First Alaskans logo
Black & White Polaroid of an Alaskan Woman
Voices, Impacts, Identities

Marlene Johnson, Samuel Hiratsuka, Naruyaq Delaney Thiele

Spring 2021
Black & White Polaroid of an Alaskan Woman
Voices, Impacts, Identities

Marlene Johnson, Samuel Hiratsuka, Naruyaq Delaney Thiele

Spring 2021
Fish skin artwork by Peter Williams (Yup’ik), page 4.
PHOTO BY ALYSSA RUSSELL
quarter circle outlines
First Alaskans logo
Volume 19, Number 1
THE MAGAZINE OF Native peoples, communities, and ways of life
kelenga | focus
4
Furs & Futures
Through art, education and action, Peter Williams works to restore Indigenous peoples’ rights to their relationships with animals
12
ANCSA at 50
A look back with Native land claims advocate Marlene Johnson
ilakullusi | connect
16
Committed to a New Career
CITC helps a young man land a job designed especially for him
18
Ungipaghaq | Stories from Around
Elder Pen Pals
Plus the first infantrywoman, Tlingit opera and more
19
Elders Trailblaze in Vaccinations
Elders lead by example receiving COVID-19 vaccine
ligika | catalyze
20
Education for Our Times
Alaska Pacific University has a history rooted in overcoming pandemics, and a future focused on strong communities
23
Aanteggu | Opinion
Division
A court a continent away denies our communities crucial funding, upends our self-determined system, and exposes divisions in our Indigenous community
25
Yuguunga and Feelings of Validity
Legislative aide questions blood quantum and legal tools of Native identity
aneghneghqelleq | inspire
30
Indigenous Art for All
Young Tlingit artists in the national spotlight
37
Reads and Reviews
An Alaska Native reader reviews Native-written books
39
Tlingit culture bearer Lyle James and Tlingit Elder Jacob Pratt Jr. during a socially distanced pandemic visit in Juneau.
this issue’s language:
Section and department titles are in Siberian Yupik. Each issue of First Alaskans features a different Native language in this role. Thanks to Yaari Walker (Siberian Yupik) and George Noongwook (Siberian Yupik).
kelenga | focus
Furs
&
Futures
Through art, education and action,
Peter Williams works to restore
Indigenous peoples’ rights
to their relationships with animals
By Peter Williams (Yup’ik)
The Yup’ik side of my family comes from Akiak, and my settler-colonial side of mostly German descent is based in Sheet’ká Kwáan (Sitka). Before sharing a very condensed and personal recap of how I got to this moment through the darkness, discovery and the ultimate healing power of reconnecting with my culture as an Indigenous person living in a colonized state, I will begin with a story.

Sitting on the cold metal seat of my skiff, moving with the boat’s body as it pounds and skips over the ocean. The outboard hums. A gray horizon produces the illusion that the sea and sky are separate. Salty wind moves across my face, the blessing from an invisible hand. Zipping past inlets, winding through islands the seascape unfolds in front of me. Nearing floating birds, they take to the air. Pulling away from the bow of my boat showing, the superiority of their wings and muscles compared to the technology I can afford to buy, I get the sense there is something beneath me. Moments later a whale breaks the surface, blasting the remnants of held breath. The voice of my deceased Father tells me to be careful.

kelenga | focus
ANCSA at
50 typography
A look back on ANCSA with Native land claims advocate Marlene Johnson
By Vera Starbard (Tlingit/Dena’ina)
Marlene Johnson portrait
Photo courtesy of Huna Totem.
Fifty years ago, Alaska Native land claims were still in the midst of negotiations between federal and state governments, and Alaska Native governments and leaders. The passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in December of 1971 was still months away, and Tlingit activist Marlene Johnson was chairman of RuralCAP, and Vice President for the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska — not to mention a business owner, Hoonah school board president, and mother.

Marlene would become an integral part of the work toward Alaska Native land claims, which ultimately became ANCSA, regional and village corporations, and the landmark system it is fifty years later.

ilakullusi | connect
Melvin Captain graduation photo
PHOTO COURTESY OF COOK INLET TRIBAL COUNCIL
At 23, Melvin Captain had an unconventional work history — and with the help of CITC, he landed a job that was designed especially for him
Committed to a New Career title text
Courtesy of CITC
F

irefighter. Grassroots leader. Teacher of dog husbandry. Youth mentor. At 23, Melvin Captain has had a wider range of work experiences than many adults twice his age. He’s already developed an impressive skillset and a broad range of knowledge.

