The Department of Tribal Governance is constantly growing our team to build expertise and reach new communities. We are a statewide program that understands the unique differences in tribal governance across the state. Contact us to let us know how we can best serve your education goals and community needs.
Michelle Demmert, J.D. (Tlingit)
Michelle Jaaghal.aat Demmert, Tlingit, has devoted her legal career, spanning over 30 years, to advancing improvements and practices in tribal courts and to advancing domestic violence protections for women and children. She actively engaged in the Alaska commercial fishing industry prior to her practice of law.
Michelle (Jaaghal.aat) Demmert, Tlingit, Eagle, Ḵaax̱ʼoos.hittaan (Man’s Foot) clan
is an Assistant Professor in the Tribal Governance Department of the College of Rural
and Community Development College. In the recent past, she was the Law and Policy
Director at the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, served as the appointed Chief
Judge for the Tulalip Tribes and the elected Chief Justice for the Central Council
Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
While the Chief Justice for her tribe, she served as the co-chair of the National Congress of American Indians’ Violence Against Women Task Force. Professor Demmert has devoted her legal career to advancing improvements and practices in tribal
courts and has also worked in various capacities of advancing domestic violence protections for women and children.
She is an appointed Commissioner to the Not Invisible Act Commission and is on the 9 th Circuit Tribal Advisory Ad Hoc Committee. She has testified to Congress regarding legislation and current issues affecting women and children.
Professor Demmert is a graduate of the University of Washington for both her Juris Doctorate and her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She actively engaged in the Alaska commercial fishing industry for salmon, herring roe and halibut, prior to her practice of law.
Kevin Illingworth is a Professor of Tribal Government with the Department of Tribal
Governance at UAF. Kevin was raised in Alaska’s Interior and graduated from North
Pole High School and the University of Alaska Fairbanks before receiving his Law Degree
from the University of Idaho. Prior to joining the University of Alaska Fairbanks
in 2002, Kevin worked for Mentasta Traditional Council and Cheesh’na Tribal Council
on the development of tribal laws, tribal courts, and tribal law enforcement.
At UAF, Kevin primarily teaches courses in topics such as Tribal Government, Federal Indian Law, Tribal Constitutions and Codes, ICWA, and Child Protection and Tribal Justice issues. He has extensive experience in curriculum development, assessment, and instructional technology, primarily focused on adult Indigenous student education, with a strong commitment to place-based education. Professor Illingworth has presented at numerous Conferences and Symposiums and has previously served as Interim Dean, Department Chair, and on many Advisory Boards and Councils.
Debra Dzijúksuk O’Gara is Tlingit, Yupik, Irish and raven from the Teeyhitaan clan and the Cedar Bark House of Wrangell, is an Assistant Professor in the Tribal Governance Department of the Rural and Community Development College.
She has worked in the legal field for 32 years primarily for several Northwest Tribes in Washington and the Tlingit & Haida Tribes in Southeast Alaska. Since 2007 she has helped to build and developed the Tlingit & Haida Court first as a Magistrate, then the elected Chief Justice, the Presiding Justice and now a Pro Tem Judicial Officer. Most recently she has also worked for the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center as the Senior Policy Specialist on domestic violence and sexual assault issues.
In addition to focusing on a legal career, Professor O’Gara continued her education by earning a master’s in public administration at the University of Alaska Southeast in 2013 and currently as a PhD candidate at the UAF Indigenous Studies program she is researching dispute resolution practices and justice systems among the Tlingit people before Western colonialization.
Professor O’Gara currently resides in Petersburg, Alaska and comes from a mixed family of fighters, survivors and victims’ – some with education; successful careers in law, government and church; alcoholism; violence; poverty; challenges; and trauma. Her mom, Carol O’Gara, and Auntie, Joan Baijot, were born and raised in Mountain Village, Alaska. Their mother, Frances Tamaree Sheppard was born in Wrangell was a nurse and healer. Her maternal grandfather, George Sheppard, was born in Saint Michael and was a trader. Her great grandmother was Tillie Paul Tamaree, a civil rights activist and mother to William and Louis Paul, and Tillie’s second husband, her great grandfather, William Tamaree, was a community leader, peacemaker, and a carver.
