RD BA graduate Nicholes on how DANSRD prepared him for international graduate school success

At the end of Spring 2022, I will submit my graduate thesis on social movements and cultural trauma as part of the Human Security Master’s Program at Aarhus University in Denmark. Five years ago, I could not have imagined myself nearing the completion of a graduate degree or even the type of person applying to doctoral programs. Academia, in general, was outside anything I could really have imagined. All of this taken into consideration — I can only give gratitude for what feels like an endless number of people willing to put in the effort supporting me throughout my academic career. A significant amount of that effort rests with the excellent faculty and staff at the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development.

Nicholes (back row, second from the right) with DANSRD faculty, staff, and fellow graduates, May 2019.

I first began my studies in the Rural Development Bachelor of Arts program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2017, leaving my home in Seattle and heading north to Alaska. I was nervous and excited about my transition to Alaska as anyone will be when taking the leap to somewhere new. I should not have worried in the least however, as the support I received from my professors and staff was fantastic from day one. All my needs as I settled into my new home were met without issue and the university environment was undoubtedly one of the most welcoming I had ever experienced. Once my studies began, I found that the topics covered were comprehensive in scope and intensive in their depth. The Rural Development program covered topics ranging from law, public policy, project development, environmental crises, history, ethics, business planning, and human development theory.

Following my UAF graduation, I applied and was accepted into Aarhus University in 2020. One more move taking me further and farther than I had been on my own. Surprisingly, I found little to no issues adapting to postgraduate education. My Rural Development degree had prepared me. Frankly, I should have realized that fact from the first class I ever took at UAF, Rural Alaska Land Issues. I still remember the first day and walking into Professor Kathleen Meckel’s class — Not only one of the most welcoming professors I ever had the opportunity to meet, but also an excellent guide into what would be an entire semester covering Alaskan land laws and policy. There was never a separation between what I studied and how it impacted Alaska, which helped me develop a skill set used throughout my master’s program today — particularly in research.

Moesgaard Campus (MOCA) where the Anthropology, Human Security, Archaeology and Sustainable Heritage Management Programs are held at Aarhus University.

On the practical side, I also learned various skills essential to anyone’s academic career. I learned how to produce written work and deliverables at the postgraduate level. More than that, I was given a practical education on project design, presentation, grant writing, and research development that I had never learned outside of university. When diving into our final semester, I received in-depth support on developing a thesis and research methods while covering criticism and theoretical developments in research methodology.  At the end of the program, I felt more than capable of discussing theory with my professors, covering figures like Amartya Sen and Paulo Freire, depopulation theory, and many others. I also found myself throughout the program learning through discussions with my classmates and peers as the diverse cohort I studied with all had experiences reached outside the classroom. Even though my studies in the master’s program have shifted their focus outside of the Alaskan context, I still find my research revolving around many of the same topics I studied in the Rural Development program. Issues of inequality, ecological crises, food scarcity, public policy, and law are not only limited to Alaska. Additionally, the focus in Alaska didn’t restrict me in the least; Instead, it allowed me to delve deeper into the topics at hand around real issues felt in the region. Ultimately, as a master’s student, research and my thesis are the final goals; I would have been on a less sure path if not for the Rural Development program and everyone involved.

Rooftop view of Aarhus, Denmark.

DANSRD, Development, and Education: Professor Carroll visits Finland

Beautiful curtains of lights in downtown Helsinki.

We often forget just how unique the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development (DANSRD) is in the world of Indigenous higher education and how fortunate we are to have programs that emphasize Alaska Native and rural student needs and perspectives as learners, researchers, and development practitioners instead of objects of study or top down planning.   Last year I started looking closely at our graduates’ senior and master’s projects and theses to understand what areas DANSRD students are most interested in and why, and with the budget crisis this summer I began also gathering information about the impacts of DANSRD graduates in their communities. So, this fall when I saw the call for papers for the Northern Political Economy Symposium in Rovaniemi, Finland I decided to put some of the work I’d been doing together and submit an abstract.

The author and a friend siting at a restaurant table in front of a window looking out onto a community square in Helsinki.
Irja took this beautiful photo of Hanna and me at a local restaurant. One of my favorite things about being in Finland was that northern foods like reindeer, lingonberries (our lowbush cranberries) and tart northern blueberries were a part of everyday food even at restaurants.

