FORUM Magazine | Winter 2021-2022

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The Alaska Humanities Forum Turns 50 | Soviet Far East Museum Trip | Of Ermines and Art | Vintage Photos


The Genius of Leadership is its Humanness

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

BOARD OF DIRECTORS Judith Owens-Manley, Chair, Anchorage Ben Mallott, Vice Chair, Anchorage Laci Michaud, Secretary, Anchorage Aminata Taylor, Treasurer, Anchorage Jeffrey Siemers, Member-at-Large, Soldotna Rachael Ball, Anchorage

By Kameron Perez-Verdia

Kristina Bellamy, Anchorage Thea Agnew Bemben, Anchorage Stephen Qacung Blanchett, Juneau Keneggnarkayaaggaq Emily Edenshaw, Anchorage


eadership Anchorage is one of the Forum’s flagship programs. We’re proud to be celebrating its 25th year at a time when extraordinary leadership is vitally needed. We are facing unprecedented challenges in our economy, political landscape, public health, and in our ability to communicate across the most basic differences. Human beings are designed to be in relationships: villages and cities; elders and youth; families and neighborhoods; customers and constituents. The social tensions our state and nation are experiencing— violence and hatred and separatism—are robbing us, daily, of the one thing that has the power to heal us: true connectedness. We need people who approach leadership in new ways—who transcend competency profiles and see beyond numbers into the hearts and minds of others who want to feel safe, respected, trusted, valued, and included. We need visionary leaders. We must see beyond today’s challenges in order to facilitate transformation. What is our imagined future? What value will our work provide? How will we inspire others to not only see a desired state, but to create it? We need leaders who connect people. Familiarity breeds trust. Trust enables collaboration and risk-taking, which leads to better ideas. Do our team members know and trust each other? Are leaders making themselves vulnerable, so they, too, can be known and trusted? We need warrior leaders. Leaders who will speak up for what’s right and use their voices to defend, promote, and celebrate the good. Often our silence speaks louder than words. We need leaders who heal. I know, it sounds a little strange. But I believe leaders who are willing to acknowledge others’ pain can unlock new levels of engagement. Are we courageous enough to listen with our hearts and meet people where they are? This is not a time for status quo leadership. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had recently with people who are struggling to stay focused at work, who are reevaluating their priorities, and who are seeking peace and hope in what feels like major social upheaval. We can ignore it, and go about business as usual, or we can step up to the challenge of leading for today. We all have a personal choice to make. I am proud that the Forum and the 25th cohort of Leadership Anchorage have chosen to step up. Warmly, Kameron Perez-Verdia President & CEO


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Kitty Farnham, Anchorage Charleen Fisher, Beaver Peter Metcalfe, Juneau Francisco Miranda, Anchorage Don Rearden, Anchorage Carrie Shephard, Anchorage Sheri Skelton, Anchorage Jeannine Stafford-Jabaay, Hope Sharon Thompson, Anchorage Renee Wardlaw, Anchorage

STAFF Kameron Perez-Verdia, President & CEO Shoshi Bieler, Youth Program Coordinator Emily Brockman, Youth Curriculum Manager Megan Cacciola, Vice President of Programs Jazmine Camp, Education Program Manager Amanda Dale, Director of Cross-Cultural Programs Kelly Forster, Education Program Manager Oliviah Franke, Conversation Programs Coordinator Nancy Hemsath, Grants Officer & Board Liaison Helen John, Youth Program Coordinator Kari Lovett, Director of Operations Emily Lucy, Youth Program Coordinator George Martinez, Vice President of Communications and Community Engagement Rachael McPherson, Vice President of Development Aud Pleas, Workshop Coordinator Helen Poitra-Chalmers, Vice President of Operations Chuck Seaca, Director of Youth Programs Alejandro Soto, Youth Program Associate Taylor Strelevitz, Director of Conversation Programs Molissa Udevitz, Youth Program Designer Cheryl Williams, Leadership Programs Coordinator

FORUM MAGAZINE STAFF George Martinez, Publisher Dean Potter, Editor and Art Director Nancy Hemsath, Copy Editor Contributors: Susy Buchanan, Thomas R. Oates, Ben Huff, Sean Briggs, William Fitzhugh, Valérie Chaussonnet, Darlene Orr, Jean Anderson, Brian Adams, Elizabeth Earl, Desiree Hagen, Nancy Lord, Winter Marshall Allen, Chloe Pleznac, Jessie Young-Robertson, Bob Bolton, Sage Smiley



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4 Hello Kitty, the Rubber Chicken, and the Essence of Civics Catching up with former Forum President and CEO Greg Kimura

10 The More Things Change This issue marks the beginning of a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Alaska Humanities Forum (and our tenth year of publication as a full-fledged magazine). In these and future pages, we look back at projects and people affiliated with the Forum over five decades. During the preparation of this issue, connections lost or faded over the years were discovered and renewed—between individuals, institutions, and ideas. The cover photo, part of a series composed in 1978 by the late Thomas R. Oates (page 10), came to us with only COVER PHOTO: UAA-HMC-1256-B18-ALBUM-08

this information: “Fisherman & his daughter, Homer.” Our friends at the Pratt Museum in Homer helped find Betha Chesser, widow of Nathan Chesser, the man in the photograph. The girl is their daughter, Dianna. By 1978, they had lived in Alaska (in Anchor Point) for five years. Betha, who taught kindergarten at Nikolaevsk School for 20 years, had never seen the photo. “His boat was the Merit. He was a commercial fisherman, and he loved it,” Betha told us by phone from Texas. “He loved it.”

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.

Images from four decades ago depict Alaskans encountering timeless questions

18 State of the Humanities in Alaska A new survey identifies humanities organizations in Alaska and assesses their challenges and strengths

20 Winter Pelage Death, graffiti, and thoughts on making art in Alaska

25 Crossroads Siberia On a museum research trip to the Soviet Far East in 1990, American scholars found remarkable artifacts and a country in dramatic transition

34 Program Notes Updates from the Forum’s Youth, Education, and Leadership Programs

37 Community, Media, Possibility Stewards of an Informational Ecosystem Building Bridges Through Conversation Tom the Tomato Man

Several photo credits were wrong in the Fall 2021 issue of FORUM due to editing errors. The photos printed in the story, “With Vision as Deep as the Ocean,” pages 8-12, were by Lee House, and the photo on page 10 depicted a demonstration, not a celebration. The photo of Somer Hahm on page 16 was by Stephanie Barney.


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Hello Kitty, the Rubber Chicken, and the Essence of Civics Catching up with former Forum President and CEO Greg Kimura

STORYTELLING is a thread that runs through Greg Kimura’s life. From his stint as an Anchorage Daily News religion reporter in the early ‘90s to his work in academia as chair of the Department of Liberal Studies at Alaska Pacific University; from his tenure at the Alaska Humanities Forum (20062012) to the five years he spent as CEO of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles; Kimura’s curiosity to learn about others and share that knowledge has guided a remarkable life. Kimura, a fourth-generation Alaskan, is now a priest at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in the small town of Ojai north of Los Angeles. He retains his love of stories and the connection they build LEFT:

between people, as he does his love for the humanities. Faith has remained a driving force in Kimura’s life as well. After earning his Master’s of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate in philosophy of religion from Cambridge, Kimura was ordained at age 25 and has always been active in the church. In Ojai, as in Los Angeles and Anchorage, he has immersed himself in his community, reaching out to immigrants and the underserved, serving on social service boards, and volunteering on the search and rescue team. He displays an innate desire to know and understand those around him at more than a surface level, no matter their circumstances, putting the humanities into action daily.

Greg Kimura, photographed in 2010 by Brian Adams.

You left Alaska in 2012. Where are you now and what are you up to?

Ojai is a town of about 8,000 people; there are 30,000 in the Ojai Valley. I’m the Episcopal priest here at the local parish, St. Andrew’s. I describe this place as like the Homer of California. That’s how my wife Joy and I thought about it when we first visited. It’s set in the mountains, near the coast. It’s very artsy. It’s outdoorsy. It’s renowned for being a place of spiritual retreat, even a little New Age. And yet there’s a lot of citrus and avocado orchards, there’s a large Latino and immigrant community, and lots of people of different cultures rubbing elbows on a day-to-day basis. Before moving to Ojai in 2017, you lived in Los Angeles where life moves at a much more frenetic pace. Tell us about your time there.

I worked in downtown LA as CEO and president of the Japanese American National Museum; I did that for five years. I really enjoyed the time, but it was extremely challenging. I was doing a lot of fundraising and flying around the country, and to Japan, to meet with donors and to make sure that the financial side of the museum was in order. But I loved the opportunity to do some of the creative stuff. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M W I NTE R 20 21 -2 02 2


Part of my mandate coming in was to increase attendance at the museum and to do new and bold exhibits that would bring in not only Japanese Americans, but other people, so they could learn about Japanese American history. A central story that is told at the museum is the story of World War II. It’s sometimes called internment, but the preferred term now is the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans in America’s version of concentration camps during WWII. The museum hosted a number of wildly popular exhibits while you were president and CEO, including “Dodgers: Brotherhood of the Game,” which told the story of the civil rights history of the US through the lens of the local baseball team. There was an innovative exhibit celebrating Japanese tattoo as a fine art form that traveled to places like Virginia, Vermont, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia. But you had an exhibit in 2014 that was even bigger than that. Can you tell us how that came about?

We partnered with Sanrio Corporation to do the fortieth anniversary of Hello Kitty. It was unbelievable. How did you convince the museum’s membership to take that exhibit on?

Every person who came in to see Hello Kitty wound up getting a bit of history as well.

I sold it as an exhibit featuring this large, culturally Japanese icon that caught on in the wider US. Even in the ’60s and ’70s there was still a lot of anti-Japanese American sentiment. Hello Kitty was the first thing that was kind of cool, that the larger culture embraced. I wanted to get lots of people into the museum, and we went with it. What was your approach?

We did a comprehensive critical exhibit, and we commissioned 40 contemporary artists to create Hello Kitty-inspired art. We looked at the feminist critique of Hello Kitty: She doesn’t have a mouth, for example. Sanrio, to their credit, were open to everything. They only asked for one change to the script of the exhibit and that was not to refer to Hello Kitty as a cat but as a person. A month before the exhibit actually opened, the curator, Christine Yano, mentioned that change in an interview for a Los Angeles Times blog. How did that news go over?

Within 24 hours, “Hello Kitty is not a cat” became a trending topic on Twitter, and it became the second-


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highest topic on Twitter that weekend. I knew that we were going to have a ton of people show up at this exhibit. And we did, and it was the one exhibit that really brought out Hollywood as well. So you used a pop culture icon to bring the humanities to the masses?

Hello Kitty ended up driving tons of people to the museum. We had Tyra Banks show up, we had Lisa Ling show up, we had Katy Perry. In one weekend we had 50,000 people come to the museum. We normally had 100,000 visitors in an entire year. The reason I’m talking about numbers with this is that we ended the Hello Kitty exhibit right where “Common Ground,” which is the Japanese American history exhibit, started. Once you left Hello Kitty you walked right into the Japanese American history exhibit. There was no way to avoid it and we designed it so that every person who came in to see Hello Kitty wound up getting a bit of history as well. Some people found it jarring, but this is what you have to do nowadays. When you are in LA you’re competing against Hollywood and everything else. The museum is less than a mile away from the Staples Center. You have to do what you can to get people’s attention. Looking back on your six years at the Alaska Humanities Forum, what sticks with you?