So how come he couldn’t find a job?

“I applied to 110 jobs,” Melvin shared. “It was really challenging because I couldn’t lift anything over 30 pounds or walk very much. It was very discouraging.”

While recovering from surgery, though, Melvin reached out to CITC. And that’s when everything changed.

ilakullusi | connect
Ungipaghaq STORIES FROM AROUND
Program connects Native youth with Elder pen pals

The Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA) began the APIA Pen Pals Program in February to encourage Alaska Native youth to learn from Alaska Native Elders.

“We want to see the youth learning from the Elders, and the Elders passing on their knowledge and their favorite things about their culture,” said APIA Youth Services Coordinator Jenna Larson, as reported by KTOO.

Any Alaska Native youth or Elders can participate, and APIA says they are especially in need of more Elders to participate. You can learn more at the APIA website.

Cup’ik woman is first Alaska National Guard infantrywoman

The Alaska Army National Guard reports that Sgt. Serita Unin (Cup’ik) is now a fireteam leader with Bison Company, 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment, Alaska Army National Guard. When Sgt. Unin joined the Guard in 2009, women were not allowed in combat roles. The ban was lifted in 2015, and further requirements changed in 2020. In February, Sgt. Unin took on her new role.

“It is awesome being a part of something historical,” she said, “not just about me, it’s about the whole unit, it’s about all females that want to go infantry, and it’s about the battalion itself.”

ilakullusi | connect
Elders Trailblaze in Vaccinations
Elders lead by example receiving COVID-19 vaccine
By Uinita Mauigoa (Native Hawaiian/Tongan)
Square portrait photo of Uinita Mauigoa
W

isdom of Elders serves as one of the integral foundational guides for the advancement and prosperity of all Alaska Native cultures.

The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines coupled with the wisdom of Elders has contributed to a healthy start to a new chapter in the COVID-19 journey.

Southcentral Foundation (SCF) began administering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to both frontline health care personnel and Elders in December. As SCF received additional vaccine, all employees and enrolled beneficiaries ages 16 and older have been provided the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

ligika | catalyze
Peter Gordon Gould and Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson photos side by side with paper texture and two small viruses
Peter Gordon Gould, far left, founded Alaska Methodist University in the late 1950s. In 2020, Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson became president of the liberal arts college, known since 1978 as Alaska Pacific University.
Education for Our Times
Alaska Pacific University has a history rooted in overcoming pandemics, and a future focused on strong communities
By Richard Perry (Yup’ik/Athabascan)
On March 24, 2020, Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson (Yup’ik) was announced as the 12th president of Alaska Pacific University (APU). The month she took on the role as president, the public was becoming acutely aware that COVID-19 was a pandemic and could impact everything in our daily lives.

Davidson is well respected in Alaska and has served in high-profile positions including commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and Lieutenant Governor under Governor Bill Walker. Most recently she was named as Interim President for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

With her background in health care, as an attorney, and as an educator, she was well-suited to lead the university as COVID-19 was changing nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Shortly before Davidson took on her new role as president, to mitigate the spread of illness the university moved many of their classes online.

Vixiyo’ ngizrenh | Opinion
Division
A court a continent away denies our communities crucial funding, upends our self-determined system, and exposes divisions in our Indigenous community
BY SAMUEL HIRATSUKA (ALEUT/WINNEMEM WINTU/NAVAJO)
I

want to write about a decision just handed down from the District of Columbia’s U.S. Court of Appeals concerning the case Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin. This decision, if upheld, has the potential to disrupt decades of Congressional precedent and completely upend the function of our Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs).

Handed down in September, the opinion of Judge Katsas holds that per definitional language within the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (ISDA), Alaska Native Corporations are not eligible for the historic $8 billion stimulus funding provided in the CARES Act. Instead, the holding dictates that Alaska Native Corporations will need Tribal consent in order to receive federal funding. In essence, the holding requires an additional layer of bureaucracy be applied to ensure ANCs have access to federal funding intended to support our Alaska Native communities in need. The holding is also not narrowly tailored, meaning that this requirement will be applied to all other future funding measures unless Congress or the Supreme Court intervenes.

ligika | catalyze
Yuguunga & Feelings of Validity typography
Legislative aide questions blood quantum and legal tools of Native identity
By Naruyaq’ Delaney Thiele (Yup’ik/Dena’ina)
I have been experiencing a whirlwind of emotional highs and lows. I find myself being grateful for the time that I can spend alone. It has been a while since I’ve had the opportunity or energy to focus on processing the feelings that I have been having. It felt as if I was letting the experience of working in the State Legislature, an institution that has historically gone against the interests of Alaska Native people, wash over me. I was reflecting yesterday on the work I’ve been doing and I had this intense feeling like I was drowning in a wave of my own emotions. I found myself thinking of all the ways that I am not enough. Not good enough to be working in the Capitol, not smart enough, not Native enough.

