The development of indigenous studies programs has been the greatest thing to happen to American higher learning institutions in the past 40 years. Many of these programs started in the ‘70s, as other culturally diverse programs blossomed on campuses across the nation. This was not an easy process, nor is it today. Higher learning institutions often consider themselves, consciously or subconsciously, born out of the European consciousness. If we pay attention to the way things are discussed on and off campuses, we see that this notion has been embedded in American consciousness: higher forms of thinking occur in American English in America.
But what if we step out of the realm of Western Philosophy, or if we develop something that absolutely is not a descendant of the Ancient Greeks and other European thinkers. This is not to devalue them or what the university has been or is right now. However, I have seen discussions within the institutions and in the general public that put a higher value on western modes of thought. This is often phrased in statements like any of the following: you can take that as an elective to your program; that is fine if you want to pursue your personal interests; that is great, but you need some real world skills.
I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss issues like this, things that create divisions or tiers of intellect, spirituality, and language. The field of Alaska Native Studies, American Indian Studies, Hawaiian Studies, or Indigenous Studies has grown tremendously thanks to the dedication and courage of our intellectual predecessors. I think about some of the things I hear that are discouraging and show me that the systems are unequal, and then I think about what my mentors went through decades ago when people probably outright scoffed or laughed about indigenous studies program and other cultural programs having equal footing in academia.
Today we can study the works of Shaadaax’ Robert Zuboff, Catherine Attla, Paul John, Ghandl, and others in a university setting with the same amount of work, dedication, and benefit as Shakespeare, Hélène Cixous, Virginia Woolf, or Michel Foucault. Alaska Native languages and other indigenous language programs are gaining ground and notoriety despite the resistance of a monolingual environment. A series of wonderful things are happening right now that seek to make the world a more balanced place, and you have an opportunity to be a part of it.
The first Alaska Native Studies conference took place last April in Anchorage. Despite decades of invaluable contributions that brought indigenous knowledge into Alaskan learning institutions and built Alaska Native Studies and Alaska Native Languages options in the University of Alaska system, a regular conference specifically on Alaska Native Studies had not really occurred. Last year, leaders in education gathered to present their work and to talk about methods of continuing to develop Alaska Native Studies programs. This included a keynote from Graham Hingangoroa Smith, Distinguished Professor of Education and Vice Chancellor, Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi: Indigenous-University of New Zealand.
The 2014 Alaska Native Studies Conference will kick off with the following activities on Friday March 14:
• Symposium on Alaska Native Literature & Art at the Juneau Arts & Cultural Center (JACC) from 1 – 5 p.m. ($20 registration fee);
• UAF Indigenous Studies Ph.D. Student Seminar at the UAS Schaible House from 9 a.m.–4 p.m.;
• Woosh Ji.een Dance Group performance at the Egan Lecture Hall starting at 7 p.m. (free and open to the public).
The Conference then begins on Saturday, March 15, and continues through Sunday, and includes the following keynote speakers:
Dr. Jo-ann Archibald (Q’um Q’um Xiiem) is a member of the Sto:lo First Nations in Canada. She is Associate Dean for Indigenous Education and Professor of Educational Studies at the University of British Columbia. Her book “Indigenous Storywork: Education the Heart, Mind, Body, and Spirit” uses the metaphor of Indigenous basket weaving to introduce readers to Indigenous ways of understanding knowledge.
Dr. Malia Villegas is Sugpiaq/Alutiiq with family from Kodiak and Afognak Islands in Alaska and O’ahu and Lana’i in Hawai’i. She is an enrolled member of the Native Village of Afognak in Alaska. Currently Dr. Villegas is the Director of the Policy Research Center at the National Congress of American Indians. She received her PhD from Harvard and was a Fulbright scholar. Dr. Villegas has a strong network across the Indigenous Pacific and is a leader in community-based participatory research and is involved in major policy in the areas of Indigenous methodologies and research.
In addition, there will be presentations on indigenous studies, culturally responsive leadership, education, oral traditions, history, sovereignty and self-determination, Alaska Native science and math, documenting indigenous knowledge systems, ANCSA, and Alaska Native languages.
The conference is open to the public, although attendees are asked to pay a registration fee to offset the costs of the conference (which includes coffee and lunch). Please register soon so we can anticipate the number of participants. The cost is $125, $30 for students, and free for elders and veterans. We ask that attending elders and veterans contact the planning committee to register so we know how much material and food to have prepared.
Our hope is that the Southeast Alaska community takes advantage of this conference and gives all the participants a warm Southeast welcome. Alaska Native Studies might be the fastest growing field in Alaska, and without a doubt Alaska Native organizations, people, cultures, and languages are prominent in our state. All things have equal place and value, and it is an honor to be a part of the committee that organizes this event. We do our best to honor our cultures and languages, and all of those who built the houses in which we do our work: those who fought for a place for indigenous language in education. We have a long way to go until there is equality in terms of teaching methods and materials, but we are well on our way.
I hope to see you there. Gunalchéesh.
For more information, visit http://alaskanativestudies.org.