I don’t even remember how old I was, maybe three, and I actually didn’t even know how to write yet. I thought I did though. I remember I had this journal and I swore up and down I knew how to write in cursive, with zero training whatsoever. I just decided one day that I knew how to write in cursive. And so, every day I wrote in that journal like a diary and filled it with swirls and curly q’s of absolutely nothing. And you would ask me what I was writing about, and I would flip through the journal and make up stories on the spot because I couldn’t actually read the—beautiful—calligraphy of gibberish that I thought was cursive. My earliest memory of poetry is when I was 13. I remember reading some news article about the deaths of Dominique Battle, Ashaunti Butler, and Laniya Miller and just feeling so overwhelmed because I was the

same age as these three black girls. I was scared, more than anything. I remember walking out of my room and telling you about it, you had already heard about their deaths, and I don’t really remember what I said, but it was something along the lines of, “Mom, I don’t know what to do.” I can clearly remember the rest though. You turned around and looked at me, and you just said, “Then write about it.” And I did. At first I think I was confused, but I went back to my room and I didn’t come back out again until I had something to read to you [at right]. Toya Brown (mother): We had full on poetry sessions from the time you were in my belly. I definitely did all the talking and reciting, but you were the best listener; being a captive audience and all. Seriously, you were so cute. We would make up little rhymes and rap all over the house. You could barely talk, but you would mimic imaginary words to the beat and it was just the best.

Question: What’s it like growing up with an artistic parent?

Asya Gipson (daughter): Fun. Genuinely, I had a fun childhood. I feel like I got to explore so much. Music, dance, theatre, drawing, painting, sewing. And whenever I had a new passion you were all for it. I think that was the best part. You never questioned what I wanted to do. I just got to create and I’m grateful for it because I still love doing all of those things. Literally. From the piano to painting, I’ll just get an urge to learn something new it. Toya Brown (mother): I was a senior in high school when I discovered a

box hidden in the top of my mom’s closet. I’m pretty sure I was pillaging her amazing shoe collection looking for specific foot attire. I opened the box and, to my surprise, I discovered letters, stories, and poetry dating back over a quarter of a century from both of my parents. It was so amazing. It was the first time I recognized that my parents were more than just my parents. They had these complete back stories and lives that I had no idea about. It was really great. I had been writing for years and it helped me identify with them. It was like finding a little piece of myself.

Untitled by Asya Gipson 4/22/16 Shoes left on shore, gun belts torn, soaked from head to toe. Saving a life or sacrificing your clothes. I’m thirteen years old and I know I will never be perfect. I’m sorry that today you had to chase me, I’m sorry that today I made a couple of mistakes. Dominique Battle, Ashaunti Butler, and Laniya Miller; I’m sorry. Because sometimes, no matter how hard you scream, the people standing right in front of you won’t listen. Falsifying records and creating imaginary reports, twisting yourselves into the heroes you could have been. Yet you stand there without a drop of sweat, guilt long worn from your faces, waiting until your claims of them “being done” became true. And somehow you’re still here, because the ones who stole a car are the criminals right?

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Question: What impact do you think growing up in a single parent household has had on your writing?

Asya Gipson (daughter): ...I don’t know? [laughs] I can guess. I mean, I’ve only ever grown up with you. That’s all I’ve known so it’s hard for me to be like, oh growing up in a single-parent household has done this to my writing when I don’t know the alternative. Can anyone ever fully know all the ways their parents’ and guardians’ presence or absence have influenced them? Is that too philosophical? It isn’t meant to be a diversion, I swear. I just write, and I don’t know how different that would be even if I were raised in a two-parent household. Toya Brown (mother): There is definitely some intersectionality growing up as a female, black, ’80s baby in Long Beach, CA. Right as I stepped foot into the age where children really make memories I came face to face with the height of the crackcocaine epidemic in America. I was born to high school sweethearts who managed to stay together for about twenty years. My parents both worked and they had two children, two cars, two dogs, and we always lived in a safer neighborhood. I felt loved as a child, but that life was bulldozed to the ground when crack-cocaine tore through my family. I think the worst part of addiction is that it isn’t just a battle for the addict; it haunts anyone they love. The stark difference in my lifestyle before the crack epidemic and after definitely brought a duality to my life. I think that duality is reflected in everything I write. For me art is where the beauty of language meets the ugliness of life.


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Question: How has performing poetry live impacted you?

Asya Gipson (daughter): Performing poetry live has been an amazing privilege that I think really served me and my confidence as a writer...and I think it did that through forcing me to take my own work—and consequently myself—seriously. To have only really written for myself and then suddenly have upwards of 20 people listening to what I had to say...I felt powerful. And then on top of that, to have people walk up to me, including people who are way older than me, and be like, “Wow that was beautiful,” or anything at all; to have someone listen, and understand, and relate to my work, to find it beautiful... yeah, it’s an amazing feeling. To share with others, I think, that’s what’s amazing. Toya Brown (mother): When I began to perform poetry for audiences I began to see people living freely for the first time and it was mind-boggling to me that the person who showed up on the stage was the same person they were offstage, at work, and with friends. I didn’t feel that level of consistency in regards to who I was. I definitely wasn’t being my authentic self in all areas. I had to follow the trace evidence to understand that I didn’t feel accepted in this world as a black woman. Black faces in media were extremely processed. For black women our hair had to be straight, you didn’t really see curvy black women unless it was an older grandmotherly woman, black skin was often edited and lightened. You can actually see this emotion and struggle with image spill out into my writing. I have a piece called “Mirror, Mirror” [below] and it says: be a cover girl I had to cover the visible scars on my skin could only be tough if I slapped on a concrete foundation...contour my pain cause I could never catch anyone letting it all hang out. I’m really thankful for the page bearing some of that emotional weight that comes with living. We can’t heal from the things we refuse to acknowledge, so this piece is monumental for me to start down a path of recognizing selfcriticism and understanding that of all the people in the world; I am with myself most often. If I can’t love myself and be nice to me, how can I ever truly accept these things from others?

Mirror, Mirror by Toya Brown She said, to be a covergirl I had to cover the visible scars on my cheeks I didn’t need to face my problems, but to fess up to the reality that my face wasn’t enough That my skin could only be tough if I slapped on a concrete foundation I had to contour my pain in where no one could see it Cause I could never catch anyone letting it all hang out She said you could never be enough, but maybe you could appear to be

Maybe you could erase those under eye bags that have stuffed things like sacrifice, self neglect, insecurity, compartmentalized three jobs, higher education and failure, neatly concealing every sleep deprived late night with a single swipe of a brush You can apply lips that are lush You can apply cheeks freshly blushed You can deny the ugly voice inside of you the whispers from the girl in the mirror who says, who could love a face like you

Handle With Caution by Asya Gipson Tell me. What do you see when you gaze at my black body? Is it flesh? Or smoke? Am I small? A faint breath of light, air, and color? Do I look like paper? Thin and frail, anticipating your fingers to skim my edges I can feel your trained eyes trace every line of my body Like you want to mark me, name me White ink on black pages You want to tear me at the s e a m s , don’t you? Rip me apart But gently, Slowly, Stamp me. Lick my lip shut then shut me up Where would you send me? Or would I only be used once? Just for you Unravel me Take everything inside and chew on it I’m pliable So you can blow me-bubbles Have fun Spit me out when you’ve tasted enough Was I what you expected? Am I sweet? You could always wrap me back up, pocket me for when you start craving my novel pieces Or maybe you show me real mercy Have your practiced bullets fly through my center Enter me Exit me How many times will be enough? How many holes until I am empty? Will you watch my crumpled body Fold and wrinkle Our favorite lines and marked spaces pooled into a ball of flesh and color Burn me. Light up at my recycled pain Till I am as black and back as you first saw me As ash as shadow and air and light and smoke Tell me. How are you still afraid of papercuts?

Question: Is it hard to continue to write for pleasure as you get older?

Asya Gipson (daughter): Yes. Yeah, it is harder as I get older to write for myself. It’s easy to just get caught up in life and let it carry you away. I have classes and homework and extracurriculars and blah blah blah it can feel endless. Sometime last year, I think it was, I actually noticed I was writing outside of school a lot less. And I decided that I wanted to start writing again. I joined a weekly writing group with my friends and I started journaling. The goal was every day, and that doesn’t happen, but I try, and I’m doing a lot better and writing a lot more than I have in a long time. I actually learned an important lesson in the process, which is that writing isn’t passive, it’s not a passive act. Oftentimes I used to think that I could only write when something happened and I was moved to write. But when I only wrote poetry when I was moved to... I only wrote maybe three poems a year. The best way to grow in something is to do it constantly. Write constantly. And not just spoken word, which is my niche, but everything. With journaling, I’ve felt so much more in touch with myself and my thoughts. With my writing group I get to not only experiment which is really fun, but then I also get to listen to my group’s writing styles and stories and experience that sense of enrichment from hearing new voices. So while on one hand I do think writing has been harder as I’ve gotten older, it’s not impossible to continue and when Toya Brown (mother): I’m not I consciously dug into it, I trying to cop out on this answer, got so much more from it but honestly “yes and no.” then when I was just waiting Yes, because life, right? for something to happen. How is it that life always seems You know... sometimes you to get in the way of living? That is, just have to schedule things all the things it takes to perpetuinto your life to make them ate and further our lifecycle seem possible. to further delay the things we love the most about being alive. So yes, clean clothes definitely have a way of trumping prose, but also writing fuels me. Sometimes I just can’t move forward with the things I need to do until I sit down and All the things confess to my page. In that way writing is very much something it takes to that I will have to do. As I get older realize it is a significant enough perpetuate and Ipart of me that I have to engage with it regularly to really feel that I further our am considering my needs in addilifecycle seem to tion to all the needs I fill for others.