I just really enjoyed my time at the Forum in many ways. I remember [former CEO] Steve Lindbeck saying that it was the best job he ever had, and it’s because of the intellectual engagement, the ability of an organization like the Forum to have a statewide impact. In Alaska there’s a tradition of partnering with institutions and individuals. It’s this wonderful network that the Forum is able to be in, with a goal of really exploring and promoting the diverse cultures and the heritage of the state. That was a very fun and gratifying job to do. How is the Alaska Humanities Forum different from equivalent organizations in other states?

In most states, humanities councils are a passthrough. They receive money and they give it out as grants to different cultural groups to do humanities work. That’s something that every humanities council around the country shares. But the Forum did positive programming as well. We operated the Rose Urban Rural Exchange, the Alaska State History curriculum. We started up Best Beginnings to show that if we don’t have literacy from a very young age, people aren’t going to be reading or learning about history as they grow older, so early learning became part of the mission.

LEFT: Kimura presently serves as rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ojai. This photo was taken at a service with Mixtec parishioners, Indigenous peoples from southern Mexico who work as agricultural laborers in California. BELOW: Kimura with Katy Perry at the Japanese American National Museum in LA in 2014 “I really wanted to show this to those people in high school who made fun of debate and forensics.”


Do you have any favorite projects?

There are lots of wonderful memories of the Forum. I was there during the fiftieth anniversary of Alaska statehood. There was a flourishing interest in Alaska history and also looking forward to what the next 50 years would bring. One of my favorite projects was the Alaska at 50 grant program. We partnered with Rasmuson Foundation and did a million dollars of grant-making. We also were able to do a book. For the book, I asked people who I thought would be in a good position to think about different aspects of Alaska culture and where we might be in the next 50 years. The book Alaska at 50 was published by the University of Alaska Press in 2009. It was a great and very interesting project to be involved with. One of your attributes as a leader was valuing your staff as individuals with stories to tell, and you put that into practice with the introduction of a rubber chicken at weekly meetings. Can you tell us more about that?

Ah, yes! The rubber chicken. It was my version of the talking stick. Basically, whether the object is a rubber chicken or something else, you give somebody the opportunity to do what Hawaiians call “talking story.” You start a staff meeting off with somebody who has the rubber chicken talking about something that they do, some interest that they have, and relating it to their culture, their heritage, their background.

It allows other staff to learn in an organic way what drives peoples’ interest in the humanities. The person who speaks first then hands off the rubber chicken to some other person. Sometimes everyone ducks their heads so they are not the person to get it for the next staff meeting. What’s interesting to me about any work is the people you work with. It’s partially the nature of the work you’re doing, but there are interesting and fascinating people who work in the humanities and we want to hear their stories. The work at the Forum was about recording and promoting the stories of Alaskans and we did that in a microcosm in the office, too. Can you tell us about a time when you had the rubber chicken and recreated a rap at a staff meeting?

Basically, you want to tell people about something they don’t know about you, something surprising. That was about a time when I did some questionable rapping over the intercom at Chugiak High School and ended up getting in trouble with the principal. What do the humanities mean to you?

That’s something I always try to avoid, exactly defining the humanities. I boil it down to anything that is telling a deeper story about an individual, a community, a group, a place; that’s trying to get beyond a simple statement A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M W I NTE R 20 21 -2 02 2


of facts—although you need the facts there—to tell a narrative with a deeper meaning. And I think that’s what people love about novels or even good movies; it’s trying to reach for something deeper than the experimental sciences, to deeper levels of meaning. Living life, no matter who you are or where you are, is complex, variegated, and interconnected with other people. Through other people’s stories and exploring one’s own story you are able to develop a better appreciation for how we are all connected, the ways in which we are similar and the ways in which we are different. Alaska has so many unique stories; it’s what inspires people from the Lower 48 to come up in droves.

Yes, they are coming up to see the vastness of the wilderness, to see Denali and all of those things, but they’re also coming up because they are fascinated by the stories of the people who call Alaska home, how place informs identity, whether we are talking about Alaska Native stories or those of more recent immigrants. Alaska’s biggest role is to be that place where north, south, east, and west all come together. And with such a rich and varied Indigenous population, there isn’t another place like Alaska. Alaska is its own country that way. I live in California now and I get tired of people acting like California is the cutting edge of cultural development. The Anchorage School District has more languages spoken than the LA Unified School District. Can the humanities play a role in healing the divisiveness Alaska and the rest of the country are currently facing?

It seems like right now we’re in a really bad place in this country and even in the state. The slow and arduous process with the humanities is for us to engage each other and to listen and to share stories of history, of culture, of identity by continuing a conversation and being face-to-face. In that context, it’s almost impossible for people to dehumanize each other. People want depth. They don’t want the quick, 15-second TikTok. They aren’t given any depth by that. For all the debate we see happening nationally about vaccines, we have a whole dog race that’s known worldwide and is based on the importance of delivering vaccines and health and healing to people. Alaska has a story and a history of relationships to life-saving vaccines that can teach the entire nation. In this sense, the Iditarod is more than just a dog race that goes 1,049 miles. It’s a story about how people are connected to each other. How we care


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for each other and our well-being, at great odds, and with terrific personal sacrifice. It’s a heroic story that Alaska can share with the rest of the world and teach it important lessons. I’ve also used ideas from Harold Napoleon’s book [Yuuyaraq: The Way of the Human Being], about the tragedy and trauma of epidemics on Alaska Native communities, to look at the multigenerational effect of Japanese American incarceration. I believe it’s an important book for all Americans. I’ve preached on it, with respect to the lessons Alaska can teach the rest of the country about the cultural impact of COVID and how we should value the most vulnerable in society. Likewise, Elizabeth Peratrovich should be as well-known as Martin Luther King, Jr. Her work in civil rights and voters’ rights preceded and anticipated changes in the rest of the country by a generation. She’s an Alaska visionary with a story to tell Americans today about the fight for equality against the current attacks on democracy and voting rights.

People don’t want the quick, 15-second TikTok. They aren’t given any depth by that.

What role do the humanities play in our future, and how can they better adapt to attract younger generations? Is there a way to be more nimble?

That’s the big question. Within the museum world that’s the worry. Are we in the last generation of people who are actually going to go to museums? With respect to the humanities themselves, the National Endowment for the Humanities has been pretty forward-thinking in making the humanities digital. That’s been an initiative of the National Endowment and we’ve learned, during COVID, that’s the way people access any source of education. But for my way of thinking it can’t just be that, just digital. To really experience culture and humanities you have to embed yourself in different places. The humanities are a way of building human connections with neighbors as well as with the past. I’ve always felt like the essence of civics was rooted in the humanities, the stories we tell about what it means to be an American or what it means to be an Alaskan. Interview by Susy Buchanan. Buchanan is an awardwinning journalist whose career began over two decades ago at the Anchorage Press, and a former grants director at the Alaska Humanities Forum. For more examples of her work, visit

Proud Supporter of the Alaska Humanities Forum






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The More Things Change Images from four decades ago depict Alaskans encountering timeless questions Photographs by Thomas R. Oates


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Barge loader, Nenana



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IN AUGUST 1978, a documentary photographer, the late Thomas R. Oates, made a two-week journey through small Alaska towns to make pictures as part of a Forum-supported project called “Images of Continuity, Images of Change.” The project, organized by Terrance MacTaggart of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, used images and first-person accounts to explore “conservation and development themes in anticipation of public policy debate,” according to a description in the Forum archives. Such debates are perpetual in Alaska, and the Forum’s work of using the humanities to drive deeper understanding of these themes continues, notably with the recently-concluded Alaska Salmon Fellows project. “Images of Continuity, Images of Change” comprised 30 display panels of historic and contemporary images, along with “reports of Alaska pioneers.” It travelled to historical societies, schools, and museums around the state. A taped slideshow, narrated by historian Jon Nielson, summarized the exhibition. Public discussions in response to the exhibit were hosted in Homer, Cordova, Wrangell, and Nenana. Following the tour, an album of Oates’ photographs was entrusted to the Forum. It was moved from office to office until 2017, when the University of Alaska Anchorage took custodianship of the Forum’s archives. (Oates’ beautifully printed images now share a box with an audiotape labeled “John Haines, 1973.”) A selection of these photos is presented here. Oates was on the faculty of Webster University in St. Louis at the time of “Images of Continuity, Images of Change.” He built a body of work documenting rural Missouri and inner-city St. Louis, as well as traveling internationally and serving in university leadership. He was recruited to the Alaska project by MacTaggart, a colleague from Missouri who had recently moved to UAF. Oates shot most of the images with a medium-format Hasselblad camera.

Mr. John, Venetie


LEFT: Title slide of the narrated slideshow that accompanied the exhibition. UAF ELMER E. RASMUSON LIBRARY ORAL HISTORY 2015-30

PREVIOUS PAGES : Logs near sawmill, Wrangell, Alaska UAA-HMC-1256-B18-ALBUM-26

FRONT COVER : Fisherman & his daughter, Homer, Alaska. UAA-HMC-1256-B18-ALBUM-08

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Family, Venetie, Alaska



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Cordova, Alaska


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Fishermen, Homer, Alaska



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The Simplest and Most Confounding Act

A SHIRTLESS MAN loads building supplies onto a barge,

while another man, who could be his twin, looks on from behind the controls of a forklift and the mighty Tanana River rolls by. A woman wearing a creased, brilliantwhite apron, which looks like it’s straight out of the bag, presents an enormous king crab with a thin smile of pride. Two men, one who resembles a young David Letterman, coil the leaded rope of their crab pots. A man pushes a skiff into the tumbling current of the East Fork of the Chandalar with his family, as a young child peeks out from behind a mound of down jackets and blankets. Where are they going, and why? The pictures shown here by Thomas Oates represent a place and time in Alaska. Downtown Cordova. Homer. Wrangell. The small village of Venetie. Nenana. 1978. I would have been two years old when Oates made his trip to Alaska, with the help of the Forum. This set of pictures represents everything I love about photography—its equal qualities of specifics and vagueness. At the most basic level, photography is the simple record of light bouncing off a surface. That’s it. But making a picture is at once the simplest and most confounding act. Some might lament that time has lost the details of Oates’ intent, and the stories of the people he photographed. I would argue that the photographs are enough. As a viewer, I delight in the space that’s given to form my own broken narrative. To tug on my own history and baggage to give the pictures meaning, and to revel in the surfaces and what might lie beneath. As a photographer, I’ve spent much of my time over the past few years looking through archives of images that describe this place. Some pictures are accompanied by words, journals, or lengthy captions, which are useful for history. But I’m continually drawn to the pictures that are open ended. Pictures that were made with intent, with a keen point of view, but given as a gift wrapped in mystery. Unencumbered by comment. Each picture a riddle that can’t be solved—that doesn’t ask to be. Mr. Oates, in his short time in Alaska, has given us such a gift. —Ben Huff Juneau, 2021

Ben Huff is a photographer, artist, and founder of Ice Fog Press. His Forum-supported work has appeared in this magazine. His latest book, Atomic Island, is in press with Fw:Books. Learn more at

Untitled, Homer

Untitled, Cordova


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State of the Humanities A new survey identifies humanities organizations in Alaska, and assesses their challenges and strengths

In today’s tumultuous world, humanities organizations are stepping up and doing more to lead community conversations and foster connections that are instrumental to healing and conceiving a more just world. Established during the politically charged days of 1965, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an independent federal agency dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. In the early ’70s, the NEH developed a network of state councils to build stronger connection and support for local communities. Since 1972, the Alaska Humanities Forum has represented and served Alaska as the official state humanities council. The Forum is supported by the NEH and is a member of the Federation of State Humanities Councils. Many of our programs are well known, like Leadership Anchorage, Kindling Conversation, Take Wing, and Sister School Exchange. Further, we know that stewarding Stewarding community-based humanities organizations communityhelps our state to ask big based humanities questions; to decentralize knowledge and au- organizations helps thority; and to activate a shared vision for a more our state to ask big equitable world. questions. As the Forum moves into its 50th year of service, we are proud to launch our inaugural State of the Humanities in Alaska report. This report was an effort to reach out to organizations across the state to learn more about the work they are doing and the challenges they are experiencing. We surveyed over 450 organizations and had a 20% response rate. This initiative represents our commitment to understanding, supporting, and spotlighting Alaska’s cultural, social, and civic landscape. We hope its development leads to increased collaboration, connection, and the strengthening of our community-based humanities organizations.