I spent a week in Finland in mid-November, first in Helsinki and then on to Rovaniemi to present at the Northern Political Economy Symposium at the University of Lapland. In Helsinki Saami linguist Irja Seurujärvi-Kari, my excellent host, introduced me to her friends and colleagues, including Hanna Guttorm and Pirjo Virtanen, at the University of Helsinki Indigenous Studies program and we spent a lovely two days visiting and talking about Indigenous issues in Finland. I was able to speak to Professor Virtanen’s Introduction to Indigenous Research Methods class about my teaching and research at UAF and listen to some of their collaborative discussion presentations of different Indigenous research methods from around the world (if I can figure out a way to copy that assignment in a mixed face-to-face and distance class I will, so students be prepared!). I also attended their lecture series on “Sacred Spaces” – starting with presentations on sacred trees in the Amazon and in Estonia.

Sunset in Rovaniemi walking back to the hotel from the University of Lapland.

Then it was off to Rovaniemi for the Symposium. The Symposium theme asked, “What is left of development in the Arctic?’ and called for topics related to the potential (or lack of potential) for sustainable development in the Arctic. My paper, “Development Dilemmas: Rural Development Students Imagining a Sustainable Future in Alaska,”   looked at the projects and theses produced by University of Alaska Fairbanks Rural Development Master of Arts students as a reflection of changing attitudes towards development in rural Alaska. Our students’ work illustrates how the program has helped increase Alaska Native and rural peoples’ ability to participate in dialogues and negotiations about development in rural Alaska, brought Alaska Native perspectives into these development dialogues, and helped students generate self-defined visions of what development means. I think more than anything, attendees at the Symposium were impressed to hear about educational programs focused on Indigenous needs and perspectives and whose graduates (for the MA) are 65% Alaska Native.

The trip reminded me of how special our programs are, but it also reminded me that DANSRD faculty and students have not been very active in sharing and communicating our scholarship with people outside of Alaska and our immediate community and we do not pay enough attention to some of the ideas being developed in other parts of the world. Here are just a few of the interesting people, publications, and ideas from my trip.

  • Irja Seurujärvi-Kari, Pirjo Virtanen, Hanna Guttorm, and their colleagues have a new book on Indigenous research methodologies coming out next year, but in the meantime their Encyclopaedia of Saami Culture is a great resource for learning about Saami people.
  • Symposium keynote speaker Reetta Toivanen of the University of Helsinki discussed the concept of “Arcticism’ (modeled after Said’s “Orientalism’ – the way in which various discourses inform Western perceptions of the Arctic) in her presentation entitled “Whose development are we talking about? European fantasies on the Arctic.’ The term was originally coined in Arctic Discourses (2010), available at Rasmussen Library.

Frontier aesthetics: *Natural sublime to technological sublime. *God-like perspectives, bird-eye camera angles, long shots. *Straight lines, intense colors, high contrast. *Backgrounding of nature, diminution of human agency. *"Arctic: colors - visual freezing of the frontier. Shows colors moving from grays to browns to blues.
“Frontier aesthetics.” Slide from Liubov Timonina’s presentation, November 14, 2019.

