by Whalesong Staff, UAS Whalesong

UAS students, faculty and friends honored Professor Sol Neely, Ph.D., who died in October while backpacking in Washington state, where he was teaching at Heritage University.  

Alaska Native Studies Professor X’unei Lance Twitchell led a Tlingit fire dish ceremony at Noyes Pavilion on Nov. 12.

“We make offerings through the fire,” Twitchell said as he handed out cards, suggesting those gathered write Neely’s name and the name of a loved one to send messages of strength, love, and kindness. 

“Those are things we used a lot as we worked together as we were trying to fight against an unkind world,” Twitchell said. Neely, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and Twitchell worked closely on many endeavors, including indigenous studies, decolonization,  and equity. Neely taught English literature and philosophy at UAS for more than a decade, and often held class around a fire at the pavilion. 

In Tlingit and English, Twitchell said Neely had a long journey, but his friends and family are not left behind. “We’re always surrounded with intention, with love, with strength, with the thoughts that he had, the words that he had,” he said.

Neely left UAS in 2020. Students remembered his engaging classes, including Éedaa Heather Burge, who is now an assistant professor of Alaska Native Studies at UAS. 

“He was such an example of the power that institutions, universities, academics have over their students, over their communities. The way he could build such love across generations, across experiences,” she said.   

While as UAS, Neely worked on prison reform and developed the Flying University program at Lemon Creek Correctional Facility, where he taught literature to inmates, some who continued their education on campus when they were released.   

Neely’s wife and daughter traveled to Juneau for the ceremony. 

“We’re going to surround his family with love and support. Be of brave heart, strength is in side of you,” Twitchell said. 

Fire Picture:  Alaska Native Studies Professor X’unei Lance Twitchell, and Lyle James, a Language and Cultural Specialist at Goldbelt, Inc., offer messages to the fire during the UAS fire dish ceremony for Sol Neely. Dozens of people attended the Nov. 12 ceremony. 

X’unei, drum: Alaska Native Studies Professor X’unei Lance Twitchell offers a spirit song for Sol Neely.