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“Transition between long term members that are retired, and new members in their early 30s.” “Staff salaries are too low. We could get funding for this, but how to sustain?”


“Diversifying our funding streams to be more sustainable.”

“Making sure we meet the needs of a population growing more diverse.”

Issues rated as “very challenging” related to finding: other types of funding. . . . . . . . . . . 35% grants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23% volunteers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23% qualified staff . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23% When asked about other challenges, most responses were related to COVID.

“Remaining successful and sustainable without paid staff.”

“Volunteers are spread too thin.” “The economic effects of the pandemic will continue well beyond 2021, but economic support will not.”


PANDEMIC GRANTS Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the Forum has granted more than $900,000 to over 150 organizations across Alaska from funding provided by the NEH as part of the American Rescue Plan, and the NEH Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan (SHARP) initiative.


Respondents were asked how familiar they were with the Alaska Humanities Forum: very familiar. . . . . . . . . . 35% somewhat familiar. . . 53% not familiar. . . . . . . . . . . 12%

Trust. Community. Respect.


BRINGING ALASKANS TOGETHER The most commonly reported humanities-related activities were: community gatherings. . . . . . . . . . . 76% youth education/training. . . . . . . . 66% adult education/training. . . . . . . . . 61% exhibits. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40% performances. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34%


YEARS Organizations reported being in existence an average of 41 years.

TYPES OF ORGANIZATIONS Responding organizations were spread among a wide variety, the most common being: educational . . . . . . . 18% museum. . . . . . . . . . . 17% performing arts. . . 13% cultural. . . . . . . . . . . . 13%


ORGANIZATIONS The report aggregated data and contact information for 288 Alaska community humanities organizations, ranging from the Haida Canoe Revitalization Group to the Hammer Museum; the University of Alaska Fairbanks to the Hope and Sunrise Historical Society.

These are the core values and guiding principles of the Alaska Humanities Forum. These same values are central to philanthropy. Trust that gifts are used responsibly. Community built by sharing resources. Respect for others, the work being done, and the knowledge held by people around us. Through these actions, philanthropy builds the foundation of an equitable future and the legacy of support for conversation and connection. The Alaska Humanities Forum is a place where the impact philanthropy has on the community and the future can be seen. It is helpful to define what philanthropy is. Philanthropy is when treasure is given to support a sustainable vision for the future. It does not matter if the treasure is 25 cents or $25,000. What matters is moving toward a common goal and a stronger community through giving of one’s self. Gifts to the Forum lead directly to strong programs and dialogues that forge common humanity and connection. There is a lot of talk about a “culture of philanthropy” and what that looks like. The great thing about generosity and giving is that it can • Give online at—make a look like any number monthly pledge or one-time gift of things and appears in different cultures. At • Call Rachael McPherson, Vice the Alaska Humanities President of Development: Forum it takes shape as a (907) 770-8401 commitment—not only • Use the enclosed envelope, to how the world looks or mail a check to the Forum: now, but how it can look 421 W. 1st Avenue, Suite 200, in the future. Gifts allow Anchorage, AK 99501 the Forum and its grow• Double your impact—ask your ing, statewide network of employer about making a partners to bring life to matching gift the vision of trust, com• Select Alaska Humanities munity, and respect. Forum when you Pick.Click.Give — Rachael McPherson, VP of Development

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EMPLOYEES Organizations reported an average full-time employment of seven in both 2019 and 2020, and an average part-time employment of six in 2019 and four in 2020. To see the full report and organization database, visit

Thank you to our corporate donors: Agnew::Beck Consulting Alaska Airlines Alaska Permanent Capital Management Company Alaska Public Media AmazonSmile Foundation Atwood Foundation Bristol Bay Native Corporation Cook Inlet Tribal Council Denali. A division of Nuvision Credit Union Doyon, Limited ENSTAR Natural Gas Company

Foraker Group GCI John C. Hughes Foundation Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, National Park Service Korean American Community of Anchorage Matson Northern Compass Group PayPal Giving Fund Rasmuson Foundation Shee Atika, Inc. TOTE

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Death, graffiti, and thoughts on making art in Alaska

W INTER PEL AGE By Jean Anderson Originally published in “Frame of Reference,” the Forum newsletter, April 1998



inter is a season of death. But to my introverted mind it’s always seemed fertile, a time rich with time—season of rebirth, for thoughts, ideas, conversations, visits, stories. Any sun-drenched wintry Saturday in November, like one just a few days ago, might be a setting. I should have been ready. On this specific morning, while I stood gazing out my bedroom window in suburban Fairbanks, trying to read the faint graffiti of fresh tracks in the snow as l talked on and on, long-distance, tangled up in a long-winded and troubling conversation with a stranger—well, a wintery and mysterious visitor did appear. The phone caller was conducting a survey from Ohio. His questions were deft but complicated, precise, thoughtprovoking, troubling. He said he’d been hired (by whom? he couldn’t say) to select phone numbers in Alaska at random to ask the opinions of residents regarding development in the state. Big Oil, ANWR, greed, politics, international corporate power, and—yes—people, jobs, nature, responsibility, caution; these were my words, not his. While the caller asked question after carefully-phrased question focusing on the state’s economy and on whether that economy is headed in a direction I support, the visitor—an ermine, beautiful, darting, wild—invaded our words. “Oh look!” said l in mid-sentence.

The creature was about seven inches long. In winter pelage, to quote my tattered and beloved Merriam-Webster’s, c. 1972. Its coat was luminous, and the creature was beautiful, delicate-looking—oddly graceful, since its body seemed formed from a quirky mating between a mouse and an eel. Its movements were not simply quick or agile, though they were both, but as fast-moving as any ground animal I’ve ever observed, incredibly swift. The creature was a rarity too, only the second ermine, or weasel, I’ve seen in thirty years in Alaska. But like that other, which was brown and summery, it was fearless, curious, shy, self-confident, and insistent. lts coat was sleek; colored—or uncolored—a fresh and clean snow white except for a black tip of tail. Winter pelage. A small black nose; and the eyes, of course, which were black too, and startling. Remarkable glistening eyes, full of a curiosity beyond friendliness; intelligent-looking, quizzical, wholly communicative. “Tell him,” those eyes seemed to be saying. -2I stopped trying to articulate for the questioner in Ohio my fears about human greed swelled by huge corporations to an A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M W I NTE R 20 21 -2 02 2


international disease, vast, ruining the world, seizing everything, while the ermine darted up and down the fieldstone steps my husband built several summers ago. Dashing in and out, using the peek-a-boo style of our grandsons, it was talking in dance, disappearing, appearing, reappearing among the large stones mounded beside the steps, below our driveway. Tracing tunnels and paths in those big stones so carefully and laboriously placed to channel rivulets of snowy meltwater downhill, away from the house in spring. Though it was early November, there was little snow, just a ground covering that the ermine navigated easily. Meanwhile, my nine-year-old neighbor Mallory and her friend pulled red plastic sleds uphill on the road beyond the driveway—Mallory lifting an arm to wave to me at the window, only eighty feet or so away. By now my questioner was talking again, and the ermine—literally at my feet but too small to be seen by the children—cavorted and danced on the fieldstone steps, speaking, or so it seemed, for me. And for our questioner in Ohio, I told myself. But saying what? The creature dashed across the driveway and back again, ran in circles, under my husband’s truck and out, returned to flirt with my face at the window several more quick times, peeka-boo. All this before it raced uphill into the raspberry canes and snow-spined young birches to disappear from my view for good, just below the spot where Mallory and her friend, though invisible to me, were probably already sledding. And the human conversation, long-distance, could resume. -3a few days earlier, my husband and I had awakened to find three moose tromping in the woods and brush at the edge of our yard. Moose had come and gone all that week in fact, as they often do around here, though groups of three are always rare. So—how do I rate? As a member of a minority species and a relative newcomer at that—possibly even an invader in a land “peopled” mostly by trees, stones, wind, and one of the world’s widest ranges of temperatures and weathers, as well as by the multiform nonhuman creatures who can tolerate that hot-and-cold range—how do I happen to rate the luxury of a voice? An opinion? That was my self-imposed question now. As a fiction writer, I know that my voice is my art; indeed it perhaps is my life. Just as speed, surely, must be the ermine’s life, and size, perhaps, the moose’s. And fiction, of course, that rarest of word-based art forms in Alaska, is probably rare chiefly because it must focus on the human, though we humans are the least populous and most recent beings in this landscape, and thus, are in some sense “rare,” with our plotting and planning, rescuing and plundering, and our words. Nonfiction and poetry seem more weighty and serious forms, for a region so newly “manned,” perhaps. Fiction, that simplest and most central of human-voice arts, is easily viewed as frivolous; simple-minded perhaps; not worthy of serious effort or attention just yet, here. Certainly fiction is an infant in Alaska. Native literature in the North, perhaps facing these and other dilemmas, has remained into this century proudly and simply oral in its basis­—freeform as TV, yet ‘’story.” It often centers on animals, is thus “nature-based,” de-


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The Return


Forum’s fiftieth year, during this third winter of worldwide pandemic. Death truly hovers this year. Earth’s humans are suffering, but maybe Alaskans have an edge: we know winter. We’re well acquainted with its seasonal dance. We know that annual time of death and transfiguration. We understand bone-chilling cold–and the need to be warm and well-prepared; we relearn daily those magical refractions of light and restoke the comforts of friendship and family and warming routines. “And now we have eaten a bit of the winter,” Athabascan storytellers phrase it. Death may hover horrifically this year, but winter moves calmly and reassuringly on. It’s snowy in Fairbanks now, cold, with an almost hourly reframing of darkness and light, sun and clouds, stars and aurora–all of it magical, returning year after year. I’d forgotten this essay and thoroughly enjoyed rereading it. No ermine–nor any weasel–has appeared to me in the decades since the essay was published in “Frame of Reference” in 1998. But amazingly, this morning my husband Don noticed odd tracks in the thin layer of snow edging the driveway, moving uphill through my flower bed, ascending the stone path he built years ago, in the exact part of the yard described in the essay. Too big to be vole tracks (we see them often, and a few tiny ones intersected the larger ones today). Too small for our neighbor the long-legged, brown-and-black-pelted fox, a scrawny fellow we’ve glimpsed four or five times since mid-summer. A weasel! We agreed–or a regal, beautiful ermine who somehow sensed she or he was again being examined in human words. We residents of Alaska are fortunate to be part of a majestic region, with mountains and ocean, wild creatures and real winters full of challenges, plus long elegant summers that must be among the finest on our planet. Though we’re older and slower now, Don and I still live in our house above downtown Fairbanks, uphill among raspberries, spruce trees, aspen and birch. We love this wintry land where wild creatures and wide swings of

I know that my voice is my art; indeed it perhaps is my life. Just as speed, surely, must be the ermine’s life, and size, perhaps, the moose’s.

daylight and weather are not really extraordinary. A few days ago, after breakfast, we watched a cow moose with two well-grown calves browse at the edge of the woods– and the three reappeared, to our pleasure, this morning. Alaska offers abundant inspiration, including its many human inhabitants worthy of fiction: fine fodder for writers! Like the others, I continue to hunt words, working at our shared task, penning my favorite form, short stories. Since 1998, literary fiction has not taken Alaska by storm, though those years gave us some especially gifted practitioners, including Martha Amore of Anchorage and the late Marjorie Kowalski Cole of Fairbanks. We’re blessed with avid readers too, myself among them, and with a long cold winter ahead perfectly suited to reading! –Jean Anderson Fairbanks, 2021