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Question: Let’s talk about a very controversial subject.... Do you think music can be poetry?

Asya Gipson (daughter): Absolutely, yes. As an example, rap is poetry in its own way. [laughs] That’s why I started a poetry rap club at my school. Both carry messages and rhythm, they can rhyme but don’t have to. They use a lot of the same literary devices. It’s not all the same, but you definitely can’t deny their similarities. Some artists start their songs with a tune and others start by writing actual poems. Yes, I do think music can be poetry, even with a backtrack. Toya Brown (mother): I agree rap can be poetry, I think people often make the comparison of rap and poetry, but personally I think any genre of music can be poetry. Poetry as I know it is written work that encompasses writing styles and expresses thoughts and emotions. I don’t know how you can read the lyrics to music like “Hey Jude” by the Beatles... And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain, Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders. For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool By making his world a little colder. ...or, “The Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson... A willow deeply scarred, somebody’s broken heart And a washed-out dream They follow the pattern of the wind ya’ see ‘Cause they got no place to be ... and not agree that music is poetry designed to a beat. It’s just how I feel. Sometimes I get more from reading lyrics than from the beautiful bravado and staccato of the song.


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Live Another Day by Toya Brown Body found hanging like the dangling legs of Negros dancing to heaven after being strung up from willow trees These weeping leaves of children Withered like fall was tethered around their sleeves Bruised knees from praying for acceptance Sticks and stones Words don’t break bones they do irrefutable damage like bullet holes to the spine Leaving kids crippled like suicidal thoughts rolling in wheelchairs through minds Not thinking anyone could relate Tired of parental banter used to placate a feeling This is behind cover -ups and Band-Aid promises of healing The sus-burbs may seem docile and friendly But they got weapons of moral destruction Verbal assault rifles, hand grenade made from a single page of your diary School kids ready for full on war within The concrete fabric of these streets

Sewing discourse Children who loom hate like it was the patchwork that stitched up broken fragments of our heart Tearing pieces of one another Like this quilted world is only meant for one print One uniform mold we all are forced in THESE ARE THE THREADS OF OUR LIVES Strings unraveled from the broken Until they are no more than a pile of memories 15 years reduced to one moment Too afraid to breathe Phoebe Nora Mary Prince I pray for all those bullied just like me For all those Treated Just like you Learn to knock the hate from the bottom of your shoes Cause Everyday you inhale is a battle we win So please, please choose life And just breathe, breathe again

Question: Does culture influence writing or does writing influence culture?

Asya Gipson (daughter): Yes. [smiles] Uh-huh. My answer is yes. It’s the same as does the chicken come first or the egg, isn’t it? It’s a paradox. But both occur. Writing influences culture influences writing. It doesn’t flow one way or the other, and I don’t think it ever will. Toya Brown (mother): Let me ask you this, does art imitate life or does life imitate art? I think art often comes from life and the masses imitate art; which reflects life... it’s pretty easy to get caught in exactly what you were saying... which came first the chicken or the egg, but I stand behind my thoughts. Art is life and culture chopped into pieces on display for others... or not. The emotion that art transposes onto others is often simulated in culture. ■


An Unrelenting Servant Leader

Gloria O’Neill, LA1 alumna and President and CEO of CITC, reflects on leadership, community, and collaboration by Lila Hobbs PHOTO BY WAYDE CARROLL, COURTESY OF CITC


wenty-four years ago, Gloria O’Neill joined the firstever cohort of Leadership Anchorage (LA). Without knowing it at the time, her LA experience would prepare O’Neill for a critical role she didn’t know was coming. One year after the cohort concluded, O’Neill became the President and CEO of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) at the age of 28. While she may have been surprised by the opportunity to step into the position of CEO, her ability to take on the challenge and flourish shocked no one. Known for her determination, authenticity, and humility, O’Neill exemplifies servant leadership; she is this year’s recipient of the Leadership Anchorage Alumni Award.

O’Neill’s early experiences gave her a unique perspective on how Alaska’s distinctive people, communities, and landscapes coalesce together. “It helped form how I see the world and understand its people,” she explained. “Alaska is so incredibly diverse. Many of us came from another place—like my mother’s family. They worked to make Alaska their home. Then there are those of us who are also in the Indigenous community and whose ancestors have been here for over 10,000 years. My experience gave me the ability to see many perspectives and, as a result, built my pragmatic approach to life.” EMERGING LEADER


The daughter of Raymond and Bobbie O’Neill, O’Neill’s ScotsIrish, Yup’ik, and Sáami background provided a unique lens for her to see the world. Her father grew up in the village of Levelock in Southwest Alaska, and her mother came to the state in the 1950s. Later, her father’s family moved to Soldotna, and it was there that he met her mother. Growing up, O’Neill spent her winters attending school on the Kenai Peninsula and her summers fishing in Bristol Bay. She understood the value of belonging to a community as well as the intentionality and tenacity necessitated by life in Alaska. Reflecting on her summers in Bristol Bay, O’Neill said, “My experience on the back of a commercial fishing boat is where I first learned to be relentless.” Now, decades later, she elaborates, “I am relentless about how we move our community forward in a positive way.” That unrelenting spirit would prove to be her most celebrated quality and an effective leadership tool as CEO of CITC.

While in her early twenties, O’Neill came to CITC and was instantly drawn to the organization’s mission: “To work in partnership with Our People to develop opportunities that fulfill Our endless potential.” Immediately, she knew that she would be fulfilling her life’s purpose and passion when she joined the organization. Her experience in the first cohort of Leadership Anchorage supplied the confidence and support needed to find her voice in her forthcoming role as CEO. “During that time, I felt very uncomfortable calling myself a leader,” O’Neill shared. “I looked at other people around me—people who dedicated their lives to service, board members, elders in our community—as the leaders. I felt like an apprentice in training.” Reflecting on her journey as CEO, O’Neill notes that she has learned an immeasurable amount from tribal communities, “It’s the tribal leaders who have taught me the most about leadership. It is at the heart of our values and everything that we do at CITC.” A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 21



O’Neill credits Leadership Anchorage with fostering opportunities for her to talk with others about leadership and to hear their diverse perspectives at a crucial moment in her career. These seminal conversations also expanded her knowledge and understanding of leadership and extended her network community-wide. Realizing that mentors would be key to her growth, she devoted herself to listening and learning from them. During Leadership Anchorage, O’Neill was paired with mentor Fran Ulmer, the first woman elected to statewide office in Alaska, serving as Lieutenant Governor from 19942002. “When I received the phone call asking me to be a mentor to Gloria, many years ago, I said yes, not knowing exactly what was expected,” Ulmer recalled. “I’d mentored students before, but to be able to get to know a young professional woman finding her way in the world seemed likely a fun and interesting opportunity. It has turned out to

THE LEADERSHIP ANCHORAGE Alumni Advisory Board is led by LA alumni who volunteer to help host social events, develop opportunities for continued learning, and deepen connections across the greater alumni network. Meet the team!

Nancy King, LA18 Educational Therapist Favorite hobby: Doing the work I love What leadership means to me: Listening to learn, supporting others, giving successes away.

“I come to leadership as moving the whole forward. It’s about leading with a community approach rather than an individual mindset.” be so much more... a friendship that has lasted for more than twenty years!” Besides the unexpected joy of a long friendship, Ulmer elaborated on her observations of O’Neill’s evolution as a leader. “I’ve watched Gloria develop remarkable leadership skills. Her unquenchable optimism and encouragement for others to reach their full potential has created an environment of positive energy enabling CITC to evolve, expand, and succeed in many new ventures. A large part of that success is Gloria’s commitment to the mission and her willingness to share credit; she knows that true leadership is a team sport, not a solo performance. I feel very fortunate that I received that phone call, and that I’ve had the opportunity to share time with Gloria.” What instilled this drive to elevate and propel others? “My grandmother’s story really inspired me to serve,” O’Neill reflects. “She traveled the long path from a traditional subsistence lifestyle to the 20th century.” In addition to commercial fishing in Bristol Bay in her youth, O’Neill worked in the canneries with her grandmother. “She taught me the value of hard work and she didn’t


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Diego Perez, LA21 Mosaic Media, Media Lead What leadership means to me: Leadership in the workforce to me means being inspired and motivated to bring a vision to life while motivating a group of individuals in a way that they want to, rather than have to. A leader in the community to me means someone who is inspired to bring positive change to their community while not doing it for praise or status, or wanting recognition—doing it from the heart.

Marissa Palmer, LA21 Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Program Coordinator Favorite hobby: Baking What leadership means to me: To me, leadership means creating an environment where everyone feels empowered to share ideas, ask questions, and take risks.

Tiana Walters, LA22 CPA turned elementary teacher, currently working on my teaching license at UAF Favorite hobby: Baking What leadership means to me: I believe that leadership is constantly evolving and may look different depending on your “season of life”. But ultimately it is about being true to yourself, showing up for the tough conversations, and being brave to use your voice.

Joe Sonnier, LA21 Axiom Data Science, Grants and Contracts Manager Favorite hobby: Climbing mountains, hosting dinners, gardening What leadership means to me: The basis of leadership is compassion or empathy in action. The leaders I look up to are masters of relationships. They inspire others to be the best versions of themselves while learning along the way.

