UAS and Yukon College partnership advances Native language efforts

Yukon College president Karen Barnes and UAS chancellor John Pugh sign an agreement renewing the partnership between the two institutions. UAS provost Richard Caulfield oversees the signing. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

University of Alaska Southeast and Yukon College signed an agreement this weekend that renews a more than 25-year relationship. The two institutions will continue to work together in various academic fields, including resource development and Native languages.

The agreement says both schools are committed to finding future academic cooperation for the benefit of the region’s people. Chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast John Pugh and Yukon College president Karen Barnes signed a memorandum of understanding during the Al-Can Summit at UAS hosted by the Juneau World Affairs Council.

“We’ve been working together for 25 years plus and we have lots of relationships in the program areas, but it’s a bit of a push for us,” explains Barnes. “We wanted to resign it to say we’re really serious about this relationship and we can see lots of future possibilities that we want to explore so I think it was a bit of an incentive for us to keep moving and keep growing.”

Barnes hopes to collaborate more with UAS on scientific research, “particularly climate change research and cold climate technologies and I think that there’s been some discussion with our faculty across the line and I think that’s an area that we could see some activity. We’re building a new graduate certificate in climate change and I think that might be a place we could really share,” she says.

Pugh says UAS’s strong expertise on climate change allows it to offer an inter-disciplinary course on it, “Our faculty are looking at that from many different areas, not just the science of it but also the economics of it, the political science of it, and I think that’s something we can really do together in the future.”

Both schools are already teaming up in the area of natural resource development.

“Mining has taken off in both the Yukon and in Southeast Alaska, and we’re both using high tech equipment in terms of training folks and we’ve been able to share the expertise back and forth between Alaska and Yukon, and I think that’s been a really good learning experience and sharing experience,” chancellor Pugh says.

Tosh Southwick spoke at the Al-Can Summit on “Yukon First Nations: Histories, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues.” (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Another established partnership is language instruction. UAS Native language faculty members have visited Yukon College to share teaching materials and strategies.

“I think the partnership between Alaska and the Yukon is a natural one that’s existed before that border was ever there. My people are evidence of that. The stronger that we make that, the more beneficial it’ll be in every area, including language,” says Tosh Southwick, a citizen of the Kluane First Nation in Canada and director of First Nation initiatives at Yukon College.

Southwick says the condition of first languages in the Yukon is at a crisis point, similar to what it is in other indigenous countries. She’s impressed with the language offerings at UAS.

“When I walked past the sign in the hallway that said Tlingit 101 or whatever it is, we’re not doing that,” says Southwick. “That’s great. The fact that anybody in Alaska can come here and take a class in Tlingit is amazing to me.”

Besides Tlingit, UAS also offers classes in Haida and Tsimshian. Southwick thinks the relationship between UAS and her institution will increase the opportunity for the indigenous languages to stay alive

“What we do at an academic institution is share knowledge. Language is a form of knowledge, so that empowerment is crucial. So all of the Yukon First Nation languages will benefit from the stronger partnership here,” explains Southwick. “The Tlingit that’s spoken here – the more fluent speakers we have of Tlingit anywhere – makes it better for my family and for my son.”

Representatives from UAS and Yukon College met in Whitehorse in August. A new component of the agreement commits the two schools to hold an annual meeting to discuss ways of how to keep building the relationship.

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