  • As many of my students know, I love visual analysis and am still waiting/hoping for a student to do a visual analysis project. The Arctic Institute’s Liubov Timonina’s “Imaging and narrating development in the Arctic: Visual storytelling in times of Capitalocene’ looked at the way images shape conceptions and marketing of oil and gas development in the Yamal Peninsula. Google “Yamal’ and see if you can see the “frontier aesthetic’ she describes. How do these images compare to the images you get when you search for “Prudhoe Bay’?
  • Gerard Duhaime of Université Laval looked at how public policies reproduce or amplify inequalities in his presentation “Market inequalities and the reproduction of unsustainability in Nunavik.’ It made me think about the ways our laws around subsistence also reproduce unsustainability in rural communities. I’m also going to check out Arctic Food Security (2008), edited by Duhaime and Nick Bernard, also available at the Rasmussen Library.
  • We often talk about Canada in my classes on the circumpolar north, but it can be hard to grasp the variability in the Indigenous settlements across the country and how they have responded to colonialism. Philippe Boucher of Concordia University focused on understanding Inuit voices and leadership in “Sustainable development through the Inuit cooperative movement.’
  • In his presentation “’North Plan’ — What’s left for Northern Indigenous communities? Can the North bring its riches back?’ Mathieu Boivin, University of Montreal, looked at how Quebec’s “Plan Nord’ prioritized non-Indigenous peoples in planning and development and its impacts on Indigenous peoples. I enjoyed speaking to Philippe and Mathieu about the Indigenous response to colonialism and Indigenous educational opportunities in Canada.
  • Susanna Pirnes, University of Lapland, presented on “History as a resource in Russian Arctic politics,’ looking at the use of historical imagery to establish Arctic identity. The presentation is from her chapter in Resources, Social, and Cultural Sustainability in the North (2019). The book was edited by Symposium organizer Monica Tennberg, Hanna Lempenin, and Susanna Pirnes, all of the University of Lapland and includes chapters from several presenters at the Symposium.
  • I had a great time talking to Frank Sejersen, of the University of Copenhagen about development and Indigenous approaches and perspectives. His article “Brokers of hope: Extractive industries and the dynamics of future-making in post-colonial Greenland‘ (2019) looks at how mineral extraction relates to ideas of national independence and is available online to UAF students if you sign in through the Rasmussen Library.

DANSRD students at the 2018 Alaska Native Studies Conference

DANSRD students from my class RD 475 Senior Project, Eric Petersen, Pamela Murphy, and Debbie Demientieff, presented on their senior projects at the Alaska Native Studies Conference in Juneau April 14-15. The students did a great job and got feedback and questions throughout the conference about their projects, already making a difference through their scholarship!

Eric Petersen: Alaska Native Child Adoption      

Alaska Native Child Adoption Alaska Native children have been adopted out from their biological families, communities, and cultures for decades creating generations of Alaska Natives disconnected from their cultures. While there has been significant progress made since 1978 when the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was enacted there are still issues that need to be resolved. One significant problem is that biological fathers that are not on the pre-adoption birth certificate are unable to put their name on the child’s birth certificate after the adoption is finalized. This causes a void in the child’s connection to their culture as well as impacting possible benefits from increased blood quantum. This project explores this issue and suggests possible solutions to solve the problem.

Pamela Murphy: Sustainable Education Delivery Plan

The Bristol Bay Campus faces the burning question of how to get post-secondary, relevant, education to remote locations in rural Alaska for all its 42 communities in a way that is sustainable over time. Within the Bristol Bay Region there is a high priority for quality education to prepare youth with skills to succeed in college or vocational schools. Title III funding was recently awarded to the Bristol Bay Campus to develop sustainable programs for Dillingham and its outlining service area to accomplish this vision. The purpose of this project is to establish a Sustainable Delivery Education plan, starting with the mobile welding lab pilot project. This mobile welding lab will feature covered welding stations in a shipping container and start off in the community of St. Paul, Alaska.

Debbie Demientieff: Portraits of Resilience: Celebrating Who We Are

Our traditional value of taking care of our people is essential to this project. Traditionally people have natural role models that exemplify a good way of being, a good way of living. These role models or mentors were naturally known as tribes lived close in kinship and as a community. Now, in a world where families live apart from their tribal lands and their community it is important to share the success of Alaska Native people. People who are living a good life must be uplifted and serve as a good story for others to gain their own understanding of what they themselves are capable of achieving as Alaska Native people. Today, it is important to identify these leaders and role models so that others who may never get to meet them personally are able to learn from their experiences through their stories. This project explores the use of oral history as a means of documenting and sharing Alaska Native achievement and success as a guide for others to excel and reach their own personal level of success. They will be able to look at the experiences of successful people and know that they too can make the effort to realize their own goals.

I am so proud of these students!

