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Meghan Sullivan
Indian Country Today

"There are as many ways to be Indigenous as there are Native people in the state, and because our communities are in such a state of flux and have changed so quickly over just a few short generations, we are all still figuring it out,” writes Cordelia Qiġñaaq Kellie, Inupiaq. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was one of those recent changes. As with any other topic, there are countless different ways that individual Indigenous Alaskans and the 200 + communities they belong to view ANCSA and navigate the dynamics it created.

Leading up to the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act on Dec. 17, Indian Country Today will be highlighting a wide range of these experiences, including insights from the elders who fought for the land, perspectives from current leaders today, and future goals from younger generations.

Alannah Hurley

Alannah Hurley, Yup’ik, is from Saguyaq in Bristol Bay. Her Yup’ik name is Acaq, and she currently lives and works in Curyung (Dillingham). Hurley is the Executive Director of the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a tribal consortium of fifteen Bristol Bay tribal governments working to protect the Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq way of life in the region. She has six children, and is thankful that she and her husband, Terry Mann, are able to raise them in their traditional way of life in Bristol Bay. Hurley is a tribal member of Clark’s Point Village Council, a shareholder of Clark’s Point Village Corporation, Saguyaq Inc., and a shareholder of Bristol Bay Native Corporation. In today's profile, she talks about the importance of tribal sovereignty, the need for reflection, and how love and respect guide her work.

What motivated you to pursue this line of work?

Being raised with my grandmother Mancuaq, she instilled in me that our lives were enriched by helping others and our people. I grew up with the reality of the harms inflicted when outside “solutions” or values were imposed upon our people and knew I wanted to work towards empowering our people to address our own issues with solutions that truly worked for us. When I was graduating from Dillingham High School in 2004, the Pebble Mine issue was just beginning and it was this existential threat that galvanized my commitment to tribal sovereignty and self determination.

What is a goal you have for the Alaska Native community in the next 50 years? 

I would like to see Alaska’s sovereign tribes continue on the path of true self-determination for the betterment and wellbeing of our communities. I would like to see continued revitalization of our traditional ways of life, spirituality and ceremony, and languages to heal the wounds of colonization in our communities. I’d like to see our communities use our traditional institutions to create models of sustainability and prosperity that align with our traditional values for the wellbeing of all and not just an elite few. I’d like to see our people not only heavily engaged in our political systems but also in positions of leadership to ensure our people are truly represented and respected in systems of governance and public policy that impact our daily lives.

What is one of your favorite Alaska Native community / cultural memories?

One of my favorite memories is collecting driftwood and Caiggluk (traditional medicine) on the bluffs of Clark’s Point beach with my Nan throughout my childhood. These trips as a kid were fun because it meant getting to go to the beach and she usually let us drive her 4-wheeler. As I got older I realized we were at our happiest when we were outside, enjoying our lands and doing things our ancestors had done for thousands of years. We use the driftwood for maqi (steambath) and dry the Caiggluk for medicinal purposes. We would invite friends to maqi and share the medicine with those who were ill. This taught me lessons about hard work and self-sufficiency, the power of our traditional healing and medicine, sharing and community, and that joy and fulfillment that comes from our traditional practices. I’m so blessed to be able to continue this with my children today, things you can’t experience from reading a book or google search.

What is the most important lesson you learned from older generations? Do you have any advice for future generations?

The most important things in life I have learned and am still learning from my Nan and elders. At first glance they seem very basic but it is these values that lay the foundation for a truly fulfilling life and it is the loss of these basic values that have created so much strife in mainstream society. Many of these lessons came from simply watching how they lived their lives and some from them taking the time to talk with me and try to provide me guidance. Of the many lessons I would say the most important is to live with love and respect for all life on Earth- not just other humans and yourself but for our lands, waters, and animals/plants,etc. that sustain us. These lessons are illustrated in how we show respect and reverence for what we hunt/gather, how it is shared within the community, etc. My Nan always told me the most important thing to live a good life is to love and respect others and to love myself and I try my best to live up to this guidance.

What is one word that comes to mind when you think of ANCSA?

Capitalism.

What is something you think people should know about you, your community, or your work, that people might not be aware of?

I would say when it comes to our work, the mainstream media constantly portrays us as obstacles to “progress” and as angry Natives. What I don’t think is portrayed often enough and mainstream society isn’t aware of is that the work we do to protect our lands and waters and way of life comes from a place of deep love. A love for the necessities of all life, like clean air and water. A love for our people, our traditional ways of life, and our communities. It is this love that motivates us and enables us to stand for the protection of what is right and just. It is the inherited mindset to think generations ahead and the love for our future great-great grandchildren that we make decisions today to ensure the Earth they are inheriting will be healthy enough to sustain their lives and beyond.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

We are at a critical time for true reflection and evaluation of the systems and institutions that impact Alaska Native people. We have great respect and appreciation for the leaders that have come before us and allowed us to stand on their shoulders to get to where we are today as Alaska Native people. We now must be brave enough to truly ask ourselves: is what we’re doing working well? Are these systems and institutions serving us collectively as Alaska Native people and do they reflect our traditional values? Where and what needs to be changed to better serve our people? Only we have the answers to these questions, we know what is best for our people and communities. It is up to us to create systems and institutions rooted in our traditional values that truly empower our self-determination.

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This story is part of Indian Country Today’s series on the 50th anniversary of the landmark Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Funding for ICT’s ANCSA project is provided in part by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism. Stay updated on ICT’s ANCSA project using #ANCSA50 and at https://indiancountrytoday.com/tag/ancsa-50.

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