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!

“Professor S’s Reflections on Her Presentation at the Conference in El Paso, Texas this September” by DANSRD Professor Pat Sekaquaptewa

The title of the conference was the “14th Inter-American Symposium on Ethnographic Research in Education.’  Initially, I was trying to figure out how “ethnography’ or “the study and systematic recording of human cultures,’ primarily through oral histories, mattered in my own home community and what I could take away from this experience to teach Alaska Native students.   However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the experience in my own tribe, the Hopi Tribe in Arizona, was less one of our own people doing oral histories on our own community, and more a long and famous history of outsiders, especially anthropologists, doing traditional anthropological fieldwork in our communities.
The early anthropologist (think 1800’s)  were intrusive and disrespectful, but the later anthropologists and ethnographers, like Mischa Titiev, Peter Whitely, and Justin Richland, have had a beneficial and even symbiotic relationship with Hopi and Tewa families and communities.   As many of you know, I serve as a tribal appellate justice for my tribe.   The Hopi Appellate Courts are often called upon to decide questions of Hopi constitutional and custom law – this has often included referring to the very careful documentation of Mischa Titiev on the Village of Old Oraibi in the 1930’s, in addition to the introduction of traditional expert witnesses testimony from the villages.   Later, Peter Whitely worked with the Village of Bacavi to undertake his own academic research, but he also committed his time to research and write a second book on the history of the village at the request of the village.   Finally, anthropologist and lawyer, Justin Richland, also a dear friend and colleague of mine, sits as a fellow tribal justice on the Hopi Appellate Court, and also assists with the research and funding needs of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office.   Consequently, I have really come to value both the training, skills, and work of my non-Hopi colleagues.   They work with us on our priorities and we get great things done together.
All that said, one of the main threads of the El Paso conference was this idea of “(De)Coloniality.’  This concept comes from the work of Walter Mignolo and is described in his article “Geopolitics of Sensing and Knowing, On (De)Coloniality, Border Thinking, and Epistemic Disobedience.’  In order for me to make sense of the concept of decoloniality, I had to tether it to real life experience, and for me that took the form of judging on the Hopi high court.
Ultimately, applying Mignolo’s definitions to this experience immediately raised troubling possibilities.   First, he defines “decoloniality’ and “border thinking/sensing/doing’ as an assertion that western democracy and socialism are not the only two models to orient our thinking and doing, but the communal is another option.   At first, I am down with this — what is more communal than the Hopi matrilineages and village life.   Then Mignolo defines his “border epistemology.’  He talks about delinking from, in our case capitalism and political economy, and suggests that we go to “the reservoir of the ways of life and modes of thinking that have been disqualified by Christian theology since the Renaissance.’  I think, o.k., can do, the Hopi clans have been doing their own thing for 10,000 years or so, we still live on our aboriginal homelands, and most Hopis when I was a kid were still fluent in Hopi, the ceremonies still go and there is still a strong sense of Hopi worldview, duties and obligations, and values.   I read on.   Then Mignolo says “There are two choices once you delink, you either accept the humiliation of being inferior to those who decided that you are inferior or you assimilate, and to assimilate means that you accepted your inferiority and [that you are] resigned to playing the game that is not yours, but that has been imposed upon you.’  I think whaatt??? … I spent years losing my Hopi accent, getting good grades, struggled through 4 plus years of culture shock and barely passing grades at Stanford, nearly killed myself getting through law school at Berkley, and now he is telling me NOT to assimilate???   What about my entire tribe that adopted the U.S. government’s boilerplate tribal constitution in 1936 and which has set up an elected tribal council with a western style adversarial tribal court system, with its written tribal codes and court opinions?   Not to mention Indian boarding schools.   And I am a tribal judge reinforcing this system – working with the colonizing anthropologists!   Sure, the system may have once been imposed, but now they are our institutions and we are in control of them — we are in the driver’s seat.   Then, I read the Mignolo’s third option — “border thinking.’  And I wonder, is that what we are doing at Hopi border thinking?
To hear my answer, you should attend our re-presentations at DANSRD later this semester — TBD.   My revised presentation title is: “Dialogues (Other’s Research & Judicial Deliberations) & Decoloniality — with a question mark — in the Native Homelands (Others’ Borderlands) & Implications for Teaching Native Students.’  I really hope to see you there!

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.

