FAIRBANKS — The University of Alaska Fairbanks celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday to honor the many Native cultures of Alaska and recognize the long-term adverse effects and residual trauma that colonization has caused throughout Alaska’s Native population, as well as to celebrate the positive work being done to counter those effects.

“It’s hugely important for our students to be able to come to an event where their cultural identity is being celebrated, whereas their parents may have been reprimanded and disciplined for practicing their language and culture and showing their identity,” said Evon Peter, vice chancellor for Rural Community and Native Education. 

Peter said the celebration reflects the interests of the university in responding to cultural diversity and acknowledging the indigenous peoples of Alaska.

“We heard from one of the elders this morning, speaking about the experience of going through an assimilation process where they were told not to speak their language, not to celebrate their culture and identities and ceremonies,” Peter said. “Now, we’re creating an environment where we are intentionally saying, ‘Yes, this is important and, in fact, we want to encourage and help you grow as a whole person including your cultural identity.’”

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott also attended the celebration Monday. Mallott said the event brings a togetherness that is vital in any education setting. 

“Particularly in a learning setting, university, schools, any group that feels together, that has a common identity and common purpose, to be able to celebrate that purpose and identity always is uplifting and brings the group together,” Mallott said. “It allows networking and sharing. It allows learning.”

Mallott said he sees the University of Alaska as a reflection of Alaska’s community and society.

“For the university to hear and celebrate and learn from and educate around the voices of all of those that make up the university population is very important,” Mallott said. “I think it’s really important to all Alaskans because ultimately Alaska ... needs to hear, needs to celebrate, needs to understand, needs to learn from, needs to inform and needs to be informed by all of those voices that make up the peoples of Alaska.” 

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter:

 @FDNMPolitics.