Native leaders propose centralization, tribal college partnership
June 3, 2020
Three major Southeast Alaska Native groups are pushing two parallel alternatives to a proposal to merge the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) into another UA university to alleviate the institution’s financial pressures.
Under the current proposal, which the UA Board of Regents will take up this week, UAS could be subsumed into the University of Alaska Anchorage or the University of Alaska Fairbanks, eliminating UAS as a separate entity.
In a letter sent to select regents this week, Native leaders from Sealaska, Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) and Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit & Haida) asked to instead establish UAS as the administrative home for rural community campuses or to transfer UAS to a tribal college in the region.
“Southeast communities deserve university leadership that is committed to this place. Alaska Native students deserve to have a university that is committed to their success in this Native place,” said Sealaska Chair Joe Nelson.
“We are absolutely convinced that such a merger would gravely undermine a successful university system that has proven to be responsive to Native education,” said SHI President Rosita Worl. “We also believe that a merger would not result in the financial savings the university is seeking.”
Placing rural community campuses under UAS administrative leadership will increase overall enrollment, building much greater alignment in academic and workforce programs, and expanding options for students in smaller, more remote campuses. This could include making baccalaureate and graduate programs available in rural areas of the state where those options do not currently exist, the group wrote.
With UAS serving as the administrative home for rural community campuses, it would allow UAA to serve as the urban-based university and UAF the research-focused university, they said.
Short of that, Native leaders said regents and UA President Jim Johnsen could also consider transferring UAS to a Southeast Alaska Tribal College to be operated by Tlingit & Haida in partnership with Sealaska and SHI.
“Since time immemorial, our Native people have educated the next generation,” said Tlingit & Haida President Richard Peterson. “The Tribe has the knowledge and expertise passed down for generations. It’s time to pass that knowledge to the next generation so they can lead us into the future. The Tribe stands ready to be a partner to provide the best opportunity for our students.”
Sealaska, SHI and Tlingit & Haida have a long history of collaboration with UAS on multiple fronts. In 2020 alone, the groups infused nearly $1.9 million into UAS through scholarships and partnership programs.
“We would like to continue these programs, but subsuming UAS into a larger institutional framework poses the possibility that we may not be able to continue our collaboration,” the group wrote.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.
CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, email@example.com, 907.586.9116; Joseph Nelson, Sealaska Chair, firstname.lastname@example.org; Richard J. Peterson, Tlingit & Haida President, email@example.com,