Leo Medal, LA19 University of Alaska Anchorage, Student Success Coordinator Favorite hobby: Going to the movies, traveling the world What leadership means to me: LA means to me personal and professional growth, and an opportunity to serve and bring change to the community

treat me differently than anyone else. I felt her spirit connect me so deeply to the mission of advancing our people and to be part of how we continue to create opportunities so that our people can advance in today’s modern world. I believe my grandmother’s spirit lives in me… she was relentless, fierce, and bold, and she worked to make life better for others.” EFFECTING CHANGE THROUGH COLLABORATION

Kris Palmatier, LA20 Rasmuson Foundation, Director of Finance Favorite hobby: Dance, video games, dinner parties What leadership means to me: When I think of leadership, compassion comes to mind. It is not the leading that is important, but it is the impact you leave on others. If you are in leadership, you have followers looking up to you as a role model and mentor. It is important to turn to them with compassion and assist them on their journey of leadership.

Marilyn Alvarenga– Gaxiola, LA20 Northern Compass Group, Marketing Director & Associate Consultant Favorite hobby: Watching and critiquing films What leadership means to me: Leadership to me means listening to those around you, working with your team and actively taking action to better your environment or community.

To celebrate O’Neill’s tenth anniversary as CEO of CITC in 2008, the Board wrote a resolution honoring her contributions, using the word “unrelenting” eight times to describe her unparalleled drive, energy, and altruistic enterprise. And O’Neill is proud to acknowledge the praise, “I’ve connected my relentlessness to a desire to serve our community and to serve others, and I’ve also connected it with what I’ve been blessed to do in my role, to be creative and innovative. I’ve Joshua J. Franks, been able to be relentless as a social entrepreneur who makes an imLA22 pact for our people and community.” Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Since taking the helm of CITC, one of the nation’s leading culturInc. (CITC), ally responsive service organizations, O’Neill’s leadership has helped Chief of Staff the organization grow from a staff of 60 with an annual budget of $8 Favorite hobby: Traveling million to a staff of approximately 400 and an annual budget of $120 to new and old places million (the total includes all of CITC’s for-profit investments and the What leadership means acquisition of the Alaska Native Justice Center, the Clare Swan Early to me: Leadership is Learning Center, and Get Out The Native Vote). about service to others, While she is exceptionally proud of CITC’s growth, she says that our community, and our she does not take full responsibility for it, “I am really proud to work world. Lifting them all up with such incredible, committed, and smart people whose hearts are to ensure they have what is needed to reach their with our mission. I am proud of the community and how we move potential. and work together to get things done.” This ethos of collaboration and servant leadership captures the essence of her success in fulfilling CITC’s mission through the power of teamwork. SAVE THE DATE! “With the growth and evolution of CITC, I’ve Celebrating Leadership in Alaska also grown and changed. Being in leadership has May 26, 6 p.m. on Facebook Live connected me to my community in a much deep@AlaskaHumanitiesForum er way and showed me how resiliency is so very Join us for this online celebration honoring important; it is one of those threads that moves Gloria O'Neill with the 2021 Leadership through everything that we do. I believe my role Anchorage Alumni Award, celebrating the has made me a better person. It has taught me graduates of LA24, and featuring keynote how to become a better listener: to hear people speaker Angela Cox, VP of External Affairs at where they are, both their joy and triumph, and Rasumson Foundation. stand with them in their challenges and pain.” She has learned the power of mentorship and feels she has a duty to give back and offer her own experiApply now for LA25 ence to those around her, noting, “I’m just part of Starts in October, 2021 a continuum.” Transform your leadership, amplify and diversify O’Neill has made an undeniable impact on your networks, and activate ideas into action! CITC and her community. CITC Board of DirecApply online at tors Chair Ivan Encelewski says, “Ms. O’Neill is a once in a lifetime leader, rising far above anyone in her class. She shines above the rest by embracing new thinking, building people up, concentrating on relationships not just transactions, unifying and inspiring the team to collectively achieve their goals, and celebrating in the successes of all those around her. There is absolutely no goal or task that Gloria can’t achieve when she sets her mind to it. When the CITC Board dreams, Gloria makes it happen.” ■ Lila Hobbs works throughout Dena’ina Ełnena and is the founder of Wild Voices, which supports filmmakers and podcasters in utilizing storytelling as a medium to build community and inspire activism. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 21


Anchored Histories Library of Congress grant supports Alaska educators in telling stories through film By Debra McKinney

laska history is an eclectic stew of stories: stories of booms and busts, of Indigenous oppression and resilience, of invaders, explorers, missionaries, fortune seekers, heroes, scoundrels, politicians, justice, and injustice. Alaska educators from St. Michael to Hydaburg learned new ways of exploring, researching, and sharing such stories while negotiating the uncharted territory of this pandemic school year. Through the professional development workshop Anchored Histories, 14 participants learned how to access the gold mine of primary sources available through the Library of Congress, as well as other national, regional, state, and local archives. They learned how to research, script, narrate, film, and edit short digital documentaries while gaining new skills to bring to their classrooms. Topics they took on include the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, the life of a Yup’ik linguist, Dena’ina storytelling, the Alaska Railroad, the Matanuska Valley colonists, and the revival of Haida totem poles and Yup’ik dance, once shamed to the brink of extinction. Created by Marie Acemah in partnership with the Alaska Humanities Forum and the UAA Professional and Continuing Education Program, Anchored Histories was a free, two-credit graduate-level course funded by a Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources grant. As founder and director of the nonprofit storytell-


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ing organization See Stories, Acemah is, as she puts it, a “story midwife.” Her award-winning work with youth and adults has taken her to Uganda, Liberia, and elsewhere around the globe. Recently, Acemah, Iñupiaq filmmaker Howdice Brown III, and Iñupiaq podcast host Alice Qannik Glenn collaborated with the Southern “Students who Poverty Law Center to produce a documentary on the enslavement of Indigenous are struggling peoples called, “The Forgotten Slavery of to succeed really Our Ancestors.” In the past decade, Acemah has worked connect with digital mostly in Alaska, leading documentary film and teacher-training projects in cities storytelling. They and villages throughout the state, working primarily with Indigenous, immigrant, often have the and refugee youth to build inclusive communities through storytelling and film. most tremendous “Film, especially when working with outcomes and young people, it’s the medium they’re already engaged with,” she said. “You don’t gratifying results.” have to sell the idea. Look at TikTok, look at all the social media platforms; they are hooked. So it’s taking that natural interest and combining it with the humanities in a deeper way. It’s almost like tricking students into loving school. I’ve found that the students who are struggling to succeed really connect with digital storytelling. They often have the most tremendous outcomes and gratifying results.”

Faith Revell, curator of educational programs for the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive, produced a 10-minute documentary on prospector and adventurer Lillian Moore. PHOTO FROM THE VALDEZ MUSEUM & HISTORICAL ARCHIVE COLLECTION.

Originally, Anchored Histories was designed to support Alaska History Day, the state affiliate of National History Day, the science fair of history and culture. Coordinated by the Forum, Alaska History Day is a statewide competition encouraging middle and high school students to dive into, research, and present work in any of five categories—paper, performance, exhibit, website, and film. Also originally, Anchored Histories participants were to gather in Anchorage. Then along came that virus. GOING VIRTUAL

“Marie never imagined it being over Zoom—like so many things,” said co-instructor Emily Lucy, Youth Program Coordinator at the Forum. “We wondered if people, especially educators at the beginning of the craziest school year of all time, would have time for this sort of professional development and be engaged. And, how do you create a community over Zoom? At that point in the school year most of them were in and out of lockdown. Some had seen their students, some hadn’t. So we were really anxious about that.” Initially, they could earn an additional credit by teaching their students to make documentaries for Alaska History Day. “Due to COVID, we backed off on that,” Lucy said. “We wanted their participation for the extra credit but it didn’t have to translate into entering the contest.” Teaching virtually was a whole new world for Acemah. Her film workshops have always been hands-on. When she taught in villages, for instance, she would go there for two weeks. As it turned out, teaching by Zoom had its upside. Educators, especially in remote villages, can have a hard time getting enough time off with travel factored in. Zoom opened the course to a wider range of participants. Faith Revell, curator of educational programs for the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive, appreciates the connections she made. “Valdez is on the road system; it’s got planes, it’s got boats, all those things coming in and out, but we’re still pretty isolated, especially in winter months—unless you’re a really brave soul and willing to drive over the pass and venture out in wild and wooly weather. So, this was a great opportunity to connect with teachers throughout the state. There are teachers on the western edge of Alaska, some in small Native villages, I probably would never have had a chance to meet otherwise.” Revell produced a 10-minute documentary on prospector and adventurer Lillian Moore, who embarked on an arduous journey in 1898 with the Capt. William Abercrombie party, climbing over Valdez Glacier en route to Copper River country. Heading out from Valdez after 41 days of rain, rain, and more rain, the party faced even more rain, disorienting fog, rebellious horses, precarious footing, and near drownings. Revell’s 10-minute documentary, “Lillian


