Meet the Dialogue Participants

Conversations that Matter: Envisioning Racial Equity in Alaska is a part of the Alaska Native Dialogues on Racial Equity (ANDORE), a statewide project that aims to initiate, foster, and grow racial healing by meaningfully engaging in conversations in communities across Alaska on race, racism and racial equity; in order to move people into a place of understanding, healing and growth.

Included here is a list of participants in that project the, including those involved in the broadcast program.

First Alaskans Institute Board of Trustees

Willie “Iggiagruk” Hensley, Inupiaq, is Chairman of the Board of First Alaskans Institute. He served 10 years in the Alaska Legislature and was Commissioner of Commerce under Governor Knowles. Hensley is author of “Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A memoir of Alaska and the Real People”. Previous to his career as an author, Hensley worked in Federal Government Relations for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. He was appointed to head the Washington, D. C. office of Alyeska in August 1998. Willie is Chairman of the Board for Alaska Manufacturing Extension Partnership and on the Charter College Board of Trustees.

Willie was a founder of NANA Regional Corporation, served as a director for 20 years and concluded his career there as President. While at NANA, he directed its involvement in the oilfield services area, most specifically in the environmental services and drilling ventures. He was also active in the development of the world’s largest lead and zinc mine, Red Dog. Hensley also was a founder of Maniilaq, the regional non-profit representing the tribes in the Kotzebue region, and was involved in the formation of the Alaska Federation of Natives and served as executive director, President and Co- Chairman. He is currently retired.

Hensley graduated from George Washington University, Washington, D. C., with a B.A. in Political Science and Economics. He was awarded an Honory Doctorate of Laws, from the University of Alaska, Anchorage.

Valerie Davidson, Yup’ik, (Secretary/Treasurer of the Board) is currently the senior director of legal and intergovernmental affairs for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. She currently serves as chair of the Tribal Technical Advisory Group to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. She is a member of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services/Tribal Health Medicaid Task Force, the Foraker Group Governance Board, and was formerly a member of the Medicaid Commission. Valerie worked for Yukon- Kuskokwim Health Corp., where she served as executive vice president and as general counsel. She worked as a legislative aide to the state Senate Finance Committee for former state Sen. John Binkley he has served in various roles to advance tribal health and self-governance. These include serving as co- lead negotiator for the Alaska Tribal Health Compact, and as a member of the Title V Negotiated Rulemaking Committee. In 1984, she was the president of the Alaska Federation of Natives Youth Council. Davidson earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Alaska Southeast and a Juris Doctor with Certificate in Indian Law from the University Of New Mexico School Of Law.

Host Group

Amelia Ruerup, Tlingit name is Tlagoonk named after her paternal grandfather.  Amelia is of the Eagle moiety, Chookaneidi (Bear) clan.  Her father is Chief Gooch-eesh (Father of the Wolves) of the Kach-adi clan (the Landotter People) of Hoonah, Alaska.  Her mother is Susan Price of Irish decent and amazing character.  Through guidance from her Elders, she has learned the importance of cultural balance and presence in her life and strives to “know both sides.”  Amelia lives in Fox, just outside of Fairbanks with her husband and three amazing boys and considers both Hoonah and Interior Alaska ‘home’.

Amelia works for UAF Interior Aleutians Campus (IAC) as a Student Services Outreach Coordinator and believes wholeheartedly in the mission and vision of our campus. She earned her Bachelors degree in Justice from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has begun taking classes towards a Masters degree.  This fall she is excited to be teaching two courses for Rural Human Services through IAC. She is serving as an advisory board member on the Rural Juvenile Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention program through the Alaska Native Justice Center because she is passionate about a better tomorrow for Alaska’s youth.  Amelia is honored to be an ANDORE host group member.

Darlene Trigg is Inupiaq from Nome, Alaska. Daughter of Jerome and Barbara Trigg and Mother of Gwendalyn (15), Owen (10) and Paris (8). Darlene is the Executive Assistant at Norton Sound Health Corporation. Darlene currently serves on the Nome Community Center Board of Directors and the Native Emerging Leaders Forum Work group. Darlene previously was the Special Assistant to the CEO at Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Darlene is passionate about her culture and land and is hoping to pass that along to her children.