Jean Anderson is the author of Human Being Songs: Northern Stories (University of Alaska Press, 2017). She has lived in Fairbanks since 1966, where she taught for ten years at UAF and coedited the regional anthology Inroads. She published an earlier short story collection, plus many individual stories and a few poems and essays in numerous publications.

spite that ironic necessity of casting itself within a metaphoric framework of human words. “Modern fiction” perhaps is an intruder here, like Big Oil? Yet words are surely our nature as a species. I always want to say that, to add it like a plea. Stories tell us, we do not merely tell them, as we suppose. We live our stories. We cannot be true to ourselves or to our place—or to the seemingly larger and more complex world of “nature” and “economics,” politics and spirits—we cannot be people, we humans cannot perhaps be ourselves at all—without words, without stories. Words, stories, like the black-and-white imagery of winter, a pelage, give us the music for whatever chance of a second life, whatever rebirth, we can hope to achieve or glimpse, share or preserve as a species. We become our words. We do not merely tell our stories, they tell us. But why should I, a modern “realistic writer” of imaginary people, rate a voice, an opinion? An art form, a life? How dare I? -4A few months earlier, in a summery time that now seems like another world, I found myself writing about death and graffiti—writing with a passion, searching for words like some necessary salvation. A long-distance phone call on that day had given words to the sudden death of my mother’s older brother, my uncle Douglas Pell, who was 82, oldest in a clan perhaps named for our thick dark hair, our pelt, our pelage. It would be impossible for me to fly Outside in time for the funeral. I was now the oldest person alive in Mom’s family, the senior member of the bloodline I most resemble. And Uncle Douglas­­—who’d told me where in the yard I should plant tomatoes—a fact felt out by standing with care in subarctic sun—a person I loved—was gone. The news came on Sunday when the front page of the News Miner, which I’d been reading when the phone rang, was also fraught with emotion, awash in a spray-painted pipeline-andnature interpretive scene. This noisy work of art or graffiti had been left on a wall downtown by traveling, anonymous artists A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M W I NTE R 20 21 -2 02 2


Maybe we need to converse more clearly, more profoundly, more deeply. Maybe our embrace needs to become stronger, wider, more inclusive and attentive, more loving. Maybe we need to fight harder for what we love.

or artisans, and the newspaper was filled with words, pro and con, debating the mural and its import. Maybe because I’m a writer—one who mourns and celebrates life with words— death and graffiti merged in my mind that day; I had to write words, bits of this essay, as the tourist-artists had sprayed, maybe to cope, to see, to be. By living in Alaska, many of us find ourselves far from the places where we were born and raised, perhaps further yet from the traditions or cultures that created the art forms we love and practice. In a Midnight Sun-filled Great Land blessed or cursed with extremely potent symbols and clichés and realities, those of us who make art are handed extremely powerful challenges. In some sense, we who attempt to make art of words here, rather than paint or fish or drill for oil or chop trees or fill a slot in a corporate hierarchy; we do stand at the end of a bloodline. Or at its beginning. Maybe that. But was the soon to be painted-over graffiti-mural art? Yes, said I, angrily, in another phone conversation that day. The mural was a surly and provocative work at least as valid as any of the usual stuff, the acceptable, post-Hallmark cabins or snow scenes on downtown walls. It was more “serious,” certainly, than some insipid abstract or representational piece that could offend no one and merely please for poor reasons. Art should offend sometimes to achieve power and truth, shouldn’t it? Yet the travelling spray painters—as my friend, also a writer, gently suggested, knowing my bias—might be seen as part of another culture. The spray-painters were invaders or colonizers in a way, despite their heroics, weren’t they? By imposing their Outside vision and its style on Fairbanks—­defining us for us again, that old literary thorn in my flesh—they were perhaps doing exactly what seems “tradition” in Alaskan art and literature, weren’t they? Hadn’t she and I talked often, my friend continued, about “art” imposed from Outside? About how difficult it is to create work that’s not only fresh and vigorous and perhaps even generative, but valid, accurate, loyal in that grandest sense—as art? Yes, I had to agree. I’ve heard people deride the work of an Alaskan painter I admire enormously, for exactly the reason I


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admire him: because he dearly and boldly redefines our landscape. Originality from within can be far more offensive to some sensibilities than blindly imported or thoughtless and insipid stuff is to me. The kind of multilayered, “realistic” fiction I love best, and try to write, is often sneered at by readers, who see it as “only fiction,” not true, or by others who see it as “true, not really fiction at all,” as well as by those who seem put off by subtlety and speak obliquely of “the need to inspire”—or to inform or entertain. But, mostly, “serious” fiction is ignored by “active” Alaskans. All this, I suppose, because fiction is a relatively new form here. Especially so-called “literary” stuff set in Alaska, written by someone who lives here and hopes to label it “art”—another sad fact my friend and I lamented together, like my uncle’s passing. All this has stayed in my mind, like the ermine. Is art in all its forms, as I believe, our best “voice” as a species—our speed, our size? If so, how should art be made in Alaska? And why has it happened that our species has such a “voice,” an ability for making metaphor, that luxury of opinion? Perhaps precisely because we can cooperate and communicate? Because we are able not only to do but undo? Redo, plan, act, react, even change? We, as artists and those who love art—as humans—are given inescapable duties of growth and preservation. Like the graffiti of tracks in fresh snow or that pugnacious spraypainted mural visited upon sleeping Fairbanks, art becomes a footprint into and beyond the actual human experience or event. Into tunnels and depths. Art marks a path, a trail, a passage. It becomes a bloodline. By making and embracing art, we humans occasionally and collectively sometimes enter a deeper world. We take on our winter pelage, that wholly natural rebirth. We converse; we share; we sometimes defeat death. The arts and humanities in Alaska and in our nation are facing times and events that seem likely to become even more difficult, in a troubled and divided age. But maybe that’s good. Maybe we need to work harder. Maybe we need to converse more clearly, more profoundly, more deeply. Maybe our embrace needs to become stronger, wider, more inclusive and attentive, more loving. Maybe we need to fight harder for what we love. I told my telephone interlocutor in Ohio before we hung up that I live in Alaska because I love it. I said that Alaska has been a blessing in my life, an adventure in progress, not a place to grow rich but a place to be, to begin, to become. All the clichés and then some, in fact. For myself and others, human and non, I said. I love this land and its dreams; I said this in words or tried to imply it, calling upon stilted phrases, metaphors, jokes, and feeling blessed as I spoke by the words of a story I imagine as still evolving. New and exciting. Like a dance, like a novel you’ve just begun reading, like a shared life. “We’re not quitters here,” I said, “and we’re not simpleminded,” feeling eager for winter, proud to know it at its worst­—or its best. Eager for its depth, its death, its rebirth. And I thought that I knew what the ermine had suggested: Be yourself, whatever that is. Speak out. Go ahead. Live your dreams and your values as well as you can, and share them. Here, now. Find the warm spot in the yard. Watch me. It’s easy. ■


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This pouch, constructed from bird feet, reindeer fir, leather, and beads, was made around 1950 by a craftsperson of the Koryak people of Kamchatka, Siberia. It was displayed in an exhibition that toured Alaska and Siberia in the 1990s. KAMCHATKA REGIONAL MUSEUM #11082.

CROSSROADS ALASKA I SIBERIA On a museum research trip to the Soviet Far East in 1990, American scholars found remarkable artifacts and a country in dramatic transition

n March 1990, a party of six American “museum people”—curators, academics, researchers—boarded an airplane in Anchorage, bound for the Soviet Far East outpost of Provideniya. It was the era of glasnost and perestroika. The Soviet Union would dissolve as a nation 20 months later. The Americans’ trip can be measured on two timescales: the relatively brief moment of transition and turmoil in the USSR; and the immemorial span over which the Native peoples of Siberia and Alaska forged cultures, thrived, and persevered through the ebb and flow of colonial empires. It was this longer horizon that attracted the American scholars. Taking advantage of the new openness in the USSR and travel funding from the Alaska Humanities Forum, they planned to work with their counterparts in Siberia to launch a trans-Pacific exhibition of northern Native cultures. Unlike previous efforts, the exhibition would be designed to travel to the towns and small cities in Siberia and Alaska where these cultures evolved. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M W I NTE R 20 21 -2 02 2


Among the party were William W. Fitzhugh, a curator of anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution; Darlene Orr, director of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum in Nome; and Valérie Chaussonnet, a pre-doctoral fellow also at the Smithsonian. The three recorded their impressions of the trip and of conditions in Siberia; excerpts are printed in the following pages. These were first published in the Forum’s newsletter, “Frame of Reference,” and in the catalog of the ensuing exhibition, called Crossroads Alaska/Siberia, and known to its creators as “mini-Crossroads.” “Large-Crossroads” was Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Alaska and Siberia, a huge exhibition produced with collections from Leningrad, New York, and Washington, DC, and intended to travel to urban museums in the US and USSR. Although it toured in the US (including Anchorage) in 1988, large-Crossroads never reached the Soviet Union due to the deterioration of economic and security conditions there. Instead, the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center conceived the more nimble and locally-focused exhibit, gathered allies, and embarked to Siberia on the journey of discovery. While the team had a rudimentary itinerary and some contacts among Soviet museums, the trip turned into a marathon of opportunity. “We ended up going more places than the initial itinerary,” Chaussonnet wrote in an email. “It was a matter of getting permission to fly into locations, which was what our Soviet colleagues did for us.” Fitzhugh concurred: “We were pretty sure something would work out. Russians can be very inventive.” Russian curators and archaeologists, facing challenges of life in economic and political uncertainty, were stimulated by the initiative, and likewise the Americans, for whom the museum collections and Indigenous knowledge of Siberia were unfamiliar. “We collaborated with numerous local scientists, many of them Alaskan and Siberian Natives, in forming the exhibit,” Chaussonnet reported. “Mini-Crossroads was a step in the direction of where the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center was heading, with a true partnership with Native Elders and researchers.” “The project cemented many Beringian connections that developed and flourished to today,” Fitzhugh agreed. Fitzhugh’s detailed journal of the trip is reproduced here in a condensed form (opposite page) that eliminates curatorial de-


tail in favor of local color. When it appeared in the newsletter in 1990, Chaussonnet contributed an addendum (page 30) to offer her somewhat different perceptions of the Soviet Union. Finally, Darlene Orr, who is Siberian Yupik and grew up on St. Lawrence Island, authored an overview of Siberian Yupik life for the exhibition catalog, published five years later (opposite page). Crossroads Alaska/Siberia was a success, travelling to a dozen towns in Alaska by 1995. An eleventh-hour dispute over Russian customs fees threatened to condemn mini-Crossroads to the fate of its larger namesake, but intervention by an Alaska trade delegation and a steep discount provided by Aeroflot secured the exhibition’s transport to Siberia, where it visited four sites in 1997. In addition to the first research trip, the Forum supported a suite of educational materials and docent training for Alaska host museums. At the Pratt Museum in Homer, Crossroads Alaska/Siberia was accompanied by visiting Koryak (Native people of Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula) dancers and craftspeople.