Indigenous Language Vitality and Reclaiming Language by Professor Judith Daxootsu Ramos

“If a language is used by all ages, it is considered safe. If there are no speakers it is extinct.’   (UNESCO Pillars of Language Revitalization)

There are currently many different models of language programs in Alaska, Canada, North America and Internationally. What can we learn from what is already happening in other Indigenous communities? Next semester I am teaching ANS F393  Indigenous/Alaska Native Language and Culture Revitalization (registration information below)). In this class, we will explore issues of language loss and how cultural and language revitalizations is a source of healing and empowerment. We will explore examples of International Language Revitalization experiences and Alaska Native examples and perspectives. We will also explore different programs and methods being used in communities today. It is now up to us as the next generation to ensure our languages remain vital into the next century.

“It is estimated that, if nothing is done, half of the over 6,000 languages spoken today will disappear by the 21st century’ (UNESCO.org).  Alaska Native communities and Indigenous people world-wide have been working hard to ensure their language is not one of those statistics. When I lived and worked in Canada, I witnessed how First Nation’s people are working to preserve, protect, and maintain their languages. I was lucky enough to travel to New Zealand with Hawaiian elders to observe how Maori people started Kohanga reo’s (“language learning nests’) to revitalize their languages. My own community is working to document our Tlingit language dialect. Recently we have suffered the loss of several fluent elders.

Maintaining a language is hard work; it will require everyone in the community to work together. Language has to be taught and used not only at school, but at business, at home, and in the community. A language is only considered “safe’ if it is used by all ages, from children on up; if everyone is speaking the language; if it is used in everyday places; if it is being used in a modern way via computer, internet; and materials are widely available and incorporated in schools (UNESCO Pillars of Language vitality). Richard Littlebear states in “Some Rare and Radical Ideas for Keeping Indigenous Languages Alive’:

“When the U.S. Government acted to silence our languages, it was acknowledging how our languages empowered and united us when we spoke them. By attempting to silence our languages, the U.S Government was exhibiting real fear of our languages’ (Rayhner el al: 1999).

Indigenous people argued that our languages is a human right and Richard Littlebear states that our “language is the basis of sovereignty’. Alaska Native people have won the right to have election materials translated into Gwich’in and Yupik. And our languages have been officially recognized. We need our languages to continue our ceremonies, rituals, songs and dances.

Spring semester registration for degree seeking students starts November 13, 2017.

ANS 393 Indigenous/Alaska Native Language and Culture Revitalization
T/R 5:10 to 6:40 on campus and by audio-conference for distance students.

  • On campus section: ANS F393 FE1 (37226) class location BRKS 103
  • Distance section: ANS F393 DD4 (37224) by audio conference

Rayhner et al. Revitalizing Indigenous Language. Flagstaff: Northern Arizona University 1999.

Festival of Native Arts: The Power of a Question

In 2013, the Festival worked in collaboration with Maya Salganek, faculty in the UAF Film Department and her students to conduct some interviews of participants and past participants.   Retired UAF faculty member, Terry Tomczak, shared how she was teaching a folk dancing class in the early 1970s and one of her Alaska Native students from an interior village asked, “Why aren’t any of our songs being taught?’   That single question sparked a discussion which eventually led to the Festival of Native Arts.

Festival Fall Fundraiser!

The Festival of Native Arts will be holding their Fall Fundraiser at The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center on Friday, October 13th, 2017 from 6 PM- 9 PM.   This awesome event is planned and organized by students and this year Adrienne Titus is chairing.   Students have scheduled a fun night of fundraising with silent and baked goods auctions and the return of the diinga draw.   If you don’t know what a diinga draw is, you should plan on joining us Friday to find out!   We would love to see everyone come out and support this great event.

A Student Organized and Led Event

The Festival of Native Arts (Festival) provides cultural education and sharing through traditional Indigenous dance, music, and arts.   The Festival, begun around 1973, continues the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ (UAF) student-led tradition of bringing together artists, performers, and performance groups in a celebration of Native cultures.   The Festival of Native Arts currently hosts a three-day celebration of Alaska Native dance, music, and art open to everyone.     The 45th Annual Festival of Native Arts is scheduled to be held on March 1-3, 2018, on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

2017 Festival of Native Arts Students; University of Alaska Fairbanks photo by JR Ancheta

What many people do not know is that the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development (DANSRD) is home to the Festival of Native Arts.   In July 2009 the Alaska Native Studies department merged with the Department of Alaska Native Rural Development to form DANSRD.     As a part of the merger, the Festival of Native Arts became a part of the department and the event is now DANSRD’s largest outreach and service event.