Elizabeth Saagulik Hensley is Inupiaq from Anchorage and Kotzebue.  She is a mother to one baby girl and a wife.  Her interests include art and music, the Inupiaq language and anything outdoors.  She graduated with a BA from Dartmouth College in 2005 and with a JD from the University of Arizona College of Law in 2009, where she received a Certificate in Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy.

Saagulik is a member of the Alaska Bar Association and has worked as Senior Policy Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the United States Department of the Interior, and as a Legislative Aide to Alaska State Representative Reggie Joule and as a research assistant to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  She currently works as Corporate & Public Policy Liaison at NANA Regional Corporation.

Kiatcha Benson, of Inupiaq and Tlingit descent, has served as a Southcentral Foundation Improvement Specialist for seven years. She is certified in Quality Improvement and has over seven years of experience in developing, managing, and evaluating programs in the public health field.

She currently serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of Healing Racism in Anchorage (HRA).  During her time served as a HRA Steering Committee member, Kiatcha has taught professional development college classes on “Building Alliances to End Racism” and coordinating the public event “Colorblind: The Rise of Post-racial Politics and The Retreat from Racial Equality” by Tim Wise. She has built relationships with the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, Anchorage Urban League Young Professionals, YWCA, Pride Foundation, Anchorage Police Department and First Alaskan’s Institute.  She is also an active participant for the Visionary and Host group committees for the Alaska Native Dialogues on Racial Equity. She has also been invited to speak at a YWCA Opening Hearts and Minds Luncheon and at a TEDx event.  She is working towards completing her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. During her down time she can be found lounging with a warm cup of tea flipping through a large stack of books.

Kima “Nutman” Hamilton was born in Hartford, Connecticut and raised between Philadelphia and Georgia by 3 generations of strong African American women. Kima has over 15 years of writing and performing experience under his belt. The move from Philly to Georgia was the first big life adjustment he had to make.  Using writing as a refuge, it turned out to be the pivot which set him on the course he is on today.  Considered a contemporary griot, his poetic narratives are a mixture of inner city instinct and southern sensibility. He is a by-product of the golden era of Hip-Hop and Soulfood Sundays at Grandma Mamie’s house.

Kima attended Valdosta State University in Valdosta, GA. He has represented Alaska twice as a member of the Alaska Poetry League’s National Poetry Slam teams.  In 2005 he won the Alaska Slam Poetry Regional.  Currently, he conducts poetry workshops for School Districts across Alaska, various writing groups, and residential treatment centers nationally. In February of 2010, Kima was an invited by the United States Embassy to be a dignitary to the country of Nepal as a part of a Hip-Hop Cultural exchange program.  He has since traveled to both Mexico and Colombia as a member of the Global Block Collective, a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting Hip-Hop communities globally.  Not only engaging on stage, Kima also knows his way around two turntables and a mixer.  For the last 15 years he has supported his writing habit by working as a professional disc jockey!

Oscar Edwin Avellaneda-Cruz is an Alaskan-grown transplant from Bogotá, Colombia. Oscar’s upbringing as a first generation immigrant from a working class family and the eldest of three formed his identity. Working as a professional photographer, Oscar’s passion for visual storytelling and his identity as an Alaskan has led him to document the diverse lifestyles and cultures that make up Alaska.

After completing a year-long voyage on bike to Colombia, Oscar understood with certainty that his role in life is to use media and communications to shift the narratives portrayed by traditional media channels. Aside from freelancing, Oscar is returning to finish his degree in Journalism and Public Relations, with the hope of collaborating intimately with organizations and businesses who understand the financial and communal benefits of social marketing.

Shawna Larson is currently serving as an Alaska Program Co-Director for Pacific Environment. She is Ahtna Athabascan from Chickaloon Village on her father’s side, and Supiaq from the village of Port Graham on her mother’s side. Shawna’s work has been centered around working for social and environmental justice for indigenous peoples. She served four years on the Chickaloon Village Traditional Tribal Council and was selected by the Utne Reader magazine as a young visionary. She has worked extensively in community organizing at an international, national and local level. Shawna and her husband  have two children and they live in Palmer. She has volunteered countless hours at Chickaloon Village’s Ya Ne Dah Ah Tribal school which is the only Tribally owned and operated school in the State of Alaska.