“IT WAS ALL A SURPRISE. IT WAS FANTASTIC... SEEING ALL THESE OBJECTS WE DIDN’T HAVE ACCESS TO.” From her home in Sitka, Orr recently reflected on the trip to Russia, one of 14 she made during a career in linguistics and ethnobotany. “It was really a positive experience and trip,” she said. The team didn’t know what they would find in Siberian collections until they got there. “It was all a surprise. It was fantastic, just really incredible seeing all these objects we didn’t have access to [in the West]. We had free reign of the museums. We got to go in back, anywhere we wanted.” Orr remembered an encounter that took place in Novosibirsk. “One of my favorite pieces was what is called the ‘Nefertiti of the Amur.’” It’s a Neolithic clay figurine, dating to 4,000–2,000 B.C., and thought to be a shaman’s helper or a household guardian. “To hold that in our hands was incredible. They gave us little replicas of it, and I still have mine.”

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CAST WILLIAM W. FITZHUGH was a curator in the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution. He is currently a Smithsonian senior scientist; curator of North American Archaeology; and director of the Arctic Studies Center. DARLENE ORR : At the time of the trip,

Orr, who is Siberian Yupik, was director of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum in Nome. She returned to Russia for linguistic and ethnobotanical studies with the University of Alaska and National Science Foundation. She serves on the board of the Friends of the Sheldon Jackson Museum. VALÉRIE CHAUSSONNET was a predoctoral fellow in the anthropology department of the Smithsonian Institution. She spent 11 years working on the Crossroads projects, including exhibits, catalogs, publications, and touring and lecturing with the show. She is now a fine artist and divides her time between Austin, Texas, and Aix-en-Provence, France. VALERII SHUBIN was vice director of the

Sakhalin Museum in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. He was the local coordinator for the American visitors, acting as a “fixer,” providing introductions to other institutions, and authoring the protocol that established Crossroads Alaska/Siberia . JAMES DIXON , RICHARD JORDAN , and ROGER POWERS made up the rest of the American party. All three were archeologists with the University of Alaska.

“Nefertiti of the Amur.” This casting traveled with the exhibit; the original clay figurine was in the collection of a Novosibirsk museum.


NOTES ON A SIBERIAN MUSEUM TOUR MARCH 11/12 — PROVIDENIYA A COMPLETE SURPRISE, WARMLY RECEIVED An hour’s traverse of ice-choked Bering Strait brought us to a wide steaming shore lead off the Siberian coast and the rugged sawtooth mountains of the Chukchi Peninsula. [...] We were struck immediately by the geographic closeness of Alaska and Siberia here. From a point in the middle of our flightline we could see St. Lawrence Island, Seward Peninsula, the Diomedes, and Chukotka. It is inconceivable that people here would not have significant contact and share similar adaptations, that different cultural patterns could coexist without convergence or interchange. Within minutes (but a day later, March 12) we passed over the coastal watch towers and landed at the regional center of Provideniya. Our appearance apparently was a complete surprise to local officials, who had heard nothing of our arrival. Nevertheless, we were warmly received.[...] Faced with considerable material difficulties living in this remote Arctic outpost, Provideniya residents have developed an intense interest in Alaska affairs.[...] Attraction to the east is enhanced by access to Alaska television stations, videotapes and recordings, as well as the new travel opportunities. To Provideniyaites, Nome is the nearly next door throbbing culture center of the Western World where everyone has pick-up trucks, snow machines and VCRs. It’s like the old days of the gold rush.[...] MARCH 13–14 — ANADYR & KHABAROVSK MEETING VALERII, SHARING LITERATURE The flight to Anadyr took about 90 minutes and followed a rugged and submergent coast.[...] There were some surprises, one of which was the appearance of Valerii Shubin as the rear hatch of our cargo aircraft swung down onto the frigid tarmac. Nattily under-dressed in beret and vinyl safari jacket but brisk of action and proficient at cutting through red tape, Shubin quickly steered us through the formalities. [...] Trucks piled high with loads of butchered reindeer occasionally rumbled through town. We spent an exciting morning inspecting the exhibitions and collections at the Chukchi Regional Museum with Director Natalia Pavlovna Otka and Curator Anton Tynel, both Native Chukchi.[...] While in the museum we were continued on page 29


SIBERIAN YUPIK LIFE, US/USSR As a Siberian Yupik growing up on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, I heard stories of the Ungazighmiit, the other Siberian Yupik people who lived in the forbidding Soviet Union. But nothing that I heard prepared me for my first meeting with one. For forty years the Cold War had cut off all communication and travel in the Bering Strait region. Before then, since time immemorial, the Siberian Yupik had moved freely and frequently between St. Lawrence Island and the coast of Chukotka in Russia, a distance of only 40 miles. When the “Ice Curtain” came down, the two halves of the Yupik population were cut off from each other, but the mountainous Soviet coast constantly reminded St. Lawrence Islanders that there were friends and kin on the other side. It wasn’t until 1988 that we began to rediscover those ties, when the Soviet government allowed a “Friendship Flight” from Alaska to the port town of Provideniya in Chukotka. I was among the twenty Yupik passengers on that flight. Shortly after I stepped off the plane, a Native man came up to me and said in Yupik, “I’m from the Kivak clan. Which clan are you from?” I was speechless. Here was a man from a different country, speaking my Native language, telling me he was from the same clan I was. That trip was the first of many exchanges between the two sides. Today [in 1995], Yupik people can travel back and forth without visas. DEMOGRAPHICS & LANGUAGE On the American side, most Yupik people live on St. Lawrence Island, 200 miles off the Alaskan coast and 40 miles from the Russian mainland. Two villages are on the island, Savoonga and Gambell, each with a population of 550. In Chukotka, the communities with dominant Yu-

continued on page 29

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Group picture in Petropavlovsk with Americans (left to right) Richard Jordan in red coat, Darlene Orr in tan coat, Roger Powers behind Darlene with fur hat, and James Dixon second from right. Covers of the US and Russian editions of the catalog, composed by Valérie Chaussonnet with the assistance of Igor Krupnik. Visiting Russian scholars Nikolai Dikov, Aleksander Lebedintsev, and Aleksander Orekhov in Kodiak for the opening of the exhibition. PHOTOS COURTESY WILLIAMS W. FITZHUGH


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“Dragon.” Plywood and birch panel by Nanai artist Liudmila Ivanovna Passar of Komsomolsk-na-Amure. Mudur, the dragon, is ancestor of all living things and one of the three totems of the Amur peoples.



blitzed by radio and TV teams. Darlene’s Yupik was a big hit. We presented the museum with copies of the Inua and Crossroads of Continents catalogs and other literature, as we did at other locations in Siberia, and received copies of their publications; this sharing of literature enabled us to build a small library of regional publications that are often hard to find elsewhere in the USSR or North America.[...] In the afternoon we left Anadyr and flew to Khabarovsk, a major urban center and Aeroflot hub on the lower Amur River.[...] The hotel was busy with Japanese and Korean tourists and businessmen; outside, on the river, fishermen were catching smelt through the ice. MARCH 15 — KHABAROVSK NEGOTIATING THE EXHIBITION We began the Khabarovsk program with a tour of the fine old Khabarovsk (Arsenev) Museum while Shubin and others tended to our visas for the other cities we needed to visit.[...] It was decided that a visit to Yakutsk would be impossible, as there was no host available. (Host museums continued on page 30

pik populations are Sireniki and New Chaplino. Sireniki has a population of 800, of which a little more than half are Yupik; in New Chaplino most of the 500 residents are Yupik. New Chaplino used to be the traditional coastal village of the Ungaziq (Chaplino) but in 1958 the Soviet government saw fit to move it inland. The Russian Yupik were made to live with fluctuating boundaries shared by Russians and Chukchi. The Chukchi and Russian people have become the majority in an area that was once occupied by Yupik alone. Forced relocations and the presence of other cultures have had an adverse effect on the Yupik (Chaplinski) language. Today [in 1995] virtually no one under the age of 30 speaks Chaplinski. Although literacy in the Native language began in 1932, it was subject to many changes under Soviet policies. Chaplinski was used to teach Rus-

continued on page 31

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or institutes had agreed to pay our local hotel, food, and program expenses and the Aerofiot tickets to the next city. Ticketing was a major problem because it required repeated negotiations over the hard currency rule Aeroflot had just installed for foreign travel inside the USSR, and single-day service.)[...] In the afternoon we had the first of two collective meetings with the assembled curators to discuss our proposed archeological exhibition. The message we had earlier received from Director Otki in Anadyr was repeated strongly by this group, all of whom [...] direct or curate collections in museums run by the Ministry of Culture. Their reaction was that an exhibition limited to archeological materials would be of limited interest to their museums for it would draw few visitors, even in large cities. Since the clientele would be largely Russian (Russians number 95% of the population of the Far East) a show dealing only with Native prehistory would not be very popular. To interest the larger population, we would have to include ethnographic displays, especially of contemporary Alaska cultures. This presented us with a dilemma. What the Soviet side wanted was a substantial ethnographic show, in effect a slimmed-down Crossroads [of Continents] exhibition. [...] For us to mount a project duplicating [large-]Crossroads was clearly impossible. What we had proposed was a small exhibition in 10-15 small freestanding cases, without complicated installation or conservation problems, for viewing in less than 500 sq. meters. After considerable discussion, we suggested a compromise. Perhaps the proposed exhibit could include a small number of ethnographic items together with a larger number of archeological specimens in the regional culture displays, together with views of traditional ethnographic and modern Native life seen as graphics, arts, photographs, music, and video. This plan received widespread support and seemed to offer a workable and interesting solution.[...] Upon return to the museum we discovered our visas for Magadan and Novosibirsk had been approved, showing how quickly local visas can be arranged for cities formerly closed to foreigners. MARCH 16 — SAKHALIN TICKETS, FOOD, LODGING Early morning walk along the Amur. Fishermen were making their way to the ice-fishing spots while others were following paths to villages across the river. In another few days the ice will become too dangerous for travel. Later, discussions continued about the content and organization of the exhibition, and plans were made for the remainder of our stay, including the ever-difficult task of obtaining Aeroflot tickets.[...] Our departure for Sakhalin was through the Intourist lounge, which provided a small cafe and clean restrooms, some with toilet paper. Valerii Pereslavchev was carrying a package of frozen chicken bought in Khabarovsk, one of the few signs of food problems noticed during the trip. The flight took an hour.[...] [We] were installed in a comfortable suite in the local Intourist hotel. There were no spaces available in the dining room, so room service sent up meals and Roger and I continued on page 32


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Discussion was required to balance the exhibit between archeological items and ones more representative of contemporary cultures, like this Udegei hunter’s hat made by Irina Ivanovna Kialungzioga in 1984. KHABAROVSK REGIONAL MUSEUM