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Moore’s Letter Home from Alaska,” weaves her story with that of Valdez as a hub for mail service and as a gateway to the Interior. “A woman’s account of gold rush history in Alaska is pretty rare,” she said. “I wanted a story that was going to help local people understand their community’s history better.” Her film incorporates Moore’s letter to her sister in Massachusetts, another prospector’s diary, and other primary sources. As a museum educator, Revell works with original materials all the time. “Students with whom I work, they’re really transformed when they get to touch or see or get up close to authentic items,” she said. “It’s really transformative. “I now have a deeper array of tools I can work with. I learned a lot about, I guess I would say, orchestration. You’re writing a script, you’re figuring out how music plays into this, and then you’re integrating the visuals and learning a lot about timing. I have a music background, and so how you synch sound with narration and imagery is really important to me. “It was just a remarkably rewarding experience.” CULTURAL GROUNDING

Yup’ik Athabascan Alberta Demantle, who teaches in Akiak, decided partway through the course that she wasn’t tech savvy enough to pull off a documentary. It was just too foreign to her, she said. “I called to quit. I said, ‘It’s really not for me, it’s not going to work out.’ And the next thing I know Marie’s telling me how to do things and I’m working on it again. I would get her on the phone and she’d tell me to click this, click that. And, you know, I learned a lot because she “A woman’s account was willing to talk me through it. Anytime I needed something, she was right there.” of gold rush history Not only did Demantle make her film— in Alaska is pretty on the revival of Yup’ik dance—she became a guest presenter on her culture for rare. I wanted a another of Acemah’s professional development courses, this one on podcasting and story that was digital storytelling with an emphasis on cultural respect and values. going to help local A grounding in Alaska Native history was a priority for Anchored Histories, as people understand well. Guest presenter, Jim LaBelle, Sr., their community’s retired UAA professor of Alaska Native Studies, gave a crash course over Zoom history better.” that left the cohort deeply moved. LaBelle told his personal story of being shipped off to boarding school when he was eight and his brother six. He talked of multiple abuses, of being tethered by a rope to his brother and other terrified children, of their possessions being taken, of being stripped naked, having their heads shaved and bodies scrubbed with harsh brushes. That was just upon arrival. “The process of educating us slowly created a point where we would barely associate with our own

The documentary Lillian Moore’s Letter Home from Alaska weaves a woman’s account of gold rush history with that of Valdez as a gateway to the Interior. PHOTO FROM THE VALDEZ MUSEUM & HISTORICAL ARCHIVE COLLECTION.


relatives or parents,” he said. “It was drilled into us to be ashamed of them. We were told their practices were evil, satanic ways—traditional singing, dancing and drumming, and speaking our language. After ten years I knew everything about world history, American history, math, science, civics, but I didn’t know anything about myself as an Indigenous person.” “When I heard Jim LaBelle that first day, it just went to the core of my being,” said Darlene Kawennano:ron Johnson, a member of the Kahnawake/Akwesasne Mohawk Nation. Her eight-minute documentary, Historical Trauma & Boarding Schools, features his story. Johnson, perhaps best known as Diamond Dar, host of KNBA’s Diamond Dar’s Traveling Medicine Show, teaches part time at PAIDEIA Cooperative School in Anchorage. Eager to share what she’d learned with her history students, she assigned them five-minute documentaries as final projects and held a mini-film festival online at the end. “I taught them everything I was taught in Anchored Histories,” she said. “They preferred doing this over a paper. What they didn’t realize was, they do more research than for a paper. They use all their senses. They have to find those primary sources. Then they have to figure out how they’re going to shoot this, use historical images, write a script, and narrate the whole thing. Make it exciting, make it knowledgeable, throw some sound in there, throw music in there, make sure you don’t violate copyright laws. “I really wanted them to see history come alive.” Oscar Lilley, who teaches middle and high school in Hydaburg, receives a ton of professional development pitches, most of which go straight into the trash. “I’m always looking to develop skills I don’t have,

especially technical skills,” he said. “So I jumped at the chance and it was just wonderful. It was wonderful developing a cohort with fellow educators and building a bond with people I’m still connected with.” The course came at a difficult time for him following the sudden death of one of his students. He ended up missing one of the main Zoom sessions because he was helping dig his grave. Lilley’s documentary on the history of the totem pole taps into the community’s grief. As background music, he used the Haida spirit song mourners sang as they walked with the young man’s body from his home to the church. To Lilley, it spoke to the loss of the art form, but also its revival. “It has this kind of mournful tone but at the same time resilient.” “Totem: What They Carve,” posed ethical questions for him. “I’m an outsider,” he said. “I’m a white person. What’s appropriate and what needs to stay within the community? Those were some tough issues I worked out with Marie.” Lilley’s students are now working on documentaries of their own, with topics ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to missing and murdered Indigenous women. “Today I had a student say, ‘I hate research; I just find something I love and dive in.’ And I said, ‘Kid, that’s research.’ And she said, ‘Oh. Yeah.’ “We’re getting a handful of ah-has here and there. The kids are definitely getting a lot from this.” ■ 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 S P R I N G 20 21


Way to Kick the Demon’s Ass Matthew Komatsu remembers Sherry Simpson’s gifts as a writer and teacher

herry Simpson died Wednesday morning. There. I put the words down on paper. I tried to think up a more clever way of writing it. Something flowery and poetic that somehow captures the essence of a human being, and her passing, and what she meant to those who knew and loved her. Something—I don’t know—more appropriate for the death of someone so important to sending me on my way as a writer. But it’s all I’ve got. I don’t think she’d have minded me writing about her death in this way. She was like that, wasn’t she? Still is, I suppose, in all of our heads and hearts. You know exactly what I’m talking about: that irreverent-but-also-tender-but-don’t-forgetto-watch-out-for-that-wicked-sense-of-humor-when-youleast-expect-it thing I came to call “Simpsonesque.” That’s how I’ll always see her, anyway. Not afraid to shut shit down in a workshop if things got sideways, but also free with her empathy (and maybe a Kleenex). And god, what a wit. I met Sherry in 2014, when I joined UAA’s MFA program. And I have to say, that from the moment we met at the opening night of the summer residency, I had a big fat writer’s crush on her that I don’t think will ever leave me. She was here, and then she was there, never a lanyard away from the camera that captured our two-week residency and all its exhilarating highs, and second-week exhausted lows. All the while, leading workshops, craft talks, and exercises. Somehow balancing it all and yet still finding the time to mind all of her delicate writers and the existential soap operas we presented her with on what must have been an hourly basis. What is a practicum? Do I really have to read twelve books this semester? Am I really going to have to send you no-shit “mailings” on a monthly basis? It must have been exhausting. In fact I know it was, because every summer I’d come off the residency like an addict off a hit: manic with creative energy that needed guidance. And it never failed that Sherry would refuse to answer my self-indulgent emails until at least early August. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. She answered. Especially my first and last year,


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when she was my appointed mentor. But close on the heels of the UAA Residency, she attended another residency as a faculty member. That residency, she always pointed out, was basically a vacation compared to UAA’s because all she had to do “was show up.” I like to picture her there. For some reason, she’s wearing a hat, which makes no sense because everybody knows the weather in the Pacific Northwest is dogshit, and if she ever wore a hat, it probably would have been something made by Grunden’s because it never stops raining there as far as I know. Nevertheless, there she is in my head: smiling in a sunhat beneath redwoods (again, I don’t fact-check daydreams) and as her phone cackles with yet another panicked email from another panicked UAA MFA student whose dog has eaten all the books they should have read that month, she simply switches the phone to silent with a smile, and sips at a gin and tonic. The reality is that Sherry Simpson always had time for us. “For me” is what I should say, since I’m writing solely from my experience. My first residency was cut short by a military deployment, and instead of sitting through my last workshops— and program director David Stevenson’s always-baffling last day movie viewing selection—a military cargo aircraft flew me to East Africa. The base had a coffee shop with garbage internet. But I went there every day to read, and write, but mostly I went there hoping that if the internet actually worked, that maybe when I opened my email, I’d find a response from Sherry. In fact, I just went back and looked at my email. Sherry emailed me dozens of times during my months overseas, sometimes a couple times a day. The writing and reading I did over that deployment was heady, formative. But more to the point, she is etched indelibly into my memory of that time. Together, we whipped two essays into shape, both of which were not only published, but would go on to be anthologized more than once. And I’d be hard-pressed to point out a recommendation by Sherry that I didn’t follow. Those initial successes bred follow-ons that continue to this day, as one of the essays she helped me write is just now going to press in an anthology by Brevity. So you will excuse me if I go on believing that without Sherry, there is no version of reality in which Matt Komatsu writes much of


anything at all. And it occurs to me, as I scroll through pages of emails from my time in the MFA program, how much I miss her. Right in the goddamn, heartbroken here and now.

Sherry had that ability, that innate sense of timing we commonly associate with world class athletes who must plant the foot just so.