Please bear with me as I work out the complex reality of what it is like to live and love in an era of blood quantum. I have started and restarted this post many times now, thinking that I should pick a different subject to write on this week. However, despite the turbulent and abundant emotions that are present when discussing and analyzing colonial systems, such as blood quantum, I do believe this is a beneficial conversation to have with our Indigenous relatives and non-Indigenous friends. I want this blog to be an honest representation of the emotions that I have had and will likely continue to experience on my First Alaskans Institute fellowship journey.

aneghneghqelleq | inspire
Title of article
Young Tlingit artists in the
national spotlight
By Penny Gage (Tlingit)
Lettter T
he past year of uprisings and demands for a racial reckoning across the country has been challenging for many people of color. As someone who has always embraced multiculturalism due to my own Tlingit, Japanese, and Caucasian background, it’s been difficult to see so much divisiveness in our state and country. Examining historical wrongs and inequities is necessary and overdue, but these hard conversations, organizing, and policy reforms bring with them the draining effects of (often) thankless emotional labor. That might be the fatigue and disappointment of having to explain what feel like basic, intimate truths over and over again to poorly informed friends. Or anger at seeing well-intentioned gestures from institutions that lack substantive follow through: talking the talk without walking the walk.

For our people, there is a familiar pattern of Indigenous culture being appropriated by outsiders, for example, by slapping designs from Native art onto their products. Although some may believe they are honoring or paying homage to our culture, Indigenous artists may feel used and looked over when their art is co-opted by large brands to promote an agenda or make promises that aren’t kept.

But, pause with me for a moment. It can be easy to focus on the bad actors and miss signs of progress. And when it comes to a constellation of young Alaska Native artists getting their work out into the world on their own terms, I’ve observed a trend-line moving in the right direction.

Rico Lanáat’ Worl and his sister, Crystal Worl, own the Indigenous design business Trickster Company. “Both of us are very ambitious and have high hopes for our work and what the representation of Native artwork could look like in the future.”
PHOTO courtesy of Rico Worl (Tlingit/Athabascan)
Title of article
Portrait of Rico Lanáat’ Worl
Rico Lanáat’ Worl and his sister, Crystal Worl, own the Indigenous design business Trickster Company. “Both of us are very ambitious and have high hopes for our work and what the representation of Native artwork could look like in the future.”
PHOTO courtesy of Rico Worl (Tlingit/Athabascan)
Young Tlingit artists in the national spotlight
By Penny Gage (Tlingit)
Lettter T
he past year of uprisings and demands for a racial reckoning across the country has been challenging for many people of color. As someone who has always embraced multiculturalism due to my own Tlingit, Japanese, and Caucasian background, it’s been difficult to see so much divisiveness in our state and country. Examining historical wrongs and inequities is necessary and overdue, but these hard conversations, organizing, and policy reforms bring with them the draining effects of (often) thankless emotional labor. That might be the fatigue and disappointment of having to explain what feel like basic, intimate truths over and over again to poorly informed friends. Or anger at seeing well-intentioned gestures from institutions that lack substantive follow through: talking the talk without walking the walk.

For our people, there is a familiar pattern of Indigenous culture being appropriated by outsiders, for example, by slapping designs from Native art onto their products. Although some may believe they are honoring or paying homage to our culture, Indigenous artists may feel used and looked over when their art is co-opted by large brands to promote an agenda or make promises that aren’t kept.

But, pause with me for a moment. It can be easy to focus on the bad actors and miss signs of progress. And when it comes to a constellation of young Alaska Native artists getting their work out into the world on their own terms, I’ve observed a trend-line moving in the right direction.

aneghneghqelleq | inspire
Stacked books
Photos by Erin Tripp (Tlingit)
Reads and Reviews
An Alaska Native reader reviews Native-written books
By Erin Tripp (Tlingit)
Empire of Wild
by Cherie Dimaline
Dimaline’s writing created a dark atmosphere that enveloped me. So much so that I still find myself thinking about it. It gave me the feeling of being lost in the woods and trying to race my way out of it through to the end of the book.

