Wed, October 04, 2023

Critical Issues Lecture Series

About the Series

To help raise the level of civil discourse across Alaska, in 2023 the Alaska Historical Society (AHS) launched a four-part lecture and panel discussion series. “Today in Alaska, as in much of the rest of the country, our civic discourse has deteriorated to a point where sensible public policy is not only enormously challenging, but often unachievable,” said William Schneider, University of Alaska Fairbanks professor emeritus and recent past president of the Alaska Historical Society. “By demonstrating how knowledge of history can inform and improve current public policy debate, we hope to raise the level of discussion so an informed public can encourage decision-makers to draw on history to make fact-based policy which serves the broadest diversity of Alaskans,” Schneider said.

The Alaska Historical Society is Alaska’s largest statewide organization dedicated to the informed exchange of ideas through a factual appreciation of Alaska’s history. It partnered with the Cook Inlet Historical Society and the Anchorage Museum on the series. The Atwood Foundation provided a generous grant to cover costs. Other supporting organizations include the League of Women Voters, the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolf Debate Program and OLE!, an Anchorage-based nonprofit which offers educational classes.

Weather, Climate Variability and Climate Change (April 18, 2024)

Our fourth and final lecture in the Critical Issues Lecture Series, Weather, Climate Variability and Climate Change, focused on how current and historical climate records help us better understand the differences between these terms, the roots of climate change seen in Alaska and prospects for future impacts. Panelists discussed the policy implications of climate change in Alaska that affect everyday lives, such as how to prepare for and mitigate climate change, what lessons can be learned from past development and what can Alaska’s Indigenous communities tell us.

Speakers included:
– Ken Tape, climate change specialist and research associate professor at the University of
Alaska Fairbanks.
– Rick Thoman, climate specialist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and
Policy at UAF and the lead author of the 2023 Arctic Report Card.
– Jackie Qataliña Schaeffer, director of Climate Initiatives for the Alaska Native Tribal
Health Consortium. (not present due to family emergency, but her slides will be available)

– Moderated by Molly McCammon, an Alaska Historical Society board member and
senior advisor at the Alaska Ocean Observing System.

Conservation and Development (March 21, 2024)

This panel focused on what Alaska’s history can teach us about the relationship between
economic growth and our interests in stewarding Alaska’s lands and waters for present and future
generations. The panel looked to debates spanning issues such as damming the Yukon River to
Alaskan responses to oil and gas development, and if the binary between conservation and
development serves the complexities of decisions facing Alaska’s residents and lands.  

Watch a recording of this panel here.

Speakers included:
Austin Ahmasuk, (Iñupiat) is the environmental justice co-director for Native Movement
Courtney Carothers, professor in the Department of Fisheries, College of Fisheries and Ocean Science, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
James Magdanz, independent researcher specializing in hunting and fishing economies
in Alaska.
Moderated by Bathsheba Demuth, Dean’s Associate Professor of History and
Environment and Society, Brown University.

Panel Recording: The Americanization of Alaska

Beginning with the 1867 transfer of Alaska from Russian to American administration, the federal government extended its authority over the territory. Was this “Americanization” positive with new government services or an unwelcome colonization? Americanization had both enormously positive and negative impacts which continue today. The unsettled relationship between the federal government, the state and Native groups deserves closer discussion as Alaskans consider ideas such as resource management and policies relating to Alaska Natives under federal trust.

Recording – please note, you will need to login/ register to access the recording below

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About the Panelists

ROSS COEN is a lecturer in the Department of History, University of Washington, and editor of Alaska History, the semi-annual journal of the Alaska Historical Society.

MARY EHRLANDER is an emeritus professor of history, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and former director of UAF’s Arctic and Northern Studies Program. Her new book, with Hild M. Peters, is Hospital & Haven: The Life and Work of Grafton & Clara Burke in Northern Alaska.

IAN HARTMAN is a professor and chair of the history department, University of Alaska Anchorage. He teaches modern American history with an emphasis on issues related to economic and racial inequality.

CHARLES WOHLFORTH was an Anchorage Daily News reporter from 1988-92 and a regular opinion columnist from 2015- 19. He served on the Anchorage Assembly. He has written books about Alaska, science, history and the environment.

Panel Recording: Alaska Native Sovereignty

This was the first of a four-part lecture and panel series about major public policy issues facing Alaska. The sessions, scheduled at the Anchorage Museum, are designed to combat the often willful distortion of history and create a more productive environment in which to arrive at sound public policy.

The first program, entitled “Alaska Native Sovereignty,” considered the history of the relationship between Native groups and the federal government. The landmark 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was broadly seen as the settlement of longstanding Alaska Native land claims. Some contend the act greatly limits Native sovereignty, while others point to Native assertion of sovereignty in self-government and active management of vital services such as health care delivery.

The first program featured three experts on Alaska Native sovereignty: Alex Cleghorn, David S. Case, and Rosita Kaaháni Worl. The moderator is William Schneider, oral historian, anthropologist, and professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The panel discussed the topic at hand and took questions from both a live and on-line audience. Alaska students are encouraged to participate in all of the sessions.

About the Panelists
David Case is a legal scholar, attorney, and author. He has over thirty years of practice representing Alaska Native tribal, corporate, and municipal legal interests. Case’s book, written with David A. Voluck, Alaska Natives and American Laws, was originally published in 1978 and is now in its third edition. It is cited and quoted by scholars and the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alex Cleghorn is an attorney and is chief operating officer of the Alaska Native Justice Center. Cleghorn, of Alutiiq and Sugpiaq descent and a tribal citizen of Tangirnaq Native Village, previously served as assistant attorney general and special assistant to the Alaska Attorney General, where he led and coordinated efforts to build collaborative relationships between the state and Alaska tribes.

Rosita Kaaháni Worl is a Tlingit scholar and anthropologist. Worl, president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, has conducted research throughout Alaska and the circumpolar Arctic. Her current research contributions have focused on the role of Native corporations and the issues surrounding cultural inclusion and ways Native corporations represent cultural values.