Everyone knows that once you die, you have at least a 50/50 shot of your work being elevated by a wider world. It’s some kind of undiagnosed defect of the human condition that makes people appreciate art more when the artist is gone. But we all knew that Sherry was a brilliant writer while she was still with us. Woe to those who never had the opportunity to watch her step from behind that beloved (or was it accursed?) camera at the last faculty reading night, when she would share her literary prowess. Sherry had that ability, that innate sense of timing we commonly associate with world class athletes who must plant the foot just so. She could break your heart in one moment, only to topple you from your seat with laughter the next. The Accidental Explorer (Sasquatch, 2008) is a master class for any writer who needs learn that a story in and of itself is nothing without the unique perspective of the writer. And The Dominion of Bears (which she called “the goddamn bear book” or something along those lines) took the perfection of her essay “Killing Wolves” (Creative Nonfiction #7) and trod that narrow line of capturing complexity so well that it received the 2015 Burroughs Medal. That’s right: Sherry Simpson’s name as a nature writer should come out of the same mouths that utter

the names Peter Mathiessen, Barry Lopez, Rachel Carson, and John McPhee. And last year, that essay about gambling that had me doubled over a couple summers ago? It earned her a coveted spot in Best American Essays. I know that she was proud of me, I do. Mostly because she told me, but also because her friends and loved ones are reminding me even now, in the midst of their own loss. But I am filled with regret. In the years since I graduated, our emails grew sparse. I know that’s how it is between teacher and student, that we all have to fly once we leave the nest. But I wish I’d have been a better human and kept in touch. I wish I’d worked harder to get a book out in the world, just so I could type the name “Sherry Simpson” in the acknowledgments and send her a signed copy. But that’s just selfish bullshit— she didn’t need me. She lived a full life in New Mexico with her husband Scott, and the hummingbirds, and—I’ll never forget this because I loved the photo of her in her turnout kit on Facebook—her volunteer firefighting. And of course, she continued to share her wisdom with new generations of nonfiction writers, which was where I saw her last summer when I was invited to read at the opening night of the UAA Residency. Still attached to the camera, capturing All The Moments. Still effervescent and eclectic and just plain amazing. Still making me feel, for the brief minutes we had together, like I was someone special. And I refuse to believe I was the only one who experienced her this way. Sherry Simpson is gone. My wife and I were just telling our boy (Sherry used to tell me that we won the “cute kid lottery”) that despite death, no one ever really leaves the world. Your physical body becomes the earth. You live on in the memory of those who loved you. But we didn’t tell him that knowing those facts doesn’t make it easy for those left behind. My heart is broken, and my world is lesser for her passing. But we hold on to what remains. So, here’s one last small thing before I go: in one of my first book responses back in that summer of 2014, I wrote to Sherry about overcoming the nagging doubt that I didn’t have a story worth writing. A devil on my shoulder, and all that. “Way to kick the demon’s ass!” she responded. I smiled when I found that email because it was so Sherry, who was no stranger to kicking a demon’s ass herself. ■ Matthew Komatsu studied under Sherry Simpson from 2014 to 2017 in UAA’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing program. He resides in Anchorage and serves as the volunteer Creative Director for the 49 Writers “Danger Close” workshop program. This article originally appeared in the 49writers blog on October 23, 2020.

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Event Sponsorship Grants


connect, engage, inform

New grants available from the Forum to support events

that bring people together for civil discussion inclusive of diverse perspectives, in person or virtually. These new grants will support community events that connect, engage, and inform Alaskans. Up to $2,000 per grant

Quarterly review. Applications due: June 15, 2021 September 15, 2021 December 15, 2021 More details at

HONORING CULTURAL HERITAGE and living in Alaska go hand in hand. Close reflections about who we are, where we come from, and what we might pass on to those who come after us are key parts of understanding how we exist in community with others. Writer Kenni Psenak Linden has offered her poetic work up as an entrance point to reflect on how we navigate and carry our heritages. In the poem that follows, she writes of the mixing of her family’s identities, backgrounds, and joys, and her life in Alaska. Consider where you see yourself in her work, how you choose what to carry with you, what you hope to pass forward to those you love, and what heritage means to you in the midst.

Dig Deep and Host Your Own Conversation Are you interested in bringing 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.

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Facilitator Training We’ll walk you through the process and materials to ensure your community event is a success. Funding A non-competitive $200 micro-grant defrays the cost of hosting.

TAKE WING ALASKA @MatsoninAlaska


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Salmonberries and Saag Aloo By Kenni Linden

I feed you smoked salmon and saag aloo. You devour salmonberries from our overgrown garden

Alaska in our home. They follow the pitter-patter of your feet

A dichotomy: Irish. Indian. Biracial. No, not Native. Indian, as in “from India.” Your white skin hides

on the rocks outside Nana’s house in Belfast. What weighs more: the piles of

and your Nana’s chicken curry—not as spicy as when your uncle made it after our wedding. We sat in a room of laughing

and hand out tor cúig do, high-fives. Ta-ta, thank you, sweet ones. You gucha, come here, only sometimes.

generations of torment by the British Empire. We live on occupied

glacial silt at our front door, Atlantic rains filling the mossy headstones of

tear tracks, the chili pepper was so strong. One of you has eyes the color of silty glacier water, like

We jaldee jaldee, quickly to find shoes and jumpers and favorite toys, to get

Dena'ina and Ahtna land. Manifest Destiny in the flesh. I can’t give you your brown skin, but

your great grandparents on the Falls Road, warring poppy seed and potato flour

me. And one has eyes the color of moss, gazing up at the sky from the bottom

out the door and into the bike trailer to go to the school park.

I can give you memories. I can give you ten grandparents in a small town of 7,306. I can give you

kolaches made by steely eyed women, or dripping ghee from charred rotis?

of a clear stream. Neither, have your dad’s bronze skin or amber eyes. Your baby

I fill out the same form at the Public Health Office each time you need shots: Race________________

the smell of lilacs in the spring and wildfires in the summer. I can teach you

Do tell.

speak and toddler thoughts aren’t accented with your Granda’s “Och aye,”

When Nana came to visit from Dubai last fall, she said, “Why don’t either

the names of mountains I’ve never climbed and places I’ve never been. Unalakleet, Cordova,

but you use “wee” when trying to excuse the thing you shouldn’t be doing. “I’ll be just a wee minute,

of my grandchildren look like me?” There are many ways to say white. 4th generation

Kake. I’ve been to Wales where they speak in harps, but not to Wales

Mommy.” Hindi phrases and Irish—the language and people too, bounce up against

colonizing Alaskan. I’m the tipping point in your genes. Your dad’s side is simple.

where they speak in coastal erosion. You mimicked seals barking today. The ones that sunbathe

Kenni Linden lives with her Irish husband and two littles in Palmer, Alaska on Ahtna and Dena’ina land. She’s a mover and community organizer, and can frequently be found asking tough questions and not tolerating any lies. Her writing has been featured in several print and online publications, including the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Women Speak, and Elephant Journal.

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IN OTHER NEWS AS THOSE WHO WORK THERE like to joke, the Alaska Teen


By Anne Vollertsen

The Alaska Teen Media Institute gives youth skills and opportunities to investigate the world, find a future in media 30

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Media Institute (ATMI) is finally old enough to drive. For the last sixteen years, they have been pitching, producing, and broadcasting stories about local teens and the issues that matter to them. ATMI first aired hour-long broadcasts of In Other News in 2004. The show was conceived of by a group of teens in response to what they felt were pervasive, negative misconceptions about young people. Working with prominent backers interested in youth development, they founded Spirit of Youth, a local non-profit organization that distributed press releases to local news organizations to share stories of teens making positive contributions in their community. Then, some of the participating students thought, “Why don’t we make the stories?” says Rosey Robards, ATMI’s director since 2007. This inspired the creation of ATMI and, specifically, In Other News. Since its inception, the monthly radio program has provided teens with career development and networking opportunities. In turn, youth producers have created award-winning work with the show. Stories such as Kendrick Whiteman’s “School Start Times,” and Ezra Dan, Michael Johnson, and Piper Sato’s “Yup’ik Spelling Bee for Beginners,” earned Youth Journalism International first place awards. Cornilius Nelson, a 2018 graduate of Bartlett High School who is now working as a Fab Lab Assistant with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, was one of sixteen producers selected from an interna-

ATMI Producers interviewed professional stuntman Peter Wallack in late October. Wallack has performed stunts in movies like “The Irishman,” and “John Wick: Chapter 3,” and shows like “Star Trek: Picard” and “Succession,” among many others. The conversation will be on an upcoming episode of ATMI’s youth-led podcast “Zoom Room.”

tional pool of 230 applications to be a 2019 New Voices Scholar with the Association of Independents in Radio.

show, and “the rest,” he says, “is history.” He appreciates that ATMI teaches young people the technical side of audio, video, and editing; in addition to offering access to networking and Robards believes that In Other News is uniquely posi- community events. tioned to accomplish what can otherwise be more chalBeyond giving teens hands-on experience, In Other News lenging in a traditional news environment –– bringing in offers hope to those who might feel isolated or struggle to a diverse cohort of voices, specifically youth voices, and find opportunities in Alaska. For many of the youth proworking with young people who don’t yet have any indus- ducers, their goal is to uplift and encourage Alaskan youth. try experience. By teaching concrete skills and offering They play songs by local bands who have made it big, like access to professional mentors, youth producers gain con- Grammy-winning Portugal. The Man; or profile individufidence in their ability to break into fields such as radio, als such as Peter Wallack, a professional Hollywood stuntjournalism, and film. During her two years with In Other man who was born and raised in the state. Robards sees News, Daisy Carter has noticed herself and her peers be- this focus on successful Alaskans as a way of providing coming more self-assured on air as they develop their young people and their families with “a window into the own creative voices. Carter, a sophomore at UAA study- world where people care and things are happening.” ing Journalism and Public Communications with a minor Carter can relate to the feeling of being unable to acin Creative Writing, says that her time with the show has cess industries like journalism or film while living in taught her that “wherever you are in the world...there is Alaska. Yet, her first assignment with In Other News always something going on where you are, and there are was an interview with the then-director of the Anpeople who would want to hear about it.” chorage International Film Festival, which ultimately Nelson first heard about In Other News while interning led her to an internship with a film director in LA. In for another radio program. He was drawn to the show be- addition to the internship, which she describes as “an cause it offered an opportunity to be more involved in the amazing experience,” she thinks that her work with process, beyond “just editing and swapping tracks.” He the show has better prepared her for the future by @alaskateenmedia started out transcribing before producing his first radio teaching her how to be her own creative boss. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 21


“Students are the masterminds behind the content.”

