Remembering Dr. Sol Neely

Honoring the work and legacy of Dr. Sol Neely. 

Haa náḵ woogoot áwé haa x̱ooní.

Toow latseen haa jeet aawatée.

Du shát ḵa du séek’,

has du daat yoo tutuli.átk.

He walked away from us, our friend.

He gave us courage.

We are thinking about

his wife and daughter.

The University of Alaska Southeast honors the life, work, and legacy of Dr. Sol Neely, who was a devoted husband and father, a fierce Indigenous intellectual, and a tireless contributor to decolonization and prison reform. He worked at UAS as a Professor of English from 2009 through 2020, and taught courses on critical theory, literature, Indigenous Studies, zombie theory, and philosophy. The foundation of his pedagogy were Native American Literature and Critical Indigenous Studies, Theory and Cultural Studies (trauma studies, redemptive critical theory, Marxist literary criticism, postcolonial studies, reading after the holocaust), Critical Pedagogy and Composition Theory, and Postsecular Phenomenology and Ethics. 

While at UAS, Dr. Neely developed the Flying University, which brought academics into the local prison and focused on re-integration and prison reform, which was a program that changed the lives of students who participated in it and ensured that higher education was accessible and inviting to populations that have been historically overlooked and marginalized. He also started an Honors Program and made lasting and foundational contributions to the Indigenous Studies Program at UAS.

Sol taught at Outer Coast in 2019 and 2020 as well, and was presently a faculty member at Heritage University. Every place that he went was blessed with systemic improvements because of his unyielding commitment to student success, and his approach to engaging with difficult content in creative ways that open the doors for learners of all types and from many different backgrounds. His knowledge of philosophy, literature, Indigenous language revitalization, Cherokee cultural practices, Native American histories, and the intersections of ways of knowing are among the most complex and deep of any academic working in Indigneous Studies and Decolonization.

Beyond academics, our beloved friend was a caring and helpful person who was always ready to support people and to share wisdom and growth about life, love, marriage, parenthood, and being an agent of change. He brought punk rock into academics, merged Indigenous epistemologies with zombie films, and was able to keep a sharp wit and sense of humor in areas of work that are often challenging and seemingly impossible.

His devotion to his family was incredible, and his amazing daughter Mila and wonderful wife Kerry made lasting contributions to the Juneau community. Sol often shared the experiences Mila had here in Juneau as a drummer for their school Lingít culture and language programs at Sayéik Elementary, and then how she brought her own approach to decolonization and equity to her school in Washington. 

Our university community is forever strengthened by the incredible legacy of Dr. Sol Neely, who learned Lingít and then transferred that energy into learning his Ancestral Cherokee language. We were witness to a powerful familial reconnection with place as he and Mila walked the Trail of Tears and honored their ancestors and the suffering that continually comes at the hands of colonization.

Our university community is forever impoverished by his walking into the interior, but are committed to making the imprint that he left a place reserved for his family and his students. We love you Sol. We love you Kerry. We love you Mila. We are always here for you, Kerry and Mila, as an institution that was enriched by your husband and father. As a place of higher education that is committed to living languages and structural decolonization and equity, we encourage all who knew Sol to live fiercely, to fight injustice, and to embrace decolonization and Indigenization without fear or hatred. 

A celebration of life will take place in Juneau on the weekend of November 12 at the UAS Áak’w Campus. Details will be provided in the near future. Please consider offering support to his wonderful family through the following GoFundMe:

By UAS Humanities Faculty

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