Festival has had a student at the helm as a student coordinator for years.   Recently, because the job demands an immense amount of time and energy, two students have split the position.   The positions are currently held by UAF students, Shelby Fisher-Salmon and Caity Tozier. The event is planned and organized through the Festival of Native Arts student club, led by the student coordinators.   The club is where the students meet to plan and divide the tasks that need to happen at the volunteer level. Two of DANSRD’s faculty, Cathy Brooks and Kathleen Meckel, serve as faculty advisors to the Festival of Native Arts student group and also co-teach ANS 251/351 Practicum in Native Cultural Expression where students can receive credit for taking leadership roles in making Festival happen. We watch the students mature and do great things and then graduate on us!   Upon graduation, the process repeats itself with an ever-growing number of UAF alumni having been a part of this historic event.

The event also requires staff support especially surrounding fiscal processes and procedures.   Despite recent staff reduction, DANSRD still offers that support through Office Manager, Sherrie Rahlfs. The Festival is a massive undertaking that requires dedication from the students, staff, and faculty overseeing the Festival.   The planning and logistics now require year-round time.   The students acquire skills and organize everything from stage events to hotel hospitality.   Of course, putting on an event like this costs money.   Festival has a long tradition of grass-roots support and students continue that tradition through various fundraising efforts. We are grateful for the many supporters and sponsors over the years.   Stories have been shared about how students in the early days went door-to-door on campus, collecting change from other students in hopes of raising enough funds for Festival.   Times have changed and now supporters can donate online through the UA Foundation.

A Little Bit of History

When Festival came to DANSRD, staff and students spent time sifting through the document boxes.   Recordings, photos, and several booklets do exist, but unfortunately, a comprehensive history of the Festival has yet to be written.   It is a massive history project full of stories rich for retelling. For example, over the years Festival has been organized a variety of ways.   The earlier celebrations were located in the Wood Center and held over a week with each day highlighting a specific culture.   The current three-day Festival hosts daytime workshops in the Wood Center but evening performances in the Davis Concert Hall with a mix of Indigenous cultures every evening.   Despite the changes, UAF students have been key to making the event happen — even exist. We hope to continue to explore and document this rich history.

Festival 2018!

Performance groups and vendors wanting to apply for the 2018 Festival of Native Arts will be able to do that later this week.   Applications can be found on the Festival of Native Arts Website at https://fna.community.uaf.edu/.

 

We look forward to seeing everyone at the Fall Fundraiser this Friday and then again March 1-3, 2018!

Expanding Our Horizons: Attending the 14th Inter-American Symposium on Ethnography and Education

Last week we (Professors Jennie Carroll, Diane Benson, and Pat Sekaquaptewa) presented at the 14th Inter-American Symposium on Ethnography and Education in El Paso, Texas and across the border in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. The theme of this year’s symposium was “Crossing Borders: Disciplines, Languages/Cultures, and Spaces/Places.’ The symposium brings together scholars and students from North, Central, and South America and was conducted in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. We presented a panel entitled “Occupying the border: expanding spaces for Indigenous conversations in higher education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.’

The Symposium was amazing! We came back with expanded horizons and new knowledge to share with our colleagues and students. Each of us will be writing an individual post about our experiences and we are going to organize a presentation of our panel for faculty and students at UAF as soon as we recover from the travel to El Paso and back. In the meantime, here are a few photos of us enjoying learning and sharing with students and faculty from across the Americas.

Celebrating after our panel presentation with UTEP students.

On our way onto the UTEP Campus

Symposium organizers.

Enjoying a Mexican dinner with friends.

DANSRD Tips for a Successful Semester

As your semester gets going the faculty of DANSRD would like to provide you with some tips on how to start your semester off right.

Professor Stern: Find your anchors while in school. For some students, anchors could be faculty or staff that you feel comfortable talking with. For others, anchors could be clubs on campus where you socialize with other students with common interests. Whatever your anchors, it is important to feel connected to places and people especially as the stresses of school kick in. Reach out to others as needed – it can be the difference between struggling through a situation alone or having a network of support around you.