In Other News live on-stage hosts Daisy Carter and Madison Dooley prep backstage. PHOTO BY ARIANA O’HARRA, ATMI

“Students are the masterminds behind the content,” his recent awards and selection as a New Voices ScholRobards says. “We want the content to be truly youthar, Nelson is quick to refocus the discussion instead produced.” Mentors are there to answer questions, address to what he has learned. “Learning how to ask the right ethical dilemmas, and assist with rounding out a story; question, use the right clips, different editing techwhile student producers pitch, write, interview, host, and niques, and most importantly learning how to listen to create music and graphics. “It’s our job to point them in people. Not just what people say, but their feelings too.” the right direction and show them how they can create those opportunities for themselves,” says mentor Cody Robards is grateful they have been able to support Liska, a freelance journalist and founder of the podcast youth in media for as long as they have. Despite the yearCrude Conversations. “If those opportunities don’t exist, to-year uncertainty nonprofits generally face, In Other then how can they personally create them? If they feel News is one of the longest running public affairs prolike local news isn’t covering the issues they believe are grams in Anchorage. To celebrate their longevity, ATMI important, then we encourage them to cover those issues put together the “Fifteen Years of In Other News” project. themselves.” From February to December 2019, the show ran additionThe show’s success is in large part due to the ethos of al stories alongside regularly scheduled programming, learning and community that is fostered at ATMI. Rowhich culminated in a live event on stage in October. A bards fell in love with the media as a teenager herself, grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum helped fund the taking journalism classes in high school before working project. at the Anchorage Daily News. Although she enjoyed the The “Fifteen Years” project sought to highlight the past, fast pace and seeing her own work published, she prefers present, and future of In Other News. Current youth proeducating and mentoring others. In high school, she used ducers interviewed former youth producers, and stories to save class handouts and imagine how she would teach from the archives were featured on air alongside new ones. others about the subject. This gave teens the opportunity to “hear from people who Liska, ATMI’s current Youth and Community Engagewere in their shoes ten, fifteen years ago and about the ment Manager, was initially drawn to the role because stories they were making at that time and how it impacted of his background in youth mentoring. Since he was a their lives and careers since,” Robards says. teenager, he had worked as a writing tutor, teacher’s aide, Nelson interviewed Max Jungreis, who currently works and snowboarding coach. John Kendall has been ATMI’s at The Boston Globe. Other former producers interviewed Media Production Manager since 2018. Before joining, he were Chloe Choabal, who now works for Neon Hum in worked with at-risk teens and volunteered at a K-12 writLA, and Sam Bernitz who studied journalism at Northing center. western University. These events created a space to honor The staff of mentors are personally and professionthe accomplishments of those who started out with In ally oriented towards sharing their knowledge with Other News, while also demonstrating to current producyounger generations, and this has clearly impacted how ers what they can achieve going forward. their mentees understand themselves as both journal“It’s about passing the torch,” Kendall says, “It’s about ists and community members. When congratulated on showing the A-to-B to young people. It’s showing them


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a destination (being skillful at something or having a career in something) and retracing the path there back to the starting point, which is where they are... it’s a way to show youth that [these] futures are tangible.” The strength of the In Other News community is evidenced in the show’s staying power; but also in their resilience over the last two years. The studio at KNBA 90.3FM, where the team hosts In Other News, was damaged during the November 2018 earthquake, and the team has been forced to produce remotely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, Robards thinks some of their most exciting work has come out of these challenges. Without the ability to produce in studio with one another, they have produced two new podcasts: Zoom Room and Podcast in Place. With the increase in popularity of podcasts, students are demonstrating more interest in audio production and a conversational style of reporting. Whereas in the early 2000’s, students would generally interview their sources outside of the studio and mediate how the story appeared on the show from there, students today are inviting their guests into the studio or to online platforms to have conversations with them on air. ATMI youth producers, Despite this change in delivery hosts, and guests record style, Robards thinks the show has programs in the studios stayed the same in many ways. Teens of KNBA 90.3FM (before are generally drawn to the same story the pandemic). ATMI won topics across decades: climate change, two Alaska Broadcasters security and police, mental health, Association Goldie Awards for work in 2019. bullying, and homelessness are rePHOTOS BY CODY LISKA, ATMI curring subjects on the show. While stories on pop culture might change over time, the core issues that youth are concerned about tend to persist. As an Indigenous person of Athabascan descent, Nelson is passionate about rectifying the erasure of Native history and culture, in addition to “echoing and creating a platform for those experiencing civil injustice and raising awareness for mental health.” Seeing youth producers impassioned about community issues makes Liska and Kendall hopeful for the future. “They are seeing the need and importance of local journalism, and rising to the challenge,” Kendall says. Looking ahead to the next fifteen years, Robards trusts that the show will continue to develop and change organically with the students who pass through ATMI and contribute to In Other News. As always, the youth will lead the way, following in the footsteps of those who came before them while uplifting the next generation of Alaska teens in media. ■

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A CONVERSATION ACROSS GENERATIONS What does racial equity demand of us?

FOR MANY OF US, it can be a rare opportunity to talk about race across generations outside of our own families, who often share our racial identities. Conversations Across Generations (CXG) is a GCIsupported program at the Alaska Humanities Forum that is a series of transformative intergenerational conversations about racial identity and experiences of racism in Alaska. Susan Soule and Charitie Ropati are about as different as it can get. Susan grew up Jewish in Brooklyn, New York. She is now 78 and living in Anchorage. Charitie, who is Yup’ik and Samoan, grew up in Anchorage and is now 19 years old, going to school in New York City at Columbia University. Through CXG, they began a dialogue exploring the experiences that shaped the way they each think about race. Below is an excerpt from their conversation.

Charitie: A lot of what I learned was from the matriarchs in my life. My grandmother and my mother taught me a lot. I also learned a lot in school. In school I came to realize not only how unethical or unfair the education system is, but really how violent an environment it can be for Native and Polynesian students. We were learning a history that we didn’t really see ourselves in. My mom played such a big role in teaching me about all the things we face on a dayto-day basis. She prepared me for what it is like to go to the store or to school when my mom is visibly Native and my dad is visibly Samoan. We are treated very differently. I


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think that the houseless population in Anchorage is a good indicator of that. For Native peoples to be homeless on land that was once ours is just so jarring. Whenever I talk about my identity, especially what it means to be Samoan and Yup’ik, I just talk about how a lot of the experiences that I had in school, they were really violent, really shaped who I am. Whenever I didn’t know what to do, I was like, how do I solve this? How do I navigate this space? How do I cope? How do I cope with a society that is very anti-Indigenous and doesn’t want to acknowledge the atrocities Native people have gone through?

Finding a community, not only within my family, but with other Native women, finding community with other women of color here [at Columbia] and meeting other amazing Black and Indigenous scholars made me realize things will be okay, you know? Susan: Well, obviously I’m White. In terms of my experience with racism, it has always been of being with people to whom racism was inflicted. I was always a witness, rather than being personally impacted by it. On the other hand... sometimes I would— after meeting people that I was going to have to know for a while—I would somehow subtly let them know that I was Jewish. Because I thought if I did not, they might say something that would embarrass them if they didn’t know. So, I mean, what was that about, looking after their feelings? I never thought about it much growing up, but religious identity was very present. I didn’t ever really feel the discrimination but I know my parents did. Later in life I was struck by the fact that my parents didn’t have any non-Jewish friends and I asked them about it and they said it was because we always get hurt in the end. My parents were very much of the generation that was traumatized by what the Nazis did to Jews. That affected them in ways that it didn’t affect me.

Museum of the American Indian, not a lot is talked about what happened with the genocide. And then when you walk into the Holocaust Museum, it’s just very… it’s a very… I don’t even want to describe the experience.


Acknowledgment isn’t enough at this point. Why? Because it’s something that’s ongoing.

