Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: November 22nd, 2021

Free event to be offered virtually on Nov. 24


Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a lecture on on Wednesday on 200 years of infectious diseases and colonialism in Sitka as part of a series on Southeast Alaska Native history in honor of Native American Heritage Month.

The talk, Infectious Diseases, Settler Colonialism, and Race on Sheet’ká Ḵwáan, will be given by Adam Kersch, a self-described white Jewish settler whose family formerly lived in Romania, Serbia and Britain.

In his talk, Kersch will examine transformations in the relationship between race, health and colonialism in Sheet’ká (Sitka, Alaska), focusing on infectious disease outbreaks over the past 200 years.

Specifically, Kersch will explore the relationship between whiteness and infectious diseases to suggest that the politicized concept of whiteness has shifted dramatically. Over the course of Russian and US rule, whiteness has served as a political matrix through which colonial powers attempted to consolidate control over Tlingit populations. These settler colonial powers have used whiteness as a baseline for measuring “health” and saw any deviation from white cultural norms as justification to violently intervene, Kersch wrote.

Using archival and ethnographic research, his research – conducted with approval from Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Sealaska Heritage Institute and funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation – seeks to understand how practices of racialization have formed, changed and retained their historical residues in Sheet’ká.

The lecture is scheduled at noon Alaska time, Wednesday, Nov. 24. All lectures will be streamed at 12 pm to the Sealaska Heritage YouTube channel. A Q&A session will follow.

About the Lecturer

Adam Kersch has studied and wrestled with anthropology and its troubled past since 2009, receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees in cultural and medical anthropology from the University of Central Florida. Through his master’s research, Kersch explored how undocumented immigrants access legal and healthcare services in Sicily while working alongside organizations providing aid. Kersch began his Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at the University of California, Davis, in 2016. He spent a year as an uninvited guest on Lingít Aaní from 2020-2021 for his dissertation research, with funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation. His research explores the relationship between settler colonialism, infectious diseases, vaccines and race, examining how Russian and U.S. colonial governments have used infectious diseases as justification for exercising their power. His research demonstrates the effect of racism on public health and has powerful implications for the management of the COVID-19 pandemic today. Kersch aims to do research that is both publicly and academically engaged while promoting tribal sovereignty.

This program is provided under the Preparing Indigenous Teachers and Administrators for Alaska Schools (PITAAS) program and funded by the Alaska Native Education Program.

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: Kathy Dye, SHI Communications and Publications Deputy Director, 907.321.4636,

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