One of the things I took from the story, even though it was never directly confronted and dealt with, was the discourse on pipelines and how they effect Indigenous communities. This also played into the exploits of the traveling Christian missionary as they sought to colonize Indigenous peoples’ lands. It’s something that continuously came up and encircled the characters’ lives. I also appreciated the opportunity to learn, through storytelling, some of the traditional beliefs and stories of the Métis people.

The characters and their relationships to each other stood out for me. They were all so wonderfully complex and layered. The family dynamics were excellent (particularly Joan and her nephew Zeus), the women were unapologetic in their sexuality and there was respect for their Elders and Indigenous knowledge. If you’re looking for a little bit of horror that shines a light on colonization and Indigenous ways of being, I highly recommend Empire of Wild.

aneghneghqelleq | inspire
two men meet hands through a window
Ivaghteggu | Imagine
Tlingit culture bearer Lyle James and Tlingit Elder Jacob Pratt Jr. during a socially distanced pandemic visit in Juneau.

Our Elders are so precious to us, this photo speaks to our hearts about both the need for their protection, the isolation we all feel for each other as we work together to survive this pandemic, and the love we have for our Elders. Cherishing them is a gift we give to our future generations. Keep wearing your masks, staying six feet apart, washing your hands, and getting vaccinated if you can. We need every one of you. Be well!

Photo by Konrad Frank (Tlingit.)
First Alaskans logo
FIRST ALASKANS INSTITUTE
BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Willie Iġġiagruk Hensley (Iñupiaq)
Chairman

Sam Kito, Jr. (Tlingit)
Vice Chairman

Valerie Davidson (Yup’ik)
Secretary/Treasurer

Sven Haakanson, Jr. (Sugpiaq)

Albert Kookesh (Tlingit)

Sylvia Lange (Aleut/Tlingit)

Oliver Leavitt (Iñupiaq)

Georgianna Lincoln (Athabascan)

Morris Thompson (Athabascan)
In Memoriam

To the family of Byron I. Mallott, we extend our love and condolences to you.

STAFF
Barbara Wáahlaal Gíidaak Blake
(Haida/Tlingit/Ahtna)
Alaska Native Policy Center Director

Karla Gatgyedm Hana’ax Booth (Ts’msyen)
Indigenous Leadership Continuum Director

Melissa Silugngataanit’sqaq Borton (Sugpiaq), Indigenous Advancement Director

Eliabeth Uyuruciaq David (Yup’ik)
Financial Director

Angela Łot’oydaatlno Gonzalez
(Koyukon Athabascan)
Indigenous Communications Manager

Kacey Qunmiġu Hopson (Iñupiaq)
Indigenous Knowledge Advocate

Colin Tass’aq McDonald (Yup’ik)
Indigenous Advancement Manager

Elizabeth La quen naáy / Kat Saas
Medicine Crow (Tlingit/Haida)
President/CEO

Ayyu Qassataq (Iñupiaq)
Vice President
& Indigenous Operatons Director

Rico Lanáat’ Worl on the cover of First Alaskans' Spring 2021 cover
ON THE COVER
Marlene Johnson (Tlingit) of the T’akdeintaan clan talks about her work on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act 50 years later.
Photo courtesy of Marlene Johnson.
First Alaskans Institute logo
First Alaskans Institute is an Alaska Native non-profit organization. Our mission is: True to identity, heritage, and values, Alaska Natives are informed and engaged in leading the decisions that shape the future.
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Anchorage, AK 99501
(907) 677-1700
Fax: (907) 677-1780

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First Alaskans Magazine is published by
First Alaskans Institute. © 2021.

EDITOR
Vera Starbard
(Tlingit/Dena’ina Athabascan)
CONTRIBUTORS
Erin Tripp (Tlingit),
Penny Gage (Tlingit),
Naruyaq’ Delaney Thiele (Yup’ik/Dena’ina),
Samuel Hiratsuka (Unangax/Winnemem Wintu/Navajo),
Richard Perry (Yup’ik/Athabascan),
Uinita Mauigoa (Native Hawaiian),
Peter Williams (Yup’ik)
ART DIRECTOR
Dean Potter
Due to the COVID19 pandemic, First Alaskans Magazine has gone digital. We apologize to our readers, advertisers, and subscribers for this interruption in publishing as we work through the technical aspects of going online. We look forward to when we can print hard copies once again, so you can share with family, friends, customers, and all others who love the experience of holding the magazine and enjoying the connection to our amazing Native peoples. Gunalchéesh, Háw’aa, for your understanding and continued support!
First Alaskans title
Thanks for reading our Spring 2021 issue!