Friday Focus: Tamamta – All of Us – transforming together

By Tamamta leadership team
Jessica Black, Courtney Carothers, Sonia Ibarra, Charlene Stern, Peter Westley

We are so proud of the collective work of the Tamamta program. Tamamta means all of us in Yugtun and Sugs’tun. Inspired by Indigenous students, scholars, and leaders – the Tamamta team came together to seek deep transformation in how we teach about, study, and govern fisheries in Alaska. We uplift Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous knowledge systems, and Tribal governance to the center of fishery systems – systems Indigenous Peoples have been stewarding across Alaska for thousands of years. 

Tamamta is Alaska’s first and only National Science Foundation National Research Traineeship (#2022190). At the heart of our program are the 19 Tamamta fellows – funded Indigenous graduate students and allies pursuing degrees in fisheries, marine biology, interdisciplinary studies, Indigenous studies, geosciences, and rural development. With the first three cohorts of Tamamta fellows, the Indigenous graduate student body in the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences has quadrupled. Tamamta fellows come into our program as leaders and scholars; they are already generating immense change in our institution and will carry that transformation forward as they become the next generation of scientists and managers. 

Representational equity is just one of Tamamta’s goals. Supporting our students is our primary goal and we cannot do that well without systemic change. We are engaged in the heavy work of advancing racial equity in fisheries science and governance. This is a topic that a decade ago we couldn’t even list on a salmon conference program. Organizers removed “racial equity” from our session title. We consistently encountered similar erasure of any mention of Indigenous, Tribe, Tribal. But things are shifting…

Tamamta retreat in August 2023.
UAF photo by Jeff Richardson
Tamamta retreat in August 2023.

Within this difficult work, we see changes, big and small. Some of the most subtle shifts can have massive impacts. For example, during the set up for one of the first circle dialogues our team hosted at a large conference, the simple act of making a circle from the rows of chairs disgruntled some attendees. We kept moving chairs. We had a huge full room with an enormous circle. The act of circling up, coming together to share fully as people, is so powerful. We have since hosted numerous dialogues across our campuses, the state, and the nation – often filling our assigned rooms to capacity. Bringing people together to share our experiences across cultures, across generations, across genders, across all our differences has been one of the most profound and effective ways we have found to work toward greater understanding and unity. We are deeply grateful for First Alaskans Institute who trained us in hosting difficult dialogues using their Alaska Native Dialogues on Racial Equity approach. 

This month has been a busy time for many in our program. The salmon crisis affecting so many families and communities across the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers was the topic of a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs field hearing hosted by Senator Murkowski in Bethel last week (written testimony). This week, Tamamta is honored to host Dr. Andrea Reid (Nisga’a) at UAF. Dr. Reid’s work developing and leading the Centre for Indigenous Fisheries at the University of British Columbia is a huge inspiration for our work in Alaska. We hope you can join us in Elvey Auditorium from 4-5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 17 or by Zoom

We center relationality in all of our work. Our team wouldn’t be able to do this work without each other and without the trust necessary to embark upon deep change together. As we look forward to this season of gratitude, we hope you will join us in Tamamta and reflect on the transformations big and small needed in the realms important to you and we hope you can build the relationships and team needed to advance those changes together. Tamamta - All of Us.

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.