First UA Alaska Native Studies Conference larger than expected

Perry Eaton created this Alaska Native mask themed “Indigenous: The things we make,” which will be featured at the pre-conference hosted at the Anchorage Museum. (Photo by Perry Eaton)
Perry Eaton created this Alaska Native mask themed “Indigenous: The things we make,” which will be featured at the pre-conference hosted at the Anchorage Museum. (Photo by Perry Eaton)

The sound of the Alaska Native drum is akin to the sound of a mother’s heartbeat. As that “heartbeat” echoes, it beckons people to become a part of something special and unified.

The first ever UA Alaska Native Studies Conference, “Transforming the University: Alaska Native Studies in the 21st Century,” will take place April 5 – 6 on campus. The Alaska Native Studies Council (ANSC), a group consisting of system-wide UA faculty who are focused on furthering the education and research of the indigenous people of Alaska, is hosting the two-day series.

“The conference has ballooned into something bigger than we planned,” Sharon Lind, assistant professor of the College of Business and Public Policy, said. Lind is also a co-chair on the Alaska Native Studies Council.

Lind said there will be over 30 panels and nearly 50 separate events taking place covering a range of topics from arts, to education, to Alaska Native corporations. There will also be a pre-conference, “The Things We Make: Alaska Native Art in the 21st Century,” April 4 at the Anchorage Museum.

Emily Moore, term instructor of Alaska Native Studies, said established Alaskan artists such as Nicholas Galanin and Jack Dalton will discuss what they have seen over the past 40 years, and new artists will present their creative work.

“The pre-conference is a historic gathering,” Moore, who is also a co-chair for the pre-conference, said. “I don’t know of any event in recent times where this many important artists are going to come together and just talk.”

The conference on campus has garnered international recognition. Visitors from Canada and Greenland are expected.

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“UAA is going to be host to people coming from all over the world to address education whether it’s indigenous focused or Alaska focused. There’s so many presentations, it runs the gamut,” Maria Williams, director of Alaska Native Studies, said. As a co-chair on the ANSC, Williams has turned her office into a meeting hub for conference planning.

Williams, along with other members from the ANSC, say they look forward to hearing from keynote speaker, Graham Hingangaroa Smith, a world-renowned educator from New Zealand at 9 a.m. April 5 at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium. Smith is the CEO/Vice Chancellor at Te Whare W?nanga o Awanui?rangi, an indigenous university in New Zealand, which promotes development for the Maori – the indigenous Polynesian people of the land.

“It’s exciting, just to hear on the international perspective, how we as Alaska are in that larger global picture. Graham Smith is super inspiring,” Williams said.

Williams said a lot of the funding came from the office of Provost and Vice Chancellor Elisha Baker. She said he has shown constant support since planning started a year ago.

“The opening session will include Provost Baker, UA President Pat Gamble, Chancellor Tom Case and Smith, so having those people in the same room showcases the importance and adds credibility to this conference,” Lind said.

Williams said that although there are registration fees to attend the pre-conference and conference, they will not stop anyone who shows up without funds to any events.  She wants to encourage people to attend because she said there is something for everyone.

For specific details on fees and schedules, visit the Alaska Native Studies website at: There will be a free, special meet and greet with Keynote speaker, Graham H. Smith, 4 p.m.  April 4, in ARTS 124.