Friday Focus: The Troth Yeddha' Indigenous Studies Center – coming soon to UAF!

UAF Chancellor Dan White
UAF photo by Eric Engman
Chancellor Dan White

Nov. 23, 2022

— By Dan White, chancellor

Last Saturday evening, a number of UAF faculty, staff and students attended the First Alaskans Institute Annual Howard Rock and Ted Stevens Smokehouse Gala. FAI is a non-profit organization committed to advancing Alaska Natives through community engagement, information and research, collaboration, and leadership development. UAF has partnered with FAI in numerous ways. Hopefully you have heard me talk about the dialogue agreements that help to guide the ways that we agree to engage with one another. I am thankful for the dialogue agreements that we borrow from FAI. 

At the Smokehouse Gala, the banquet hall in the Dena'ina Center was filled with UAF students, alumni, and future students. People whose lives were enriched by the programs at UAF. This experience brought home to me the importance of the Troth Yeddha’ Indigenous Studies Center (TYISC). Many people at the banquet already knew about our TYISC project and who were all in on it with us! I had the overwhelming feeling that the wave was building for Troth. That feeling you get when you see a wave, building on the ocean and passing over the outer banks. After that it is just a matter of time. For TYISC, it is no longer a matter of if, or even when. The wave is coming and it is awesome.

Whether it is Doyon’s President and CEO Aaron Schutt and their board of directors who recently wrote a resolution of support for TYISC, or the support from FAI, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, or individuals across Alaska, each is contributing to the growing momentum. To continue the metaphor, it is like the coming wave will crest on Troth Yeddha’ leaving this campus awash in energy, and the TYISC in its wake. The construction of TYISC will leave no part of UAF untouched. That is the beauty of a community inspired project like this. It is the community coming together for the betterment of our collective future. This center will be the place of belonging for generations of UAF students. Many generations from many places. 

I am grateful to the Troth Yeddha’ Legacy Committee working to bring the TYISC to fruition. The legacy committee is chaired by Aaron Schutt and includes Emily Edenshaw, President and CEO of the Alaska Native Heritage Center, Jonella Larson White, a Partner with the Alaska Venture Fund, Heather Kendall Miller, a long-time Native American rights attorney, and Pearl Brower, President and CEO of the Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation. Now that is a dream team. Together with a UAF user committee, Bettisworth North, and many faculty, staff and students from across Alaska, the table is set. With so many moving parts on such an important project, I am grateful for our UAF visionary, Charlene Stern.

Charlene is blazing trail for UAF as our vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education. Carrying on the work of other notable UAF leaders like the late Bernice Joseph, the late Mary Pete and others, VC Stern has the vision, the enthusiasm and the power that changes lives for the better. When TYISC is built, I know I will think about the many ways VC Stern took the reins of this project and led with conviction, humility, and a lot of laughter!

I look forward to the day when the sun rises, just as it is today, and casts long shadows from the vertical support members deep into the TYISC, into the teaching kitchen, classrooms and seminar spaces. Spaces filled with students, faculty, staff and community members. It is then that we will have achieved the late Chief Peter John’s vision that our use of Troth Yeddha’ is the traditional use. One of teaching and learning, of carrying on the sharing of traditional knowledge.

Today I got my own first glimpse at the newly minted schematic drawings. We are officially in the design phase and we got here with entirely donated funds! We have engaged the best designers in the country on the most important project in the country. This legacy building will be a signature like no other. It will rival the National Museum of the American Indian – and it ought to – we have the same architect, JohnPaul Jones! For many decades, UAF has had the programs, UAF will finally have the place – and what a special place it will be!

So thank you to the many donors whose contributions made the schematic design possible. We would not be where we are on this project without you. Thank you to the big donors and the small donors. Thanks to those who have given multiple times. We will need more, but we have big plans. And while we are still early in our fundraising campaign, the really tough first 10 percent is nearly done.

Friday is Native American Heritage Day, an appropriate day to celebrate and lean into the TYISC. As we, as an institution, put our shoulders into lifting up TYISC, I thank you for your commitment to UAF as a place of belonging for everyone. UAF is a place where all Alaska Native people belong, where each can call upon UAF as their University. You belong here!

Thanks for choosing UAF.

Friday Focus is written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week.