Charitie: I don’t really like comparing traumas with each other because I feel like it’s a tool in white supremacy where they’re like, okay, all of the people of color compare traumas and fight amongst each other, whereas we should all be fighting against white supremacy. But I do want to say it’s, it’s just how we remember these [traumatic] events. You don’t really learn about the boarding schools that happened in Alaska or happened in the Lower 48, or about missionization, or how past epidemics have hit our communities, how entire villages were wiped out, you know. So thinking about how that instigated cycles of historical trauma, how that instigated cycles of generational violence, that so many Native people are still breaking, like I’m breaking cycles of violence. My mother was able to break the cycles of violence. You know, when she graduated college [she] was one of the first people in her entire family to do that and then had four children. And my older sister and I, we both go to college now, and we would not have been able to do that without our mom who initially broke that cycle of violence. I feel like it’s… we can’t really compare those experiences, but when we have a conversation about how these events [the Holocaust and the genocide of Native Americans] are remembered, there is a difference in, honestly, how disrespectful it is. It’s interesting because when you walk into the

Susan: From what I understand, intergenerational trauma literature grew originally out of the Holocaust, but the other thing, Charitie, that you just made me think about: it’s pretty safe for Americans to write big chapters about the horrors of the Holocaust, because it was done by those Germans over there. It is much less comfortable to talk about what was done to Indigenous people and what is being done to Indigenous people and people of color here and now. Why? Because what is happening here we have some responsibility for, and that it’s much harder for people to face that. While working in Aniak in suicide prevention, I ended up getting very angry at the term “healing.” Because it puts the burden on the victim as opposed to the society that needs to be healed and changed. The people who are the victims of systemic racism do not need to change. Charitie: I never thought of it like that, but you’re right. When we talk about how to heal from this trauma, that burden is placed on the victim when it needs to be placed on the people who incited that violence in the first place. It doesn’t matter if that event happened 400 years ago. The trauma from that event is literally ingrained in Native people’s DNA. I will know we are liberated when we no longer have to break these cycles of violence and historical trauma. Susan: It just makes me reimagine, what would it look like to heal from that historical trauma and how the American government needs to take responsibility, even just acknowledging the genocide that happened. Charitie: Acknowledgment isn’t enough at this point. Why? Because it’s something that’s ongoing. Susan: Right, so really thinking about what it would mean for reparations to truly be given, and also what it means to break cycles of violence. Charitie: It needs to be better. I don’t really have an answer because I am only one person. But it needs to be better. I remain

hopeful because I know things will be okay. People always want to talk about the negative aspects of our people. Honestly, though, we are resilient. We are a people that were never meant to survive, but we did and we’re still here. We’re still creating spaces.


What is happening here we have some responsibility for, and that it’s much harder for people to face that.

Susan: Nowadays, I piss a lot of people off. There is no doubt about it because sometimes I just get angry and talk before I think. I often struggled with ways to have useful conversations with people from the other side. How can I do that? Charitie: I don’t even have conversations with people on the other side because people who oppose a lot of my beliefs are people who don’t think I should exist as a Native woman. I have come to a point where it’s not my job to educate people. But there are people in Anchorage who are doing this work, to educate themselves, to read things, to have conversations with Black and Native peoples. People like you. I’m so glad I got to hold this conversation and hold space with you. You’re amazing. Susan: I don’t think of myself as amazing but I have really enjoyed the conversation with you too. I hope our paths cross after the pandemic. ■ A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M S P R I N G 20 21


Distinguished Service to the Humanities The 2020 Governor’s Arts & Humanities Awards By Jann D. Mylet The 51st annual Governor’s Arts & Humanities Awards were broadcast and live-streamed on KTOO’s 360TV in early January 2021. The full program and information about all of the awardees can be viewed online at akgovawards. org, where nominations are now open for the 52nd awards. Congratulations to this year’s awardees!

KODIAK HISTORY MUSEUM Kodiak Distinguished Service to the Humanities | Community

The Kodiak History Museum “The museum did not stop at simply (KHM), known until 2019 as the Ba- a name change, but has integrated this ranov Museum, serves as an essential shift into the culture of the organization, and beloved community resource dedi- inside and out,” reflects Della Hall, the cated to preserving, interpreting, and former Executive Director of Museums sharing the full breadth of the history of Alaska. “The permanent exhibit redethe Kodiak archipelago. sign acknowledges the community’s full In 2018, the museum undertook a history and does not shy away from an massive project to redesign its perma- honest reflection of its history of vionent exhibits and upgrade its facility, lence, racial, and socioeconomic inequidriven by a collective ty. The shift to an ‘of, by, initiative to include “Our museum is taking for all’ model for their the stories of immitemporary exhibits ena lead in decolonizing grant workers, fishsures that the museum small museums in our ermen, servicemen, continues to be an inteand other underrepre- great state and forging gral and responsive part sented stories within of the community.” connections between In accepting the the community and people across race, award on behalf of to celebrate Kodiak as class, and cultural KHM, Executive Direcan international crosstor Sarah Harrington divides.” roads. There was also commented, “We believe a desire to include the long-neglected, devastating effects of that we are a platform for the community colonialism as part of the historical nar- to tell its own stories, draw its own conrative. The museum’s exhibits now ex- clusions, and create meaningful dialogue plore themes of immigration, industry, together, looking to history as our guide. and cross-cultural interaction in coastal Our museum is taking a lead in decolosouthwest Alaska, and the discovery of nizing small museums in our great state Kodiak’s cultural, social, and environ- and forging connections between people across race, class, and cultural divides.” mental history.


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THE AWARDS Each year, an Alaska artist is commissioned to create a series of unique awards to present to the awardees. This year’s awards (right) are by Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/ Unangax) of Sitka. Nicholas Galanin’s work engages contemporary culture from his perspective rooted in connection to land. He embeds incisive observation into his work, investigating intersections of culture and concept in form, image, and sound. Galanin’s works critique commodification of culture, while contributing to the continuum of Tlingit art by employing materials and processes that expand dialogue on Indigenous artistic production, and how culture can be carried. Galanin apprenticed with master carvers, earned his B.F.A. at London Guildhall University, and his M.F.A. at Massey University. His work is held in numerous public and private collections and exhibited worldwide. He currently lives and works with his family in Sitka. PHOTO BY MICHAEL CONTI

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Anchorage Distinguished Service to the Humanities | Education

Juneau Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities

During a tenure that spanned nearly 20 years, Rachel Epstein organized and hosted over 900 events as the Special Events Coordinator of the UAA campus, turning the campus bookstore into a forum for inquiry, conversation, and expression. The events—all free and open to the public—featured over 300 Alaska authors, community members, chefs, Pulitzer Prize recipients, a Nobel Laureate, Alaska Native scholars and Elders, historians, artists, musicians, poets, anthropologists, linguists, undergrad and graduate students, political scientists, and environmental and climate experts—just to name a few! Programming covered every imaginable and important topic in Alaska’s history and culture; inclusivity and diversity were hallmarks of the presentations, readings, and panels she arranged. Epstein’s career at UAA began with a temporary job conducting surveys for UAA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) before she took on several roles at the Campus Bookstore and then became its Special Events Coordinator. This past year, her position was eliminated and the bookstore closed as part of severe budget cuts within the University. “Rachel Epstein is the perfect model of someone who fosters the notion of literary citizenship—a call for artists to share in the making of community and sharing stories to build stronger communities,” Sandra L. Kleven,

Juneau lost a beloved leader, volunteer, advocate, and community member when longtime resident Kathy Kolkhorst Ruddy passed away on September 10, 2020. Ruddy served the Juneau community for over forty years as an attorney and public servant, volunteer, and donor. Ruddy was born September 21, 1949, on Staten Island, New York. Her father, a US Coast Guard officer, moved his family to Kodiak in 1956 for two years before returning East. That time in Kodiak was transformative for Ruddy— sparking a deep interest in Alaska history, Native culture, and politics. Twenty years after leaving Alaska, Ruddy returned to accept a clerkship with Alaska Supreme Court justice Robert Boochever in Juneau. She met her future husband Bill Ruddy and within a few years, joined his private law practice, the law firm of Ruddy, Bradley and Kolkhorst. Ruddy demonstrated her enthusiasm for arts and humanities through her advocacy of Alaska Native culture projects, her leadership in creating and sustaining one of Juneau’s most loved music festivals, and by contributing countless volunteer hours at the grassroots levels. For over 15 years, Ruddy was a producer of Southeast Alaska Native Radio, a weekly show on KTOO-FM, and was instrumental in raising the funds to digitize and archive the radio interviews; she was an organizer and fund-raiser for the “Friends St. Nicholas Church” restoration campaign; and an organizer of Le Cercle LaPerouse, celebrating the 1786 French round-the-world expedition that made a near month-long stop in Lituya Bay, a visit famously recorded in both the expedition’s logs and the oral history of the Tlingit residents. Of the many and diverse projects she initiated, or donated to, or volunteered for, Ruddy took great pride in her founding role and 30-year term as chair of Juneau Jazz and Classics, and as the founding chair and a lead fundraiser for the lifesize breaching whale sculpture by Skip Wallen in the Bill Overstreet Park. Ruddy’s interest in Alaska Native culture also found expression through her involvement as a volunteer and later an organizer for the “Sharing Our Knowledge” biannual conferences, which bring together Alaska Native tradition bearers and students of Alaska Native culture. “Kathy Ruddy was widely known and highly respected in the community for supporting and championing a diverse and large number of arts-related causes and nonprofit arts organizations,” writes Linda Rosenthal, cofounder of Juneau Jazz & Classics. “She has become one of Juneau’s foremost advocates for the arts and, as such, has made a profound impact on the community’s cultural landscape.” A memorial will be held for Ruddy in Juneau in early summer, 2021.

“Diversity and inclusion were the norm, and Alaskans from all walks of life were able to share stories, scholarship, and fellowship.” founder of Cirque Press and co-publisher of Cirque, wrote in her nomination. “She personifies the highest qualities defined by this award: enriching minds, deepening the understanding of the cultural importance of the humanities in general, and building bridges to strengthen our dynamic communities.” “Rachel created and fostered a safe space,” adds Darrel Hess, Anchorage’s Municipal Ombudsman. “A creative and inspiring learning environment, where diversity and inclusion were the norm, and where Alaskans from all walks of life were able to share stories, scholarship, and fellowship.” Epstein emphasizes that her goal was always to bring people together in an informal environment to exchange ideas and learn from one another. “It’s about finding out who’s here. And then figuring out how we can all learn from each other.”


