Tribal Governance Symposium kicks off this week at UAF

Organizers anticipate some 200 participants will gather at University of Alaska Fairbanks this week for a three-day symposium on tribal governance. The event comes on the heels of a decision by Alaska’s Attorney General in October recognizing tribal sovereignty.

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Carrie Stevens is University of Alaska Fairbanks Assistant Professor of Tribal Management and one of the organizers of this week’s Tribal Government Symposium. She said recent events will undoubtedly occupy much of the discussion. In October during the Alaska Federation of Natives Conference Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth issued a ruling that recognized the sovereignty of Alaska’s 229 tribes. Stevens says sovereignty includes greater self-determination as well as forging enduring relations.

“Building stronger, better partnerships between tribal governments and Alaska Native corporations will be a big part of the dialogue,” Stevens said. “And we see a huge momentum in that work of building those bridges for the future.”

Stevens also praises the First Alaskans Institute which is co-sponsoring the symposium, saying the organization is doing ground-breaking work in racial equity. She said the symposium blends Native cultural values with the more academic structure. For example, Stevens says each panel discussion will include an elder.

“And as elders share their stories, it puts all of the learning into a context that Alaska Natives from all over the state can then equate their daily lives and put into practice,” Stevens said.

Stevens says the symposium’s title, “Land, Water, Life,” underscores the holistic approach towards management Native culture exhibits.

For Brooke Wright that is almost literally the case. The young mother of five grew up in Rampart. She says her family depended on subsistence and she entered the Tribal Management Program to learn advocacy skills to ensure that continues. She now serves on the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

“I started out as a commissioner and at the last meeting, I was actually selected to be the chair,” Wright said. “And I don’t think I would’ve taken those positions had I not attended tribal management.”

Wright says the program also spurred her to continue her education. She’s now enrolled in UAF’s undergraduate program in fisheries. The Symposium on Tribal Governance continues through Wednesday at noon at UAF.