LIKE A COUNTRY AT WAR The March 12-26 museum research trip in the Soviet Far East and Novosibirsk was my first direct contact with an area which has been central to my own research since 1985. I share with Bill his positive feeling about what has been accomplished. I was, however, disturbed by the low morale of the country in general, and this somehow gave my vision of the trip a different tinge. As I gather my trip notes I seem to have enough material for a whole book—a sad book. To Bill’s description of the convivial and congenial moments of our expedition I will add observations based upon conversations I had. My conversations were different, probably, due to my speaking Russian and using it to ask a lot of questions, and thanks to both my status and my being a woman (allowing me to be more easily taken into confidence). I was told of countless economic and social problems. I noticed a dramatic change in the discourse of the Soviets about the USSR, by comparison with my previous trips and longer stays in this country. This discourse does not seem to be as much a consequence of glasnost, or the ability to speak out, as it does a result of increasing problems related to perestroika [economic reform]. I noticed myself much harsher living conditions (and I was told it was no worse than in the rest of the country), and, more important, a total delusion or lack of perspective concerning the near and far future. In my past experiences I heard many times from friends—intellectuals—that even though the material

sian and to disseminate Communist beliefs. The younger generation of Chaplinski speakers has been affected by Russian pronunciation. Of course, they say we’re the ones who have a strange accent. Unlike Chukotka, few people on St. Lawrence Island are non-Yupik, and most islanders still speak Siberian Yupik. However, with the introduction of television, VCRs, and radio, English is quickly becoming a major force of change in the language and culture. “Two men chasing a giant goose.” Koyrak wooden toy from Siberia, late 1800s. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION, #E175599


situation was difficult, this was not the most important thing (the philosophical implication being that material possessions are not everything). This remark was not made to me even once during this trip, which I think shows the extent of the economic problem. And what I SAW MORE ADULT I was told about (and noticed) was a general lack of motivation PEOPLE CRY IN THIS and hope for the future. The enthusiasm and kindness shown SHORT PERIOD THAN by our museum colleagues EVER BEFORE. in regard to our project was remarkable. Probably this project offered them an opportunity to accomplish something. We heard regrets that it is difficult or impossible to find exhibit designers and museum conservators; there is no paper to print booklets, catalogs, brochures. I heard so much bitterness, worry, and even fear about the future, that these two weeks were heavier than my continuous six months of Soviet experience eight years ago. I also saw more adult people cry in this short period than ever before. It vaguely felt like a country at war. In fact, several people shared with me their fear of a civil war; we heard that there were last year 30% more applications for permanent emigration out of the USSR than the previous years. ■ — Valérie Chaussonnet, 1990

ECONOMICS & SPIRITUALITY Another aspect of Yupik life that differs on both sides is the economic base. On St. Lawrence Island, Yupik still practice subsistence hunting and fishing, with much the same traditional patterns of distribution. Technologically, American hunters are more advanced than their Russian counterparts, having the latest models of boats, outboard motors, snow machines, and all-terrain vehicles available to them. On the Russian side, equipment is often antiquated or homemade. Under the Soviet system, all equipment belonged to collective and state farms. On these cooperatives, chosen members of a community have the job of hunting, fishing, trapping, and fur farming. They are paid in cash and in kind. With the collapse of Communism, life in the former Soviet Union has been changing at a breathtaking pace. While good things can be said for its demise, the totalitarian system actually helped to maintain one aspect of Yupik culture: spiritual beliefs. On St. Lawrence Island, the first missionaries arrived in 1894, exerting their influence to replace the Native religion with Christianity. They succeeded. On the Soviet side, the Yupik retained more of their Native beliefs because Communism proved to be an inadequate replacement. Spiritual beliefs were also reinforced by old Russian customs. Recently in Provideniya, visiting the family of a deceased friend, I brought Native food with me. The family put some food aside to be placed in a fire so that the spirit could partake of it. Another practice I observed was the placing of a pot in the middle of the deceased person’s living room to keep evil spirits at bay. Traditional spiritual customs are still observed on the Russian side, where Christianity hasn’t had much influence. Such traditional practices have ceased on St. Lawrence Island. With the increased travel to Russia now, missionaries have been bringing their Christian message to the Yupik villages, and it has had a warm reception from some people. At present, with a depressed Russian economy and low continued on page 33

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dined in the comfort of our suite watching televised political debates. MARCH 17 — SAKHALIN GRASS-ROOTS POLITICAL ACTIVITY The Sakhalin Regional Museum is housed in a Japanese ornamental-style building dating to 1937. Before the Russian occupation, it housed a large ethnographic and archeological collection, most of which were taken to Japan at the time of the Russian occupation. Today its collections are being rebuilt from local donations and by archeological expeditions.[...] Other galleries include a well-designed display of ethnography, displays on natural history and marine life, regional industry and history, and the obligatory but seldom visited “red room” of Soviet history and themes.[...] After lunch we discussed the exhibit project with Director Latyshev and staff, lapsing for long periods into discussions of perestroika, American life, museums, and other issues. Here, as in many places we visited, Soviet citizens have been mobilized by glasnost and are taking an active personal role seeking new paths to the future. Grass-roots political activity is rampant: television broadcasts covering political discussions, panel discussions by rival political candidates, and commentators’ analyses are on the air daily.[...] MARCH 18 — SAKHALIN A RUSSIAN THAW Sunday began with a sightseeing tour to Sokol and Takoe, two Late Paleolithic archeological sites.[...] I spent the afternoon roaming through the town park, watching hardy souls take “polar bear” swims in ice-filled pools while others gathered the spring’s first pussy willow shoots and enjoyed the warm sun. MARCH 19 — VLADIVOSTOK THE PLAN SOLIDIFIES Monday morning solidified the progress made to date on the exhibition plan. With the assistance of a Japanese computer in Valerii’s office we modified the draft protocol Valerii had written and enjoyed a moment of triumph as we sealed the undertaking with an exchange of gifts, photographs, and signatures.[...] By mid-afternoon Roger and I were en route by air to Vladivostok, where we were met and driven (raced) to our quarters, a dramatically-situated Intourist hotel overlooking the entrance of the harbor.[...] Spread across rolling hills, Vladivostok, only 130 years old, is often referred to as the “San Francisco” of the Soviet Far East. Its physical setting, cultural activity, and rapidly developing economy gave us reason to believe the claim. It was also the only city we visited where we noticed the amorous activity of its inhabitants (to each other).[...] The visit was capped by an evening reception hosted by Director Galina Aleksandrovna Aleksiuk, of the Primo State Joint Museum.[...] Director Aleksiuk noted that we were warmly welcomed as the first American museum people to visit Vladivostok and hoped that our meetings would open new doors to cooperative enterprises. For our part, we were impressed by the quality, independence, and originality of the Vladivostok museum community.


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Looking Back on Crossroads Siberia

RE-READING MY NOTES on our tour of Russian Far East museums brings forth a host of memories, as well as thoughts about Beringian exchanges and interchange today. Our little band spent two weeks visiting towns and cities in a part of the world that had been closed to Westerners for most of the 20th century. We were very aware of the pioneering nature of our visit, occurring as part of the front wave of glasnost and perestroika. The (then) Soviet Far East was alive with anticipation of change in peoples’ lives, economy, and politics. There was a great spiritual mobilization underway, and our proposed mini-Crossroads exhibit was taken up by Far East museums as a vehicle to energize scholarly, personal, and Indigenous contacts that could not be dreamed of just a few years earlier. As I think back on this extraordinary tour I am struck by the contrasts between our expectations and on-theground reality. We had no visas when we entered the country and could have been expelled. Although we had little prior communication with the museums or cities we visited, within a day or two of our arrival, Valerii Shubin had arranged visas, Aeroflot tickets, and local arrangements by our host museums and institutes. Everywhere we received “royal treatment”—fine lodging, meals (even banquets), tours of exhibits and collections, and cultural events. Beneath the veneer of the paternalistic colonial Soviet mentality toward Indigenous peoples, we were impressed by the vitality of Native culture. Everywhere we met small groups engaged in preserving and passing on knowledge of traditional arts, literature, and language. Museums were producing exhibits addressing the errors of Stalinism and the gulag camps and had taken the lead in opening new vistas, serving as places for discussion, and entertaining private economic initiatives to support their formerly state-only finances. Our visit was successful in ways we could not imagine. While the large-Crossroads exhibition never made it to Russia, the Siberia-Alaska mini-Crossroads exhibit moved forward “under the radar” and was seen by many museums, first in Alaska and then in the Russian Far East—making its peoples the sole Russian beneficiaries of the entire Crossroads venture. Another important result was a collaboration with the Japanese to produce the joint Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People exhibit (1999-2000) at the Smithsonian. The Russians had refused to let Ainu and Japan be included in the two Crossroads exhibits because of the controversy between Russia and Japan over the Kuriles. So, we did our own US-Japan exhibit to complete the story of north Pacific peoples and cultures. — William W. Fitzhugh Washington DC, 2021

MARCH 20-22 — NOVOSIBIRSK MEET THE “BEATTLES” Powers and I had only been in Vladivostok for six hours before we found ourselves back in the airport with our reunited group for a 2 a.m. flight to Novosibirsk.[...] Alexander Konepatskii, Director of the Institute Acheology and Ethnology Museum, gave us an excellent tour of the museum and allowed us to photograph any of the exhibit specimens we desired.[...] We decided to use a number of the specimens in our exhibit, among them Paleolithic artworks (figurines and animal carvings), Neolithic microblade inset lance points, and other materials.[...] The social program included an interesting evening Olga Pavlova, Darlene, and I spent at the Novosibirsk Ballet production “Beattles” (heavy on Che Guevara and views of Western violence and sleaze, but clearly indicating the teen-compelling aspect of Western culture and music). However, the highlight of our visit was a restaurant banquet (postponed a day due to lack of “spirits”) in which vodka masquerading as tea added decorum to obstructive national alcoholic regulations. Later, Olga entertained us in her home where such charades were unnecessary. The wee hours found us on a midnight Aeroflot ride to the high steppes of Chita, and on to Khabarovsk. MARCH 23 — KHABAROVSK In Khabarovsk for the day [...] spent in casual activities, visiting the museum and resting. MARCH 24 — MAGADAN ARCHEOLOGICAL SHOW AND TELL Another midnight flight; we’re like owls by now (but get no sleep by day!). Arrived at 9 a.m. in Magadan to find Dick Jordan looking very Russki in a new fur hat.[...] We heard highlights of Jordan’s adventures with the American gold mining consultants who got him into Magadan, and the KGB who tried to get him out. Then we got established at the airport hotel and left for Magadan, 40 minutes away by bus. In Magadan we were treated to a full program of archeological “show and tell”.[...] MARCH 25/26 — MAGADAN & ANCHORAGE SUCCESSFUL CONCLUSION Our second day in Magadan began with a bus tour of the Magadan coastal region, where we also found family skiing and ice fishing a popular passion despite inclement weather. The group reassembled for a final dinner at the Magadan Restaurant, enjoying discussion about our project and the many new opportunities opening for scholarly contacts. We were especially pleased to have met such an active and open group of young archeologists here. All agreed to assist us with the exhibition. This concluded our program in Siberia. We had a spectacular departure, rising up over the city of Anadyr and its snow-covered hills, out over the Gulf of Anadyr and along the mountainous coast south of Provideniya. We had a glimpse of St. Lawrence Island to the south, the Diomedes to the north, and soon crossed Norton Sound and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and the Alaska Range, and dropped down into the Anchorage Basin. ■

morale, almost anything from America is seen as wonderful. UPHEAVAL & OPTIMISM Under Soviet rule, traditional ivory/bone carving and Native dancing were transformed into an economic resource. Carvers work in a cooperative where they perfect their craft under a master (often a Chukchi), and dancers perform as a professional ensemble. Compared to Yupik dancers from St. Lawrence Island, Russian Yupik dancers look very dramatic and polished. But most people don’t realize that they are trained to be professional dancers. On St. Lawrence Island, anybody can dance if they want, as it is a form of recreation and not livelihood. Carving on the island is still done on an individual basis, too, as a means of bringing in cash. A controversial source of LIFE FOR AMERICAN cash is the selling of ancient artifacts dug up at YUPIK IS BETTER IN traditional village sites around the island. This TERM OF ACCESS TO method of getting quick money now holds an atMATERIAL GOODS, traction to Yupik on the side. This is espeBUT THAT DOES Russian cially true since the counNOT NECESSARILY try’s economy has been in upheaval, and any means GUARANTEE A of extra income appears good. HIGHER QUALITY Life for American Yupik is better in terms of acOF LIFE. cess to material goods, but that does not necessarily guarantee a higher quality of life. In fact, many people on St. Lawrence Island are on some form of government assistance. (Russian Yupik also received government assistance, bur were required to hold a job in return.) The younger generation of Russian Yupik is now making an attempt to speak their Native language again, and there is great interest in cultural exchange on both sides. We see changes from the reunification of this culture, and we also see the effects from forty years of separation and acculturation, yet we can only guess what the future holds for the once homogenous Siberian Yupik people. ■ —Darlene Orr, 1995

— William W. Fitzhugh, 1990

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Connection and Well-Being Anchor New Ilakucaraq Project


Alaska Humanities Forum staffer Alejandro Soto connects with a youth participant in Juneau, summer 2021.


