Chilling out in Fairbanks for the AkAAs

I spent the past week in Fairbanks for the Alaska Anthropological Association’s (AkAA) 2020 annual meeting. The weather there was sunny and clear but the temperature remained below 0ºF…brrrr.

The frozen Chena River in Fairbanks, February 26, 2020.

It was great to connect with researchers who work in Alaska and start to build a network with both current students and professionals, many of whom attend or work at the University of Alaska campuses or the National Park Service. I also got the chance to hang out with some of my friends and colleagues from the Alutiiq Museum!

Of course, conferences are also a chance to learn about ongoing research projects in the discipline. Two sessions that I found especially interesting were one on traditional place names (i.e. the names that Indigenous communities have for locations, land features and places in their languages) and one on community-based participatory research in Alaska. There was also an amazing talk by Princess Daazhraii Johnson, the producer of PBS’s Molly of Denali, about the need for Indigenous narrative sovereignty. Johnson’s words about the power of storytelling and positive representation really hit home for me as I begin to research the lives and stories of Sugpiaq ancestors.

Title slide from my presentation at the 2020 AkAA meeting. “Uncovering Native-lived Colonialism at Ing’yug, a Sugpiaq Village in the Kodiak Archipelago.”

I presented in a session entitled “Recent Archaeological Research of the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Archipelago.” Overall, I was really happy with my talk, which discussed the framework for the Old Harbor Archaeological History Project, emphasizing the community-oriented nature of the project, and my plans for the next season of excavation. After my presentation, I was pleasantly surprised that so many fellow students came up to me to talk about how to make archaeological research more relevant and engaging. Many of the archaeology talks at the conference were devoid of storytelling or even any real mention of people – something that both I and the students I spoke with noticed. I think this points to a need for more engaged (and engaging!) archaeological research and reporting. Archaeology should also strive to be socially and culturally relevant, especially for descendant communities, who have the most to gain or lose from the process of research and dissemination of results.

All in all, the conference was a much needed intellectual and motivational boost as I turn back to working on my NSF dissertation funding proposal this week. I have been struggling to put all the pieces of my project together in a convincing way (and all the bureaucratic paperwork and budgeting that goes along with a proposal scares me), but I think that I can finally see a way through. It certainly helped that I was able to meet with the NSF program officer for Arctic Social Sciences to discuss my dissertation project at the AkAA conference!

Here’s to a productive and illness-free end to winter quarter at the UW!

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