By now, many people in Alaska have chosen a “side” regarding the line-item vetoes enacted by Governor Dunleavy. The most devastating to the Alaska I know and love is the $136 million line for cuts to the University of Alaska.
I have been a part of the University of Alaska, and more specifically, the University of Alaska Museum of the North, since August of 1996 when I started working on my MA in Anthropology at UAF. I worked as a student at the museum, in many departments, while working on that degree. When I graduated in 1999 I was offered a job to stay on as the collections manager of the Ethnology & History collection instead of going to New York City for an internship at the American Museum of Natural History. Oh what a different life I would have had if I made that other choice.
I have been so happy in my career at UAMN. I received mentorship from people who spent years dedicated to the preservation of collections, to research, to educating the public about these irreplaceable treasures we hold in trust for the public benefit. I have been privileged to share moments with members of Alaska Native communities that have changed the way I see the world, the way I communicate about these collections. I want others to learn to take care of their cultural heritage – to find some balance to the spiritual needs of the objects and the museum goals of physical preservation in perpetuity, for present and future generations. I have returned to school to earn a Ph.D. so I can work even harder to make our museums better and more responsive to the myriad needs of our stakeholders.
So my heart breaks when I see our communities torn apart by the threats to our educational systems, and specifically when our Governor proposes to eliminate ALL STATE FUNDING to the University of Alaska Museum, for which the state has a fiduciary duty of care to safeguard those collections. My fingers are sore from writing letters to our legislators. My head is sore from banging it against a wall as I see the messages not getting across. My heart is sore when I think of the potential losses to our communities. My soul is sore for the damage that will be inflicted on these precious collections if we can not care for them as they deserve.
And yet, we must continue to write and to share the reasons why we matter. If this funding is lost, each year thousands of students will lose access to primary resources to feed their questions (in FY18 UAMN collections hosted 1150 MA or MS students in our collections). Another 2,539 individual questions will go unanswered from the public who reach out to experts to help identify bones they found in their yards, old baskets they inherited from their families, insects they discovered in their gardens, and paintings they uncovered in their attics. Annually, over 250 research colleagues from around the world will be unable to pursue their own programs of research in UAMN collections, supplemented by the expertise of our staff and faculty who live and breathe their areas of study. The 100,000+ NEW objects and specimens added to our collections each year will just sit in boxes, or never find their way to the museum at all. And most dramatic of all, the 1,406,806,896 museum records downloaded each year from our online collection management system Arctos, will have no one to review and keep current, the information contained in the fields.
If you have been affected by what we do at the Museum, if you love and care about the future of our institution, PLEASE write to our Alaska Legislators as well as the UA Board of Regents (use the email email@example.com to get a message to all regents) and tell them why the UA Museum and our collections should not be a pawn in this political game being played. The safety of our natural and cultural heritage is not a negotiating point. Our legal and ethical obligations to the Indigenous peoples of Alaska are not to be put at risk. Please write and tell these decision-makers why museums matter.