Professor Carroll: Make a master schedule of all of your assignment, presentation, and exam due dates for the semester to see where you have multiple assignments due or other bottlenecks and then make a plan to deal with your busiest times. Can you get an assignment done early? Will your professor let you move a due date forward or back? Can you schedule your presentation date now so that you get the best time for your schedule? Part of time management is knowing what is ahead and planning for it!

Professor Ramos: Know your resources if you need help. The UAF Writing Center can provide you telephone tutoring service if you are not able to come to their campus location, call 907-474-5314 and make an appointment. The Library has Off-Campus Services. You can call or email them, explain what you need, and they will send the library materials to you. Call 907-474-7406 or email uaf-ocs@alaska.edu.

Professor Sekaquaptewa: If you encounter any problems, or if you have questions, or just uncertainties, let your professor know. We can always help you work around difficulties. Do not wait until the deadline or the end of the semester to ask for help!

Professor Bell: Communicate effectively. Use the right subject for your email so that your professor knows you are corresponding about a specific class. Be formal or at the very least polite in your communications with instructors and be sure to read through your message before you send it to make sure it says what you intend. Sending a professional looking email message is a very good habit to get into; using “hi” to start out a message to a friend is fine but a message to a professor is better written to include their title … “Hi Professor X” or “Good morning Professor X” shows respect. Last of all, be timely with your requests … asking to be excused from class after class is over is not a timely request!

Professor Brooks: Establish routines for your classes, studying and homework. Building a weekly plan can help you ensure you are taking care of the necessary tasks. Try to be consistent with your routines so they begin to become almost automatic and if something happens to interrupt your routine, being consistent will make it easier to get back on track. Over the years, I have observed that many students fail to factor in how much time they need to read BEFORE they can effectively complete their assignments. I would encourage you to establish a routine that includes time for course readings.

Professor Black: Prioritize school first: Create studying times each day, even if you don’t have an assignment due, and use that time to read ahead or start an outline for a paper due at the end of the semester. For example, if you have a fun weekend planned, make sure you get your homework and reading done first, so you can relax for the rest of the weekend and yet be prepared for the next week’s classes. This also gives you time to ask for help if you don’t understand an assignment. Prioritizing school will help you to do your best and also help you to feel more relaxed.

Professor Meckel: Take care of yourself while in college. Along with taking classes, having study time, and finding balance with social and academic pursuits remember your health is important. A healthy diet is important in warding off illnesses and keeping your brain active. Finding time to exercise is also a great way to maintain balance in your body and to process your thoughts. Being mindful of personal health will be benefit your academic experience.

What tips do you have for your fellow students?

Welcome to the DANSRD Blog

We are the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development, of the College of Rural and Community Development at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This blog will be a platform for dialogues about issues specifically relevant to rural Alaska and Alaska Natives, and more broadly to communities in the Arctic and Circumpolar North and Indigenous communities throughout the world.

The department hosts two distinct, but complementary programs, the Alaska Native Studies BA and the Rural Development BA and MA, and our faculty have expertise and interest across a broad range of subjects from Alaska Native arts and cultures to sustainable community development to the law as it relates to Indigenous peoples. It can be difficult to articulate the breadth of our programs and faculty. Yes, we have an Alaska Native and Indigenous focus, but we also focus on development of communities throughout Alaska and the Circumpolar North. Yes, we have an Alaska and Circumpolar North focus, but we also look to learn from development experiences and processes throughout the world, particularly with Indigenous peoples and rural areas. In everything we do we try to bring a unique approach that encourages students and faculty to bring their own cultural foundations to understand and solve broader social and development issues. We have a passion for communities, a passion for positive change, and a commitment to helping students apply what they learn to make a better future.

We will post on department activities and events, teaching techniques and issues with our unique style of blended and distance education, and cultural, social, and economic development issues relevant to Alaska and the Circumpolar North and to rural Indigenous people throughout the world.

Ultimately, we hope that this blog will become a forum for dialogues across the many communities that share our interests and a space for faculty, students, and community members to share their experiences. Welcome!