Teachers Experience Cross-Cultural Immersion

Educator Cross-Cultural Immersion participants learn seal harvesting at culture camp in Hoonah.

This summer 11 urban educators completed a three-credit professional development course facilitated by the Alaska Humanities Forum, which included several days of an immersion experience at a culture camp in rural Alaska. This course is designed to enrich, strengthen, and enliven the educational experiences of Alaska Native students and, by extension, all students by supporting cross-cultural understanding of Alaska Native cultures among urban school professionals.


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The newly awarded Ilakucaraq Project envisions a world where Alaska Native/ American Indian (AN/AI) peoples and cultures are thriving, respected, and valued. Its mission is to preserve and strengthen the traditions, languages, and art of AN/AI people through statewide collaboration, celebration, and education. The Ilakucaraq (pronounced ee-la-coujaw-ga-ck) Project will further this vision by investing in AN/AI youth and the teachers across Alaska that serve them. Ilakucaraq means “being together” in Yugtun, the Alaska Native language of Southwest Alaska. Mark John, the former executive director of the Calista Elders Council, provided the name to reflect the centrality of connection to wellbeing. The project aims to strengthen connections between AN/AI youth across the state; educate teachers on the diversity of regional culture; and achieve significant educational benefits for the community at large. Activities will include urban/rural student cohorts in combination with in-person immersions and virtual programming; a partnership program with Mount Edgecumbe High School (MEHS); statewide virtual workshops for AN/AI youth; and cultural awareness workshops for Alaska educators. The Forum Youth Team is collaborating with the Alaska Native Heritage Center and MEHS. CONVERSATIONS

Conversations Across Generations Recruiting CXG is a cohort program that creates space for folks across racial, generational, and socioeconomic identities to have conversations about racial identity and racism in Alaska. We will explore the guiding question, “What does racial equity demand of us?” Reach out to the Forum if you would like to learn more or sign up for a future cohort.


25th Cohort Challenged to Become Extraordinary Leaders Leadership Anchorage (LA) has launched its 25th year with a diverse cohort of 19 leaders from an eclectic range of cultures, generations, life experiences, and social and corporate sectors across Anchorage. Founded in 1997, LA is the premier leadership development program for established and emerging Alaska leaders seeking to expand their impact and become a part of a community of diverse

leaders. Participants are introduced to new organizations, individuals, venues, and connection points across the city throughout the program. Participants build close, supportive relationships within their cohorts and across our powerful network of over 400 LA alumni and mentors. Please join us in welcoming the silver anniversary cohort of Leadership Anchorage!


C3 Delivers “Libraries in an Box” The Creating Cultural Competence (C3) program partners with communities, Alaska Native organizations, and school districts across three rural regions. Newly hired teachers participate alongside Elders, culture bearers, local youth, and peers in a cultural immersion during the summer— under the structure of a university-level multicultural studies course. This fall we shipped out 45 “libraries in a box” to C3 educators in the Northwest Arctic and North Slope regions. The libraries feature books and graphic novels from local and Indigenous authors and are grouped by grade level.

April Eide president, owner, baker, instructor

Aurora Agee lending branch manager

Brennon Land account coordinator

Camilla Hussein Scott operations manager

Carmen Wenger program director

Fadwa Edais student success coach

Heather Barbour former district attorney

Jasmine Carter youth civic engagement coordinator

Joni Spiess curriculum development, author

Kaila Pfister communications specialist

Kevin McGee e-commerce clerk

Kima Hamilton facilitator, on-air radio talent

Kyle Stevens managerial assistant

Loreen Anderson leadership coach, consultant

Megan Malcolm regional manager

Molly Cornish community engagement director

Nyabony Gat health education program coordinator

Traci Bunkers attorney

Weston Eiler government & community relations


Rose Cross-Cultural Exchange (RCCE) The Youth Team is proud to collaborate with the online initiative Native Time to bring stories of Alaska Native youth to the public eye in a blend of media. The partnership was an excellent opportunity to hear from young people about their struggles and triumphs, and how each defines identity with urban or rural backgrounds. Each student was able to work alongside the Native Time media team to share their stories via podcasts, videos, photo collages, and interviews. See the full website and explore this incredible content at www.

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The Alaska Humanities Forum: A Good Pick



Pick.Click.Give. allows Alaskans to easily share part or all of their Permanent Fund Dividend with nonprofit organizations they care about. When you apply ( Jan. 1–March 31), please consider making a gift to the Alaska Humanities Forum.




Working together with the

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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Exploring the roles, responsibilities, and relationships between media and community

Community, Media, Possibility I

n 2017, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation established the Democracy and the Informed Citizen initiative, awarding funding to the Federation of State Humanities Councils to “support the development of programming related to civic and electoral participation in a multivocal democracy.” The funding was distributed in two rounds —first in 2017 and then again in 2019—to those state humanities councils across the country that submitted proposals to develop and deliver programming to support the initiative. The Alaska Humanities Forum received funding in 2019 for Community | Media | Possibility, a series of events and Additional opportunities designed to explore publications the roles and responsibilities of from the fellowship media within community, focused can be found on the on the guiding question, “What Forum’s blog at is possible when community and journalism connect?” The goal of the series was to build trust Network map: between journalists and commuexplore and learn nities to support civic communihow to join it at cation and to create spaces of longing. The Forum offered several avenues for community members, journalists, and other members of the media to engage in the initiative. COMMUNITY CONVERSATIONS

Three community events, open to the public, were held in partnership with Kenai Peninsula College–Kachemak Bay Campus and the University of Alaska Anchorage.


A series of workshops supported journalists and other members of the media geared toward developing the skills needed to generate stronger relationships, mutual understanding, and empathy with communities. These relationships will increase trust and support public participation in journalism. STATEWIDE NETWORKING

A virtual statewide “unconferencing” event provided an opportunity for small group discussions, networking, and community connections. The agenda was developed in real-time around the questions that participants brought forward. COMMUNITY JOURNOVATION FELLOWSHIP

A Community Journovation Fellowship invited journalists, community members, and college students from Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula, Juneau, Utqiaġvik, Nome, and Fairbanks to apply for a paid, eight-week fellowship to explore the intersection of community and journalism through four guided virtual conversations. Throughout the initiative, a network map was developed as a public resource to support ongoing community engagement efforts. It will be a living resource over the next year, open for others to add themselves. The Journovation Fellowship culminated in a publication by small groups of participants, including those shared on the following pages.

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Stewards of an Informational Ecosystem A collaborative response to Kenai Peninsula community media

By Elizabeth Earl, Desiree Hagen, Nancy Lord, Winter Marshall Allen, and Chloe Pleznac


ive community members with an interest in local media formed the Kenai Peninsula cohort through the Journovation fellowship. As an example of what might serve as community or collaborative journalism, they offered this co-written article presenting multiple perspectives in dialogue together.


In a recent podcast, journalist Ezra Klein and writer George Saunders talked about “relocalizing” politics. Klein argued that “our local political systems have weakened, have withered. And that’s often because we don’t consume media that attaches us to local fights, local questions.” If Alaskans are getting their news from cable TV networks or the New York Times or a talk radio show from Georgia, they are not only filling up on information that may feed their own biases, but also on information that focuses on national politicized issues that further divide us. His advice was to “work on your own informational ecosystem to attach yourself to things that are local.” Saunders offered that if people of different political beliefs shared local news, like a need for road repair, they could not only reach agreements about what to do but would be participating in “something democratic, and communal, and positive.” Our state is large and diverse, with equally large and varied challenges specific to individual communities. Who knows the peo-


ple, histories, and issues of our communities better than the writers, broadcasters, and photographers living in them? So—community media. What is its role in Alaska, on the Kenai Peninsula, and in Homer? How can it enhance our “informational ecosystem” by involving more voices, more viewpoints, more participation by readers, viewers, and listeners? An ecosystem, to be healthy, needs diversity, stewardship, and integrity. It needs its inhabitants to relate to one another, to respond to changes, to recognize that they are all a part of the system and can solve problems together. COMMUNITY MEDIA

What is our community media ecosystem on the western Kenai today? Largely, it’s our newspapers and radio stations—two newspapers, two public radio stations, and several private radio stations. Each has its own niche, style, and content. News consumers also rely on newsletters of various sorts, and—of course—social media. Together these present “hard news” (the city council did “x”), “soft news” (art show openings), breaking news (avalanches and road closures), interpretations and opinions, and entertainment. This is the “news,” the shared environment in which we live together, the common ground for understanding the world around us. This connection is powerful in a place where distance and isolation are significant factors affecting community cohesion.

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With fewer opportunities in or with the media, fewer voices are heard, and many, many stories of importance go untold and unexamined. We also enjoy, increasingly, collaborations among the media and between the media and other organizations. Public radio is part of a statewide system, and the local stations also collaborate with various nonprofits. Our newspapers share reporters and news feeds with “sister” publications. Local media encourages opinion pieces of all sorts from local people. All media increasingly rely on internet platforms to curate and extend their news coverage. CHALLENGES

Could our media do more to build a richer, lovelier ecosystem? Of course. What media person doesn’t dream of having the resources to bring together more voices, to reach deeper into stories that need more context, to find and tell the stories that have been obscured by louder noises? Budgets, personnel, time—these all are limiting factors.

Specific to our region, the number of newspaper reporters has decreased from a solid dozen to just two or three, and one paper—the Homer Tribune—has been eliminated. The reductions in radio news staff are similar. Fewer reporters on the ground, especially when they must also manage online presences, means less coverage and less depth to that coverage. All communities are divided among socioeconomic, cultural, and political lines, but in Alaska these differences can be exaggerated. Representation of all sectors is difficult for even a robust media, and those who feel they are unrepresented (or unfairly represented) can distrust, resent, and reject the media. With fewer opportunities in or with the media, fewer voices are heard, and many, many stories of importance go untold and unexamined. The loss of local coverage, including analysis, results in less consideration of those issues closest to our daily lives—schools, roads, taxes, snow clearance, and community events. Without broadly sharing what happens in a community, members become poorly informed, isolated, and unlikely to join together in problem solving. In short, they no longer share a common environment. SOCIAL MEDIA

(MISS)REPRESENTATION By Desiree Hagen Handmade and commercial paper, 19”x25” ONE THING THAT CMP MADE ME REALIZE is the importance of WHO is telling the story and HOW these

stories are told. As an artist and media producer (I produce a podcast on gardening and agriculture in Alaska, called Homer Grown), I think about this constantly. I created this piece after a trans friend was misgendered and deadnamed. Hearing their frustration affected me; beyond a genuine mistake, the misgendering incident they described seemed intentional. I couldn’t understand how someone could consciously choose to deny my friend these aspects of their identity. I think about this similarly with journalistic representation. While I am not trans, in my art and work my goal is to make a conscious effort to both convey a message with equity and to present a fair representation, especially if I am portraying someone with a gender identity, sexual orientation, race, or community that is different from my own. — Desiree Hagen

The Pew Research Center last year found that 86% of Americans get news from their digital devices, a higher portion than get it from TV and a much higher portion than get it from radio or print. When asked about their preferences, 52% prefer digital, while 35% prefer TV and only 7% and 5% prefer radio and print, respectively. The numbers skew even wider by age, with younger people greatly preferring digital and, among digital choices, preferring social media to news sites. Similar data may not exist for Alaska, but we know that Alaskans’ social media reliance for news likely tracks the national trends. The Pew data, moreover, shows that “Americans who primarily turn to social media for political news are less aware and knowledgeable about a wide range of events and issues in the news [and] are more likely than other Americans to have heard about a number of false or unproven claims.” Social media pushes people toward slanted news sources that confirm their existing biases and, moreover, tend to be oriented toward national politics. WHAT’S POSSIBLE?