Solveig Pedersen is originally from Fairbanks.  Her mother is from Kodiak, AK and her father is from Trondheim, Norway.   Solveig works at the YWCA Alaska as the Director of Youth Empowerment and Social Justice, and as an adjunct instructor for the University of Alaska Anchorage Department of Communication and Discourse Studies.  She holds a M.A. in Professional Communication from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and her master’s thesis dealt with understandings of nonviolence.  Solveig has worked with Pace e Bene Nonviolence Services in Oakland, California, taught English as a Second Language in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and worked as a multicultural recruiter for the Admissions Office at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  As a volunteer, Solveig has been actively involved with the Alaska Peace Center, the Literacy Council of Alaska, and a university Amnesty International chapter.  She has lived and traveled in Europe and South America, and hopes to explore more of the world in her future travels.  In her spare time, Solveig likes to spend time in nature, drink coffee, cook, read, learn, write, dance, and play with her dog. She is passionate about creating positive social change in the world, and excited about the opportunity to be a part of the First Alaskans Institute’s ANDORE project.

Tiffany McClain is an African-American woman who grew up in St. Louis, MO and has been living in Alaska for nearly four years. She received a BA in African-American Studies from Mount Holyoke College and an MA in History from the University of Michigan with a focus on African-American history and cultures of U.S. Imperialism from 1865-Present.  She currently works for Pride Foundation, an organization that works to create equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people throughout the Northwest. She is particularly passionate about promoting the visibility of queer people of color.

Warren Jones, has two Yup’ik names: Qugyuggam Aani, Maaraq. His parents are Beatrice Herman (O’Brien) from Hooper Bay and Tommy Herman from Shishmaref. His grandparents are Robert Sr. and Agnes O’Brien on his mother’s side, and Ben and Esther Herman on his father’s side. Warren grew up in Nome and spent some summers in Hooper Bay. In 1989 Warren and his family moved to the Matanuska Valley where he went to high school.  Warren has traveled much of the United States, worked as a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay and Southeast Alaska, and served in the US Marine Corp from 2002-2006. He is currently attending UAA, and has attended Shoreline Community College and the University of Washington studying Political Science.

Warren is interested in anything having to do with Alaska Native issues.  He has two children with his wife Sacha named Cash (Nanuq) and Rowan (Nengqalrea and Taolun). As a father he plans on learning Yupik alongside his children and is raising them to learn and be proud of their rich heritage. He enjoys fishing, hunting and gathering and loves the tundra more than anything. Warren hopes to be able to live in rural Alaska in the future, and plans to devote his career to helping Alaska Natives and their interests.

Visionary Group

Diane Hirshberg is an Associate Professor of Education Policy at the Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), and director of the UAA Center for Alaska Education Policy Research. Her research interests include education policy analysis, indigenous education, and school change. In her 9th year at UAA, Dr. Hirshberg currently teaches in the UAA Honors College, and has also taught in the Educational Leadership program as well as the Certificate in Civic Engagement.

Evon Peter, former Neetsaii Gwich’in Chief of Arctic Village, is devoted to promoting leadership development, wellness, and sustainability among American Indian and Alaska Native peoples. He is founder of the Indigenous Leadership Institute, Chief Executive at Gwanzhii, and has over fifteen years experience working with Indigenous youth, organizations, and tribes implementing culturally based approaches. He currently serves as the Director of the Maniilaq Wellness program and is a partner in the Northern Alaska Wellness Initiative. Evon holds a Bachelors in Alaska Native Studies from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he is also completing a Masters in Rural Development. He resides with his wife and four children in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Judge Karen Hunt (Ret.) served on the Superior Court in Anchorage from 1984-2000. She lectures frequently to lawyers and judges on a wide range of legal subjects, both nationally and internationally. She is founding president of the Anchorage Association of Women Lawyers and a past president of the Anchorage Bar Association, Alaska Bar Association, and Alaska Judges Conference. Additionally, she has served on many non-profit boards of directors including Commonwealth North and Alaska Pacific University. She has received many awards for public service, including the YWCA’s Women of Achievement Award, the Alaska Supreme Court’s Community Outreach Award, and the Alaska Bar Association’s Public Service Award.

Abbe Hensley, Executive Director of Best Beginnings, has been involved with early learning, education, and family engagement issues for many years. Prior to joining Best Beginnings in 2006, Abbe spent five years as the director of outreach services for the US Department of Education-funded PBS Ready To Learn Service. This was a nationwide effort proven to help parents and early childhood educators increase young children’s early literacy skills and prepare them for success in school.

