Power and Privilege Symposium

Hope and respect a common thread

By BAYLEE SCHNIEDER, Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong

Hope was the common thread at the fourth annual UAS Power and Privilege Symposium on Nov. 12. 

There were 327 participants involved in the event, with roughly additionally 60 presenters who were moderators, panel members, lecturers, and co-presenters according to Symposium Committee Chair and Student Activities Coordinator Juliette Allredge.

Keynote speakers Forest Wagner and Heather Kendall-Miller focused on a bright future ahead, despite climate change and a legal system built by colonizers. 

The event began with an Aak’w Kwaan welcome from Kolene James, Student Equity and Multicultural Services Manager; Frances Houston, Raven Dogsalmon Lady; and Leimomi Martin, Eagle Shark Wolf Lady.

“As part of our Tlingit values, we do the best we can to always incorporate balance at public events by inviting a Raven speaker and an Eagle speaker,” James explained. 

A psychology of hope

In his presentation “Climate Change and a Psychology of Hope,” Wagner, UAS Assistant Professor of Outdoor Studies, detailed key strategies to talk about climate change. 

“Ours is a post-traumatic world. The climate is changed. Optimism and pragmatic decision-making are the only ways forward. Exercise and time spent outside are healthful and calming.  Hate is not. We need to stop competing and start collaborating,” Wagner said.

Many people feel hopelessness and despair about the changing climate, and Wagner pointed out that “people and institutions with more money and power than me don’t care about the consequences of their wealth making…nothing that I do with my meager buying power or right to vote offers a solution.”

But Wagner emphasized the importance of voting as a method of changing our “culture of entitlement.” Both Wagner and Kendall-Miller quoted young environmental activist Greta Thunberg as a source of hope and inspiration in enacting change. 

“The only way to combat despair is with positivity,” Wagner said.

Power and Privilege attracted controversy 

Most classes are cancelled on the Juneau campus during Power and Privilege, which has drawn the attention of Campus Reform, a self-described “conservative watchdog” that “exposes liberal bias.”

In the Nov. 9, 2019 edition of Campus Reform, the headline read: UAlaska CANCELS class for ‘Power and Privilege Symposium’

UAS graduate student Nathan Block was stated to be the “president of the school’s Campus Conservatives organization,” which is currently inactive, but Block is vice president. 

“Forcing an entire school to cease educational advancements for political/social indoctrination is unbecoming,” Block is quoted as saying in the article. 

In an interview with the Whalesong, Block said, “I think it’s a good idea that we bring up discussions for these types of topics, I just don’t think that canceling the majority of classes is appropriate–especially for people who are science majors, and aren’t necessarily in the humanities–which a lot of these topics are around: philosophy, topics of humanities, et. cetera.” 

He said he thought information presented at the symposium “was presented kinda lopsided.” 

A legal system built by colonizers

Heather Kendall-Miller, former Senior Staff Attorney with the Native Alaskan Rights Fund, gave the second keynote address during Power and Privilege. 

Kendall-Miller, self-described as semi-retired, is still working on the Sturgeon vs Frost case. This case determines whether or not Alaska Natives are entitled to enact their own law on their land.

Kendall-Miller said the case is yet another in which Alaska Natives fought for their land and it’s important not only for indigenous entitlement to land, but for the separation of state and federal governments.  

In 1991, she became the first Alaska Native to graduate from Harvard Law School. Seven  years later she was the first Alaska Native to argue a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Kendall-Miller talked about how she used the law as a “tool for social justice,” in federal Indian law, a field that was “lacking.” 

Laws have historically been enacted to reinforce the oppression of indigenous peoples.

Kendall-Miller detailed a series of outdated documents that remain legally viable, such as the Doctrine of Discovery created by Pope Alexander IX in 1823 to allow Christian explorers to claim land of indigenous people. 

Alaska Native people have traditionally tried to live in harmony with the world around them. 

“Spirituality is at the core of indigenous well-being,” Kendall-Miller said. 

In her speech, Kendall-Miller noted the strength of indigenous people through the repetition of the phrase, “but we were not conquered.” 

 “Indigenous ways of knowing are what may change the planet,” Kendall-Miller said. 

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