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BILL LEGERE Juneau Distinguished Service to the Humanities | Leadership

In his 40 year career in Alaska, most of it at the helm of KTOO in Juneau, Bill Legere has devoted himself to improving the civic, intellectual, and cultural life of Alaska. Through his hard work and quiet leadership, Legere transformed KTOO from a conventional public broadcasting station into a statewide leader in news. Serving as President and General Manager of KTOO since 1991, Legere’s impact is evident in everything KTOO produces. From history, nature, and science documentaries on television, to live coverage of Alaska’s major cultural events, to ongoing news and public affairs series on KTOO’s various media platforms, Legere has been guiding and nurturing the work of a talented team of creatives for decades. In 2015, Legere envisioned a new statewide reporting collaboration to take journalism at Alaska’s public media stations to new levels of quality, impact, and cooperation. He designed the project, wrote the grant applications that raised the startup funding, and sold the idea to his colleagues at other stations across the state. Today, Alaska’s Energy Desk has grown to 15 reporters, editors, and producers at nine stations from both rural and urban Alaska. “Bill has positioned KTOO as part of the community,” explains former Juneau Mayor Sally Smith. “Joining with key organizations and individuals to gather and present stories of the past and present, all with an eye toward understanding who we are, where we’ve been, and how we can all work together for a collective future.” In accepting his award, Legere focused on the future rather than on his past accomplishments. “I think our most important work is yet to come,” he said. “It’s time for all of us in the arts and humanities to use our resources—our time, talent, and insight—to address the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in Alaska. It’s time for me and those who lead our cultural institutions to make changes that we know are overdue—at the board table, on our staffs, among our volunteers, our programs, and, most importantly, in our hearts.” ■ AWARDS IN THE ARTS Government Leadership in the Arts: City and Borough of Juneau Individual Artist Award: Dale DeArmond, Juneau Arts Business Leadership: Juneau Radio Center, Juneau Margaret Nick Cooke Award for Native Arts and Languages: Markle Pete, Glenallen

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New Board Members Join the Forum STEPHEN QACUNG BLANCHETT ALASKA HUMANITIES FORUM Board members are active change-makers and community leaders, listeners and storytellers, fundraisers and friend-raisers from across the state. We currently have 18 members serving terms of three years on our Board of Directors. This fall, we welcomed five new members.

Juneau Arts and Culture Education Director Juneau Arts and Humanities Council

Stephen Blanchett is perhaps best known as a performance artist with Pamyua, an internationally renowned tribal funk, world music, and Inuit soul music band, but he has also worked in development at both ANHC and First Alaskans Institute, and he is currently the Arts and Culture Education Director at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. Blanchett serves on the boards of the Western Arts Alliance and Visit Anchorage, and as a commissioner on the Sister Cities Commission. With a degree in political science / Alaska Native studies, Blanchett’s passion is cultural inclusion. “I have always viewed my role as a conduit and a connector to help bring people together working towards a common goal. I have a passion for the arts and culture, and have made it my life’s work to help create balance between the traditional Alaska Native ways and the rapidly changing world around us.” What is your “Alaska story”?

I’m from the Y-K Delta and grew up there for the better part of my life. I am Yup’ik from that corner of the world. My father is Black and grew up in Philadelphia and moved to Alaska because of the military. What’s on your reading list right now?

I haven’t been reading too much lately, but I’ve immersed myself in reintroducing myself to Indigenous music that I’ve come across throughout my career and exploring new Indigenous music throughout the world.

KENEGGNARKAYAAGGAQ EMILY EDENSHAW Anchorage Executive Director Alaska Native Heritage Center

Emily Edenshaw is working to complete her Ph.D. thesis on using communitybased research, with a particular interest in addressing trauma and healing. She brings extensive experience in donor stewardship and grantsmanship to her role on the board. “I believe one of my strongest skills is the ability to turn challenges or barriers into a source of strength that we can pull from later. I’m smart, hardworking, honest, and proud to be a strong Alaska Native woman.” What is your “Alaska story”?

I am Yup’ik and Iñupiaq from Emmonak, Alaska. I am the great granddaughter of Axel and Pearlie Johnson, granddaughter of John and Cecilia Sipary, and daughter of John Neeley and Helen Miller. What programming, resources, or opportunities at the Forum are you most excited about in the year ahead?

Development! What’s on your reading list right now? A book, article, podcast that you’ve been looking forward to?

His Hand Upon Me by Katherine Gottlieb. I’m part of an Indigenous authors book club so anything on that reading list. Last month, we read Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger and this month, we are reading Trail of Lightening by Rebecca Roanhorse. What topic/s do you think we should be talking about more in our homes, communities, workplaces in relation to strengthening community?

Alaska Native boarding school experience.


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Anchorage Vice President Alaska Federation of Natives

Soldotna Executive Vice President Alaska Christian College

Anchorage CFO Camp Fire Alaska

Ben Mallott currently serves as the Vice President of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), where he staffs the Subsistence Committee, Executive Governance Committee, and Resolutions Committee; and helps to develop and manage effective working relationships on federal, state, and local levels. Mallott has also worked for U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski as a Legislative Assistant and as Communication Liaison for the Arctic Athabascan Council (ACC). He serves on the board of directors for Baan O Yeel Kon Corporation (BOYK), as chair of NTVI, a subsidiary of BOYK, and on the board of trustees for The Nature Conservancy Alaska. Mallott earned a B.S in Environmental Science from Oregon State University and a Masters in Public Administration and Policy from American University.

In addition to his administrative duties at Alaska Christian College, Jeff Siemers teaches art classes at the college and also at Kenai Peninsula College, a community campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage located in Soldotna. He holds a B.A. in Visual Communications from Southern Illinois University, an M.F.A. in Visual Art from Azusa Pacific University in California, and he is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Art Theory and Aesthetics at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in Visual Art. His research interests include aesthetics, ontology, and otherness. Along with serving on the Alaska Humanities Forum Board, Siemers serves on the Alaska State Council on the Arts.

Originally from Guinea, West Africa, Aminata Taylor is one of 17 children and she’s fluent in four languages. Prior to her current role as CFO at Camp Fire Alaska, Taylor worked as a Senior Auditor at CliftonLarsonAllen, a national CPA firm serving clients of various industries. She holds an M.B.A. from Kaplan University in Chicago, IL and a C.A.P. Taylor is curious about the world around her, thoughtful, and committed. “I believe having someone with a diverse background and passion for the mission is valuable for the continued growth of the organization.”

I moved to Alaska in 1999 from the Chicago area to Hooper Bay. Because my first Alaska home was in the Y-K Delta, I have a special relationship with that area.

What programming, resources, or opportunities at the Forum are you most excited about in the year ahead?

What is your “Alaska story”?

My family has been in Alaska since time immemorial. My father is Tlingit from Yakutat in Southeast, and my mother is Koyukon Athabascan from Rampart in the Interior. I mainly grew up in Juneau, but my parents made it a priority during my childhood to make sure I spent time in each of their homes to know my family, our homelands, culture, and heritage.

What programming, resources, or opportunities at the Forum are you most excited about in the year ahead?

If I had to pick one area, I am most excited about the Forum’s youth programs. The pandemic has really impacted our youth, and I feel these programs can create a space and opportunity for youth to start the healing process from the impacts of isolation of this pandemic and develop critical skills and connections for the future.

What is your “Alaska story”?

What topic/s do you think we should be talking about more in our homes, communities, workplaces in relation to strengthening community?

A topic that I feel would be an important aspect in strengthening communities would be something I might call “commonality in difference.” I find that we tend to hang out with people who look, act, and vote the same as ourselves, and we spend a good amount of energy posting or tweeting about how we are doing it better than others. I know that I have had much better experiences with others by sharing a meal or playing a game, as opposed to putting up signs and divisive statements.

What is your “Alaska story”?

I have been in Alaska for a bit over a year. I am originally from Guinea, West Africa.

I really enjoy the conversations that the Forum facilitates—they engage different people, generations, and there is always so much to learn. What’s on your reading list right now?

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

What topic/s do you think we should be talking about more in our homes, communities, workplaces in relation to strengthening community?

I think conversations about racial and cultural inequities are very important, and recognizing each of our biases and our roles in perpetuating or fighting it. ■

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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.


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Skupin found a box of slides at a Dutch flea market in 2008. After scanning them, she found that she had stumbled upon a collection of beautiful color photographs of Alaska taken in the 1950s and 1960s—but without any identifying information of the people and places featured in the shots. “As 2020 drew to a close,” journalist Francesca Street recounts in an article posted on CNN Travel on January 28, 2021, “Skupin

rediscovered the original slides, stored in a box, while she was cleaning out a closet. In our current age of social media and hyperconnectivity, she wondered if she might finally be able to track down the photographer or subjects.” With the hope of learning more about the photos, Skupin published the full set of images to a Google Drive and shared her story in the CNN article, "Can you solve the mystery of these 60-yearold travel photos?" In the piece, she

encouraged people to view the drive and provide any information they might have. Within hours, comments started popping up. People identified family members, classmates, friends, and even themselves as children. They named locations and shared stories of beloved places and people, images of long lost memories resurfaced and crowdsourced by Skupin's post. To read the full story and view the collection of photos, visit

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


Extra Tough: Women of the North Francis Usugan of Toksook Bay holds dried seal gut in an untitled 1980 photograph by James Barker. The image is part of an exhibition at the Anchorage Museum, reviewed in this issue by Laureli Ivanoff. ANCHORAGE MUSEUM, 2014.31.15