So what’s all this talk about research anyways? by DANSRD/TM faculty Jessica Black

What comes to mind when you think of research? Surveys? Women and men in safari hats traveling remote parts of the planet, studying the “other’? Researchers staring at people, animals, or any other phenomenon jotting down notes with perplexed expressions? Or do you think of yourself, working alongside your community, brainstorming ideas for positive change? Do you think of creating new approaches and innovative interventions to tackle vexing problems? For example, do you think of cultural practices as possible interventions to expand well-being in your community? There are many approaches to research and research can be a powerful way to create meaningful change in communities. Also, research can be a lot of fun!

Let’s be honest, there was a time I felt that research was boring and actually never gave it much thought. I only wanted a job that would pay me a decent salary to live the life I wanted to live. However this all changed about ten years ago when I returned to school to work towards my PhD and it is there that I realized the value of research, how I might be able to make a meaningful impact as an Indigenous researcher, how fun research can be, and how there are new [at that time] approaches to research that placed communities at the helm of research initiatives and projects. This new paradigm, community-based participatory research (CBPR), encouraged researchers to partner with community members, organizations, and other researchers in an equitable ways, where all partners contributed expertise and shared in decision-making regarding the research (Israel, B.A., Schulz, A.J., Parker, E.A., & Becker, A.B., 1998). Novel idea, right?!? So why did it take us so long to get here?

Historically, much of the research conducted in Indigenous communities was let’s say immoral research and community-based participatory research (CBPR) was not the mode of operating. Overall, there was very much a colonial mentality when it came to researching and helping Indigenous people; outsiders claimed to know what was best for Indigenous people and carried out their research accordingly. A lot of the research that involved Indigenous people was conducted on them and not with them. According to Smith (2012) “research is probably one of the dirtiest words in the Indigenous world’s vocabulary (Smith, 2012)…as European colonizers set the standard for what is “right’, their research findings compared Indigenous societies against European standards and deemed Indigenous societies as backwards’ (Denzin et al., 2008). This colonial legacy of research has left a very bad taste in many Indigenous people and communities’ mouths and we [as researchers] are still clawing our way back from these early memories and impacts.

Research has since come a long way and while the days of conducting bad research are not entirely over they are quickly fading out as newer research paradigms are taking hold and changing the face of research in Indigenous communities. For one, many researchers are returning to their home communities or regions to conduct research initiated or desired by their communities. This has been my experience with research and with every research experience I learn so much; things I could do differently, aspects that worked, and Indigenous methodologies that I had not previously thought of and may use in future projects. So how did I go from not thinking about research to considering myself an Indigenous scholar you might ask? Let me rewind.

My journey towards becoming a researcher started ten years ago. I started a PhD program and while I knew getting a PhD would entail some research I was not aware the breadth and depth that research could cover. During my PhD I was exposed to various courses that covered a variety of approaches and methods one could use when conducting research. For example, one could use qualitative (i.e., primarily exploratory research) or quantitative (i.e., numbers or statistics to quantify a problem) and once the decision was made to conduct qualitative, quantitative, or a mix of both methods (i.e., mixed-methods research) to answer a research question, there were a variety of methods within each larger approach (e.g., quantitative) that I could use to help answer my research question. Confused? Not to worry, after my first year of courses my head was spinning. Qualitative? Quantitative? Mixed-methods? Yet I soon realized that 1) I needed to use methods that could help me answer my research question and 2) I needed to use methods that would be accepted by and have relevancy in the communities I worked with.

Thus, I quickly realized that the questions I wanted to answer for my PhD would best be answered using qualitative methods. I used the methods of semi-structured interviews, observations, and photographs to answer my questions. These methods allowed me to sit down, have a cup of coffee or tea with my participants, and listen to them as they told me stories about their lives. These methods allowed me to travel with my participants out in the boat, observing the way they lived their life, and learn from the knowledge they demonstrated through everyday actions and living. These methods allowed me to conduct research in a respectful and culturally appropriate way. I felt good conducting research. Sometimes I had to ask myself “is this really research?’ because it was so much fun and didn’t align with what I always had imagined research should be.

Conducting research as part of my job has given me meaning and purpose. The research projects I am engaged in align with my values and the values of the communities I work with. For example, one of the projects I am engaged in works alongside Alaska Native communities to identify traditional fish and wildlife management practices as traditionally practiced and will use this information to influence current management practices and decisions. Another research project I work on documents the strengths and resilience that lie within Alaska Native communities with the intent that these strength and resilience factors will help to prevent suicide.

I have come to realize that research is important; it can be conducted in culturally relevant ways, and can positively impact a community if done correctly, that is alongside a community. I have come love research; research inspires me to work harder, so that I can make meaningful change in this world and move forward initiatives that start at the community level. I wake-up each day, looking forward to my job, and what the day will bring, knowing that though my work I am working to change lives for the better and that makes me proud to call myself an Indigenous researcher.