Nome welcomes First Alaskans Institute and Kellogg Grantees
Last week Nome welcomed the First Alaskans Institute and their cohorts in an endeavor called “Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation.” That’s TRHT for short. It is an effort backed by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to advance racial and social justice in America. The First Alaskans Institute is one of the organizations receiving the grant and they hosted their fellow grantees in Nome.
“We in Alaska invited the cohort to come to Alaska and we wanted them to come to a place that was real,” said Liz Medicine Crow, President and CEO of First Alaskans Institute. “There have been so many incredible community members from Nome who’ve been part of the Alaska Native dialogue on racial equity and who’ve been doing this work for decades. They’re not only committed to making Nome what it could be, but also Alaska. We reached out to our partners here in Nome and said ‘If we were able to bring this group to Nome do you think that’s something Nome would be receptive to?’ and they said ‘Definitely! Let’s make this happen.’”
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is the seventh largest philanthropic foundation in the USA with assets of $7.3 billion. It was founded in 1934 by W.K. Kellogg, founder of the cereal company, who defined the purpose as “administering funds for the promotion of the welfare, comfort, health, education, feeding, clothing, sheltering, and safeguarding of children and youth, directly or indirectly, without regard to sex, race, creed, or nationality.” Annually they fund close to $300 million in grants to organizations that advance the values of the foundation. Last year they funded more than 40 projects in Indian country totaling over $30 million.
“We have had the honor of working alongside incredible Nome community members since 2010,” said Ayyu Qassataq, vice president of First Alaskans Institute. The objective of the effort, which began in 2010, was to raise awareness around issues of racial inequity, to raise awareness around intergenerational trauma and where those challenges have come from and how they manifest today. “And so through the efforts of folks like the Nome Social Justice Task Force and the people we’ve brought here to Nome, people are working together all over the nation to better understand the ways that racial inequity has been baked into our system and to dismantle them and create the kind of country that we all stand for when we say that the United States is the home of the free, the land of the brave, and when we say that all things are equal. I think the desire is for that to be true. But it requires us understanding that a ways back it has not been true.”
First Alaskans Institute is one of 14 grantees in the nation for what the project “Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation.” While the other grantees represent cities, First Alaskans represents the entire state. The other grantees travelled to Nome from New Orleans, Detroit, Baton Rouge, Selma, Dallas, Los Angeles and Detroit.
“It’s really about creating a place for where we can speak the truth of our experience as Alaska Native people and other peoples of color,” said Medicine Crow. “Identity intersections can share our experiences about what it’s like here to tell the truth. And also to have the opportunity to strengthen the policies and laws that undergird the fabric of our societies and to make them live up to that aspiration of equality and equity. And so TRHT is a way of thinking that through.”
Katirvik’s director Lisa Ellanna participated in the meetings and also guided many of the visitors around Nome. “We had a wonderful time,” said Ellanna. “I think what was really helpful was for First Alaskans to schedule in a luncheon with local leaders so that the local leaders of this community and this region could be invited to meet with individuals from across the nation doing similar work that Nome has done.”
Ellanna says the conversations on racial equity are difficult but that Nome has been having those conversations for several years now.
And what kind of experience did the big city people from the Lower 48 have in Nome? “First Alaskans Institute worked with us for several weeks here in Nome to ensure that we created a good plan of events so they’d have those really authentic experiences like getting out on the water, going to harvest different plants, learning about the medicinal and nutritional value of plants that grow here,” said Ellanna. There were two potlucks held for them, one with Native foods. They experienced dance and art. They watched Ben Pungowyi give a carving demonstration and learned about the importance of ivory to the local culture. For the outsiders it was a unique and intense experience in the life of a small town in bush Alaska.