She began her work with educational children’s television and community outreach at KAKM in Anchorage in 1993, with the Sesame Street Preschool Education Program and then the Ready To Learn Service, and spent two years running Ready To Learn at WETA, Washington DC’s public television station, before moving to PBS. Abbe served on the Alaska State Board of Education, as president of the Alaska PTA, and as vice president for leadership for National PTA, along with other volunteer activities in Anchorage and Kotzebue, Alaska. She and her husband, Willie Hensley from Kotzebue, have four children, all born and raised in Alaska. She is committed to seeing that not only their eight grandchildren but all Alaska children are ready for school, set for life.

Libby Roderick is Associate Director for the Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence at UAA as well as Director of the UAA/APU Difficult Dialogues initiative. She works with faculty locally, nationally and internationally on ways to more effectively introduce controversial topics into the classroom, including issues related to Alaska’s Native communities. She is the editor of Alaska Native Cultures and Issues: Responses to Frequently Asked Questions, which provides responses to commonly asked questions through the eyes of Alaska’s indigenous scholars, leaders and community members. She also oversees faculty initiatives on diversity, sustainability, and 21st century trends in higher education at UAA. In addition, Libby is an internationally recognized singer/songwriter, recording artist, educator and activist. Her music has been featured on CNN, CBS 60 Minutes and in the national and international press, and she regularly appears at colleges, universities, conferences and other venues throughout North America. Her essays, poems and songs have appeared in numerous books and publications.

Jeff Silverman is an award-winning filmmaker and writer from Anchorage. His media company, Blueberry Productions, is responsible for several films that are permanently exhibited in Anchorage. Since opening day in 1999, “Stories Given, Stories Shared,” a 17-minute documentary, has introduced thousands of visitors and school children to Alaska Native cultures. The film has been used for years by the Heritage Center and government agencies in cultural orientation courses. Anchorage’s “PlanetWalk” scale model of the solar system features Jeff’s half hour exploration of Native storytelling, “Native Stories of the Heavens,” in a large interpretive panel at the sun station, downtown at 5th and G. Jeff produced, co-wrote, and directed For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow in Alaska. The 1-hour documentary film about Alaska’s civil rights movement broadcast nationally on PBS in 2009 and 2010 and screened at major festivals. His plays have been produced and staged in Anchorage, Juneau, and in the Pacific Northwest region. Jeff has also worked in public affairs for Native and arts organizations as well as served on several arts and media non-profit boards. Jeff earned a B.A. in Film Production from Penn State University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. He graduated with honors and is a member of Phi Kappa Phi.

First Alaskans Institute Staff

Stephen Blanchett, Yup’ik and African American from the Yukon/ Kuskokwim River Delta region in southwestern Alaska, is a founding member of Pamyua, a popular Alaska-based band. Many Americans were introduced to Inuit music watching the Canadian epic The Fast Runner, but for more than a decade Pamyua has released traditional Inuit (Yup’ik) Drumsongs from Alaska with a distinct and unique American sound. Together for more than 15 years, Pamyua (pronounced Bum yo-ah) has entertained millions with their fusion of traditional Inuit music and Yup’ik dance performance.

Lena Jacobs began her role as the Leadership Manager in July 2011. She is the daughter of Dee Olin and David Hoffman. She is Koyukon Athabascan, originally from the village of Ruby, but has grown up throughout Alaska in multiple communities including Ruby, Anchorage, Juneau, Nome, Barrow, Sitka and Fairbanks. Lena is very passionate about advancing higher education, youth development and leadership within the Alaska Native community, and has pursued these passions throughout her personal, educational, and professional journey. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Willamette University in Oregon, and her Master’s in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley.

Lena began volunteering for the First Alaskans Institute in 2004 as a project team member for the Elders & Youth Conference, and maintained her relationship with the Institute since then as a volunteer, an intern, and as a temporary staff member before assuming her current position. As the Leadership Manager, Lena oversees the leadership development initiatives of the Institute, including the Summer Internship Program, the Elders & Youth Conference, and the Public Policy Fellowship. Other previous employment includes work with the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, Ilisaġvik College, and the Doyon Foundation.

Tammy Aanwoogeex’ Keith, Tlingit, began working for the First Alaskans Institute in the role of Executive Assistant Office Manager in September, 2006. In her position, Ms. Keith has oversight of the administrative functions of the office and supports the President, the Board of Trustees and senior officers.