Professor O’Gara enjoys creating art in all forms and in the last several years has concentrated on weaving – spruce root and cedar bark basketry, Ravenstail and Chilkat where she reconnects with her ancestors, learning stories, history, and lessons.
Carrie Stevens’ passionately works for the advancement of Indigenous self-governance
and stewardship. She serves as Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of
Tribal Governance at the College of Rural and Community Development, University of
Stevens has 22 years of experience in designing and delivering place-based educational programs to advance Indigenous self-governance, tribal sovereignty, and stewardship through partnerships with tribal governments, communities, and peoples. Carrie serves as the PI of the USDA funded Alaska Native Food and Energy Sovereignty award for the College of Rural and Community Development, a collaboration enhancing educational equity to build Indigenous leadership for community food and energy security.
Stevens served as lead negotiator for tribal self-governance negotiations between the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments and the USFWS and the BLM. She is active in advocacy and organizing efforts for the protection of Alaska Native hunting and fishing rights and traditional ways of life. She holds a Master of International and Intercultural Management.
She is married to Ben Stevens, Dinyee Hutanne, Koyukon Athabascan from Stevens Village Alaska, with whom she raises her son Alexander. They enjoy being on the river and in the village when they are not at their desks working on behalf of Alaska Natives.
Laurie Trotta is the “Point of Contact” for the Tribal Governance Department. She
advises any students taking courses in TG and is the primary advisor for those working
toward a TG certificate or degree. She will support them with everything from FAFSA
and registration to preparing them for graduation and a career. She supports TG faculty
with course materials, event coordination, communications, and in numerous other ways.
Before joining the Tribal Governance team, Trotta spent six years working as a Coordinator with the Migrant Education Program supporting students and their families living a subsistence lifestyle. She has dedicated her career to education helping students reach their highest potential by finding the path that best suits them and to the sustainability of the natural environment.
Trotta started her career as a fish biologist, aquaculturist, and aquatic ecologist before moving on to teach a variety of aquaculture, aquatic science, and renewable resource courses. She also advised a student Outdoor Recreation Club for 12 years and did everything from backpacking in the Adirondack Mountains to hiking in Denali National Park and surfing in Costa Rica.
After 22 years of university service at New York State Agriculture and Technology colleges, Laurie moved to Fairbanks, a longtime second home that is now her primary home. She has served on the Board of the Friends of Creamer's Field from 2015 to 2021. In her spare time, she likes to spend time out of doors with her dogs, hiking, paddling, fishing, and berry picking. Indoors, she enjoys cooking, consulting on Epicure, doing yarn crafts, drawing Zentangles, or reading.
Laura Zimin is an Alutiiq from the Bristol Bay Region of Alaska. She has been employed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks since 2012. Zimin currently serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Tribal Governance at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees in Rural Development from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and is currently in the Indigenous Studies Ph.D. program.
Zimin and her family reside in Naknek, Alaska, and have been involved in the Bristol Bay commercial fishery for several generations. She has served on the South Naknek Village Tribal Council and Bristol Bay Borough Assembly.
Dr. Jessica Black (she/her) is Gwich’in from the villages of Gwichyaa Zhee (Ft. Yukon)
and Toghotthele (Nenana), Alaska. Dr. Black currently serves as an Associate Professor
in the Department of Alaska Native Studies, Rural Development and Tribal Governance
at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Dr. Black received her bachelor’s degree in Social Work (BSW) at UAF and her master’s degree and PhD in Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. Her dissertation and current research examine the relationship between governance and well-being among Alaska Native peoples, especially as it pertains to Tribal Stewardship and Cultural Connectivity.
She resides in Fairbanks, Alaska with her family, however, she frequently returns home to Gwichyaa Zhee to hunt, fish, gather and engage in other, important cultural practices.
Image at top: Drying salmon at Pawik (title taken from image). National Geographic Society Katmai expeditions photographs, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage. UAA-hmc-0186-volume8-6599.