Friday Focus: Honoring our elders

February 26, 2021

Tori Tragis

Chancellor Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
Chancellor Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

— by Dan White, chancellor

Wow, what a month. This month caused me to look back and value those who came before us — not just those who came before us and who are gone, but those who came before us and continue to be with us. Our elders. What struck me is that all those who came before us shaped who we are as individuals and as a society. 

What really got me thinking was UAF’s Shine a Light series. The first two installments took historical looks at people and events that have shaped where we are today with respect to the civil rights of Alaska Native peoples and Black history. Both were wonderful presentations passionately made by UAF leaders.  

We lost a living piece of our history this week with the passing of Katie Hurley, who died just before her 100th birthday. Katie was on the Troth Yeddha’ campus 65 years ago when she served as chief clerk to the Constitutional Convention. 

The combination of our Shine a Light series and the passing of Katie Hurley gave me a desire to learn as much as we can from today’s elders — those who have wisdom to share, those who share already and those who are waiting to be asked. 

In a meeting early this month of the Alaska Native Success Initiative (UAF Action team), we were joined by the Reverend Dr. Anna Frank. I was struck by how much she gives of her wisdom by her presence and by her words. Her wisdom can build resilience for people of the Interior, Alaska Native people, Alaskans, and all of us, whoever we are, as people. In a recent meeting she compared going from a village to the university to getting in a canoe to cross the river. Crossing to something different, unknown. As I listened to her, I thought about my own life, decisions, struggles and dreams captured in the context of her wisdom and storytelling. Thank you, Dr. Frank.

The Festival of Native Arts has selected “honor our elders” as its theme this year. We would all be good to do so. My message here is that elders are a shared treasure. UAF is full of people with great wisdom — faculty, staff and students. There is not an age that defines one as an elder. Being an elder is about having, understanding and sharing wisdom. 

UAF is a place of learning. We are a globally important research university. Research is itself the act of learning, and of listening to people and to data. That includes listening to and learning from those who think similarly and those who don’t, and learning from those who have the same cultural background and those who don’t. 

My thanks to the many elders of every ethnicity, experience, history and perspective. I encourage our UAF community to hear our elders. UAF is a great university that will be made even better with the richness of the wisdom of our elders.

Thank you for choosing UAF.

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week. On occasion, a guest writer is invited to contribute a column.