Ms. Keith’s prior employment includes: former contractor for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company in the Projects Department and Strategic Reconfiguration, served as the Chugach Technical Services Site Supervisor in Fairbanks. Her other work experiences include working as an advocate within the native community of Fairbanks; Employment & Training Coordinator, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Alaskan Native Education Home School Liaison, FNSBSD, Community Service’s Department, Fairbanks Native Association. Tammy’s hobbies include spending time with her family especially her granddaughters, Addison Grace, Taylor Faith, and Savannah Hope. She enjoys the outdoors; camping, fishing and clam digging. She is a sports enthusiast and enjoys officiating basketball and softball and is a regular football fanatic. Ms. Keith is a Sealaska, and SheeAtika Shareholder.

Kristel Komakhuk, Alutiiq and Inupiaq, began working for the First Alaskans Institute in June 2007. In her role as Development Director, along with the President/CEO and Development Committee, she is responsible for managing the development and fundraising strategies for the Institute.

Komakhuk’s most recent employment was at The Tatitlek Corporation. She also has held various positions with Chugach Alaska Corporation. Komakhuk received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage in Business Management with an emphasis in Marketing.

Komakhuk’s hobbies include the outdoors, traveling, exercising, reading, and spending time with her son and family . She is a member of the Alaska Native Professional Association and the Association of Fundraising Professionals. She serves as a board member at The Tatitlek Corporation,Chugach Support Services, Inc.,a Chugach subsidiary, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Alaska Chapter.

Liz Medicine Crow is Tlingit and Haida from Kake. On her Tlingit side she is Raven Kaach.adi, Fresh Water-marked Sockeye Salmon. On her Haida side she is Eagle Tiits Gitee Nei, Hummingbird. She began her role as Director of the Alaska Native Policy Center (Policy Center) in August 2008 and also serves as Vice President of First Alaskans.

Liz  received her BA from Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado, and her law degree, along with a Certificate in Indian Law, from Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in Tempe, Arizona. She served as Director of the Legal Department at Cheyenne River Housing Authority before moving to Anchorage where she worked for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Alaska Native Health Board.

The major theme of her education and work experience has been the continued integration of Native values, life ways, and traditional knowledge into our organizations and relationships with other governments to affect a policy landscape that works with and for Alaska Native peoples and communities.

Denise R. Morris began her role as the President/CEO of First Alaskans Institute in January 2011. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Justice from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Denise is of Aleut descent and her family hails from the Pribilof Islands. She is a tribal member of the Native Village of St. Paul Island.

Ms. Morris is a long time advocate and serves on various boards, commissions and civic organizations which promote social justice initiatives and victims’ rights. Ms. Morris was appointed to serve on the Federal Title IX Task Force researching the issue of Violence Against Alaska Native and American Indian Women. Most recently she has been invited to join the Alaska Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She serves on the U.S. Dept of Justice, Office of Victims of Crime, Children’s Justice Act Advisory Board; Serve Alaska, State Service Commission; Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault- Domestic Violence Prevention and Leadership, steering committee member; Governor’s Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault Prevention Initiative. Amnesty International USA, Maze of Injustice, Tribal advisory member. She is a member of the Anchorage Downtown Rotary.

She is a founding member of the Alaska Native Women’s Sexual Assault Committee. Former chair of the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission and former board member of Standing Together Against Rape (STAR). Her work has earned her several recognitions, most recently she received the 2011 Soroptimist Ruby Award; For Women Helping Women; the 2010 Victims for Justice – Advocacy Award; and was recognized for outstanding service to the Alaska Native Women’s Sexual Assault Committee.

Jorie Paoli is an Inupiaq from Unalakleet, Alaska and currently serves as the Policy and Research Coordinator with the First Alaskans Institute. She serves as the project lead on the “Alaska Native Dialogues on Racial Equity” project, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Jorie is passionate about working for and with the Native community, and hosting engaging and meaningful dialogue that elevates awareness, understanding and connection between people of all backgrounds and perspectives.

Jorie’s academic and professional background demonstrates her passion for nonprofit work: she earned her B. A. in Organizational Management with a Nonprofit Emphasis from Alaska Pacific University, a Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership from the Foraker Group, is an Alumna of Leadership Anchorage, and has served as Board Chair and Treasurer of the Alaska Native Professional Association, and Vice President for Beyond Borders.