KODIAK — It was an evening full of hugs, smiles, and stories as community members and Alutiiq Museum staff gathered at the Koniag building for a farewell potluck recognizing Sven Haakanson Jr., outgoing executive director of the museum.
Tuesday marked Haakanson’s last day at the museum after more than a decade of work. He spent 13 years there successfully overseeing the development of programs, publications, and exhibits about the Alutiiq language and culture. In 2007, he was recognized by the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius grant” program.
Haakanson and his family are preparing to head to Seattle, where he will work as an associate professor without tenure for the University of Washington’s department of anthropology. He will be a curator of Native American collections at the Burke Museum, located on the university’s campus. He starts his new position in September, which means he has the summer to figure out his classes.
“I’ve tried not to think about it,” he said. “Today was my last day of work, so now I can start thinking about it, the classes that I’m going to be teaching.”
Haakanson said the new position felt like a good fit for him because it gives him the opportunity to spend half of his time doing research.
“This will allow me to do research, allow me to be able to keep my feet in the door of Alaska, stay involved here and also do research in the Arctic,” he said.
He hopes to return to Russia in the next two years to continue the work he did when working on his doctorate degree — living and working with the Nenets people of Siberia who practice reindeer herding.
“I’m trying to understand how we humans create sites based on culture, based on worldview and how we’ve been raised,” he said. Haakanson has also worked it out so he can stay involved with the Alutiiq Museum by participating in the Traveling Traditions program to Kodiak’s rural communities. He anticipates only being able to visit one or two villages a year, but also hopes to tie the program into the classes he is teaching and the projects he is working on at the Burke Museum.
Balika Haakanson, a former Kodiak Middle School teacher, said she and her husband will head to Seattle in July to go house hunting, and will make the move with their two kids on August 24. She plans to get the kids enrolled in school, and then take some time to figure out what she wants to do next, which may include substitute teaching.
The Alutiiq Museum’s interim director, Katie St. John, said the museum’s board of directors has been working to find someone to fill the executive director position, but until that is done the staff will be able to handle the workload.
“It’s been in the process,” she said. “We are just sort of keeping it open until the right person comes along. The staff are managing things until that happens.”