xinotthi tasoł | inspire
Shining a Light
2020 Smokehouse Gala awardees
First Alaskans Institute is honored to announce our 9th Annual Howard Rock & Ted Stevens Smokehouse Gala awardees. Each year, our Board of Trustees selects awardees that have shown through their quality of character and tireless efforts to be leaders of distinct caliber that work to help the Native community with significant and profound purpose. To each of these Awardees, we shine a light on you and know that it illuminates the people who lift you up, who work alongside you, who love, nourish, and guide you, and who paved a way for you to become the leaders you are, and we send our deepest appreciation to all of them and your Ancestors.
Melanie Bahnke headshot
Photo courtesy of Cindy Allred
Alaska Native Leader Howard Rock Award
Akighqukaaghaq Melanie Bahnke
(Siberian Yupik)

Melanie is the President and CEO of Kawerak, Inc. where she has worked since 1999. Married to Kevin Bahnke with three children, Melanie is a Tribal member of the Native Village of Savoonga, and speaks St. Lawrence Island Yupik as her first language.

Melanie is called upon often by our community to advocate on behalf of Arctic and Alaska Native issues across the state, and she always does it with a fierce love and strong voice for our people. Her leadership and advocacy helped to solidify the OCS/Tribal compacting agreements, among many other important advancements and accomplishments for our peoples. She is personally vested in working hard to make rural Alaska a positive, nourishing environment where children have opportunities to grow into productive citizens, rooted in the strength of their culture.

She holds a Master of Arts degree in Rural Development from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a Bachelor of Education degree in Elementary Education from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Outdoor portrait of Professor Lance Twitchell with large bird sculpture in background
First Alaskans Institute
Young Native Leader Award
Dr. X̱’unei Lance Twitchell
(Tlingit, Haida, Yup’ik)

Dr. Lance Twitchell carries the Tlingit names X̱’unei, Du Aaní Kawdinook, & Yoo Kaawajígi Yéil, and the Haida name Ḵ’eijáakw. He lives in Juneau with his wife and bilingual children, and is from the Tlingit, Haida, and Yup’ik peoples of Alaska. He speaks and studies the Tlingit language, advocates for indigenous language revitalization, and is an Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast, as well as a multimedia Northwest Coast Artist and musician.

In addition to his impressive scholarly contributions to include Lingit knowledge and language within the Academy, X’unei is also an active advocate for decolonization of law and policy, advocating on behalf of the State officially recognizing 20 Alaska Native languages, as well as declaring a state of linguistic emergency to call attention to the history of suppression of our languages, and reconciliation efforts that must be put in place for us to heal, such as reclaiming our place names.

X’unei earned his BA English & Minor in American Indian Studies from University of Minnesota Twin Cities, MFA in Creative Writing from University of Alaska Fairbanks and most recently, a Ph.D in Hawaiian and Indigenous Language and Culture Revitalization through Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language, University of Hawaii Hilo.

Portrait of Dr. E.J.R. David, his wife and three of their children
Friends of First Alaskans
Ted Stevens Award
Dr. E.J.R. David

Dr. E.J.R. David was born in the Philippines by Kapampangan and Tagalog parents, and grew up in Pasay, Las Piñas, and Utqiaġvik. He is married to Margaret Olin David, and together they have four children —Malakas (Strong), Kalayaan (Freedom), Kaluguran (Love), and Tala (Star). He is a Professor of Psychology at UAA, with his primary duties being with the PhD Program in Clinical-Community Psychology that has a Rural, Cultural, and Indigenous Emphasis.

As a foremost expert and prolific author in the realm of internalized oppression and structural racism, EJ’s work has greatly impacted and strengthened FAI’s own work in racial equity and social justice. As a brother and strong co-conspirator in racial equity work, he consistently uses his expansive global and local platforms to call for immigrant and Indigenous solidarity and encourages his fellow immigrants to stand up for Indigenous issues. Few people know that it was through EJ’s efforts – including drafting and gathering support – that both the Municipality of Anchorage and the State of Alaska pushed forward official recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. He actively advocates with and for Indigenous peoples, and we are a stronger community for his tireless and deeply personal advocacy.

Dr. David obtained his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), and Master of Arts and Doctoral Degrees in Clinical-Community Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.