What does this mean for media and community in Alaska, the Kenai Peninsula, and Homer? Are our local news organizations doomed, as our municipal governance, community celebrations, and personal stories go unreported and unexamined? Or, can we work together, in a world of information kudzu, to use all the tools of our modern, changing world to maintain an ecosystem that includes us all and works to solve local problems? First, some responsibility goes to the news organizations themselves, which would benefit from embracing the ways people consume news while balancing their need for revenue. That means reaching out to community members, beyond just A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M W I NTE R 20 21 -2 02 2


Local media, ideally, works with—collaborates with—the community in which it lives.


Building Bridges Through Conversation Humanizing science and scientists

subscribers, to understand how people consume their news. Drawing on the talents of a wider range of writers, video and audio producers, and artists for content on existing platforms may increase trust and broaden interest. More community connection among news producers and news consumers will strengthen relationships and participation. Our community (along with the rest of our country) also needs to invest in news literacy. That starts with the schools, which must include curriculum on news literacy. Students should be leaving high school with a complete set of skills to be able to evaluate news articles and videos for validity, value, perspective, bias, and source material. On an individual basis, one thing we can all do to be part of “something democratic, communal, and positive,” to use Saunders’ encouraging words, is to support community media. Not just by consuming it, but by joining, subscribing, and paying for underwriting or advertising. We can contribute a voice with a letter, an op-ed, a freelance article, a tip to a reporter, a call about a need in the community; we can encourage others to do the same. Kind or at least civil comments, constructive criticisms, and other forms of engagement are vital to keeping media centered on what is truly necessary and needed for the health and future of the community. Local media, ideally, works with—collaborates with—the community in which it lives. The community, ideally, participates with the media, as consumers and, when possible and appropriate, as partners in supporting and presenting the concerns, values, and positive ways of strengthening our society at every level. Think again of our media ecosystem. Do we want it to become a monoculture, like a corn field or a plantation forest, or do we want to live in a healthy ecosystem with the richness of variety, inclusion, and connection? ■


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M W I NTE R 2021-2022

By Jessie Young-Robertson and Bob Bolton


laska Voices is a story sharing project that started in 2017 as a platform to improve science communication using the model from StoryCorps—a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. The episodes are 40-minute recorded conversations between two people who know each other on a topic of their choosing. As part of a one year partnership between Alaska Voices and StoryCorps, 12 individuals, representing different fields of expertise and communities throughout Alaska, were trained as facilitators using the StoryCorps model. Instead of just focusing on science communication, Alaska Voices expanded to a more community-based approach with conversations between scientists, community members, mentors and mentees, friends, family members, and policy makers. Special intention was given to including Alaska Native peoples in this project. Topics range from relationships to the environment to culture (science and society). To date, nearly 60 conversations have been recorded. Using a collaborative and culturally sensitive editing approach between producer Kelsey Skonberg and the participants, many of these stories have been edited into 5-8 minute pieces shared on various platforms including website, podcast, and local public radio (KUAC).

While each facilitator brought their own perspectives and reasons for joining the Alaska Voices project, the idea of “building bridges to community” was—and continues to be—the primary goal of Alaska Voices. While our world seems to be in a state of extreme polarization, we are still fundamentally human. By providing an intentional space of uninterrupted communication, the conversations that are part of Alaska Voices reveal our humanity and shared values and beliefs. IMPORTANCE OF HUMANIZING SCIENCE AND SCIENTISTS

As a thread across the science-focused topics, humanizing science and scientists has been an important part of Alaska Voices. Sometimes scientists are condensed into a single story (see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TedTalk, “The Danger of the Single Story”). The single story has been shaped by the public’s perception that science is an “ivory tower” endeavor conducted by “elitist” scientists who may appear unwilling to share findings in a streamlined and digestible format for all to consume. Honestly, the public’s perception is not entirely wrong. Scientists are trained to communicate with other scientists, and communicating information with non-scientists is often left to the communication experts, if this communication takes place at all. As a science culture, we are trained to be objective and not give away the punchline too quickly (certainly not without

enough detail to cover the caveats). We fear that the devil in the unmentioned details could damage our careers and the punchline of our work may end up being misconstrued or distorted, which is why talking to reporters about our research can be uncomfortable. However, this aspect of the science culture is one of the things that has led to the mistrust of the science community and our findings. The danger of this has become clear during the COVID pandemic. Scientists Alaska Voices must find a line between sharing the Learn more about punchline and leaving caveats on the project at the cutting room floor. Often for- gotten and/or not realized is the fact that the advancement of both science and knowledge is a continuous work in progress. The story of the process is important but seldom heard. Alaska Voices felt that humanizing science and scientists could occur via members of the science community sharing conversations that reveal our shared humanity, including the process of conducting scientific research. The stories show that, at our core, we want what everyone wants—to be successful at things we try; have fun, be creative, and learn something new; develop meaningful relationships; and contribute to something beyond ourselves. In particular, some of our stories reveal that research is rife with failure that scientists must overcome by pivoting toward opportunity rather than focusing on what didn’t work. We put our whole selves into our research, working overtime to get our products as close to perfect as possible. Getting it wrong isn’t an option. On top of it all, we experience many of the same life challenges that everyone else experiences.

Scientists must find a line between sharing the punchline and leaving caveats on the cutting room floor. Human connection comes in the shared experiences of the troughs and the peaks of life’s ups and downs, and experiences are shared through storytelling and conversation. Scientists do not get into this line of work to get rich; we do this work because we want to make the world a better place. Some scientific contributions are big and some are small and may appear to be irrelevant in the public’s eyes, but every discovery builds upon the last one as we work toward solving a problem that plagues society. Competition and collaboration is the push-pull dynamic within the science culture. We at Alaska Voices hope listeners will connect with the stories of failure and success, the funny and the sad, and the ups and downs that make up a life. ■

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MEDIA IN ALASKA These recommendations were distilled from the conversations among the Journovation fellows, their written reflections, notes from the Open Space Convening, participants in community conversations, and feedback from advisors. More specific recommendations can be found at SEEK RECONCILIATION In the process of reimagining the relationship between community and media, participants expressed the importance of first acknowledging and rectifying past harms done.

RE-IMAGINE THE ROLE OF MEDIA IN COMMUNITY Participants expressed that the roots of distrust between community and media are misaligned understandings about the purpose of media by media-makers and media consumers. Participants offered re-imaginings of the role of media that would alter the relationship and power dynamics.

What if media-makers saw their role as not the framers of the narratives they publish, but rather midwives of a community-driven framing process?

MENTOR & NURTURE TALENT FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS Media professionals, students, and nonprofessional media-makers identified many gaps in professional development opportunities. Full-time media-makers feel trapped and exhausted, while student and part time media-makers with time available to invest feel out of the loop when it comes to media-making workshops, seminars, and mentorship opportunities.

FOSTER A CULTURE OF STORYTELLING & LISTENING Stories are central to both community building and to media making. If all media and journalism platforms disappeared tomorrow, people would keep telling stories. Media institutions would do well to ask themselves whether they need stories more than those stories need media institutions and platforms.

INSTILL TRUST BY WELCOMING CRITIQUE Media professionals, especially professional journalists, often expressed explicitly or implicitly that any critique of the media reinforced distrust and skepticism among community members. Community members, on the other hand, said that their trust in media grew when they felt invited to share their perspective, especially their critical perspective. ■

A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M W I NTE R 20 21 -2 02 2



Tom the Tomato Man Understanding a community through its bulletin boards

By Sage Smiley


t is a great disappointment: the ‘tom the didn’t know the jagged edge of his posting where he tomato man is retired’ message no longer com- ripped it from a pad of paper. There’s a character and mands the right-most edge of the community bul- tactility to a community you can’t get online. letin board. I’m finding it both frustrating and poetic Two blocks away, through a back parking lot, I am that I never snapped a photo of the handwritten block standing in front of the other outdoor bulletin board. letters on their yellowing colSomeone has stapled—how lege-rule. Frustrating because many?—eighteen pages of a I have no earthly proof of Tom quote-unquote peer reviewed the Tomato Man, let alone his study definitively proving the retirement. Poetic, because the link between vaccines and auloss of my favorite paper posttism. Some conspiracies, it ing has finally sparked an unseems, transcend technological derstanding; I have, in a moboundaries. ment of tomatoeless retirement A few pages across from the loss, realized what draws me vaccine study is a rough, Sharpas a journalist to this physical ie drawing of an old-style bummanifestation of community per jack. I’ve got one of those in communication. a little compartment in my ’88 This task I have assigned myDodge Raider. But that person self—to pause in front of this wants to buy, and I should not bulletin board and observe— sell. With my lack of car skills, takes a surprising amount of efit’s only a matter of time before fort. This may be because I am I need to hoist my rust-eaten often at one of the two grocery bumper to replace something stores, and thus encountering or other. one of the two outdoor comPerhaps I am deluding mymunity boards in a whirlwind self by thinking that enjoying of sriracha-avocado-chloroxthe handwriting and linguistic wipes without much time for quirks of posts to the comprotracted reflection about the munity bulletin boards helps There’s a character and way a town communicates. me better understand those I Plus, like many small Alaska am to listen to and write for. tactility to a community communities, we’ve got a virOnce, though, someone posted tual community board. Two, a 90-eyed dragon drawing, to you can’t get online. even. One for buying and sellwatch over our town. I do feel ing, one for community anwatched-over by the 90-eyed nouncements. I lurk on the dragon. My friends and I adonline boards like it’s my full-time job. Which, as a jour- opted the phrase and add it to notes and text messages. nalist, it arguably is. Know what’s going on. See what My concept of our island has a little more spice, with the people care about. Respond with more information or knowledge that I am being watched over by the comeven an article where it’s needed. munity board dragon. There is much to be learned from For all my time in the binary world of Facebook com- what people choose to put out into the world. munity pages, I did not know there was a man named Perhaps today, I will ask around about Tom the ToTom who sold tomatoes. Didn’t know his handwriting, mato Man. ■


A L A S K A H U M A N I T I E S F O R U M W I NTE R 2021-2022



Discovery THE ALASKA QUILT SURVEY was a grassroots effort, begun in Southeast in the early 1990s, to record and catalog quilts in the state. The Alaska Humanites Forum, along with other benefactors, provided funding to support the project. In addition to a database of 1,523 quilts, the survey resulted in an exhibition at the Alaska State Museum in 2001, and a fine book, Quilts of Alaska, published by the Gastineau Channel Historical Society. At the heart of the endeavor were Discovery Days: events where the public was invited to bring quilts for documentation by project volunteers. In her preface to the book, June Hall wrote: “In this setting, quilts served one of the traditional roles of art—to receive and become the bearer of personal and group history and identity.

The words spoken and stories told about the objects and their owners or makers added depth to their meaning.[…] The outstanding quilts, when raised to be photographed, were universally recognized and appreciated. Volunteers treated all quilts with respect and acknowledged their importance.” In this photo, a quilt has been raised to be photographed. It is “AQS 1035,” from the collection of Courtney Linkous—a log cabin quilt made by Helena (Schaeffer) Smith Sharp, possibly in Missouri, circa 1865-1890. It was carried over Chilkoot Pass and down the Yukon River by the Sharp family during the gold rush of 1898. We’ll have more coverage of the Alaska Quilt Survey— and its volunteers—in a future issue of FORUM.

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



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