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Faculty Fulbright scholar will travel to Canada to study Yukon indigenization

by Matt Jardin  |   

Maria Williams
In spring 2021, J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship recipient and UAA Alaska Native Studies Professor Maria Williams will travel to Vancouver Island University to compare and contrast Canada’s settlement with its First Nations people and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. (Photo courtesy of Maria Williams)

UAA Alaska Native Studies Professor Maria Williams was just announced as a recipient of a J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship. In spring 2021, she will travel to Vancouver, Canada, where she will study at Vancouver Island University the similarities and differences between Canada’s settlement with its First Nations people and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) that resulted in the 12 Alaska Native corporations.

Williams’ upcoming research is a natural progression of her life’s work. Born and raised in Anchorage and part of the Tlingit Tribe, her expertise sits at the intersection of music and anthropology. After receiving a B.A. in music from Dominican University and a master’s and Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from UCLA, Williams went on to teach at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque before coming to UAA to hold a joint appointment with the Department of Music and Alaska Native Studies.

In addition to the aforementioned work comparing ANCSA to Canada’s First Nations settlement, which skews more historical and political, Williams will continue to study the music and dance of the region, which she describes as currently undergoing a renaissance period.

“I’ll be looking at this period of activism in Alaska in the 1960s and how the land claims movement led up to this monumental federal legislation. Canada is a little different, so I’ll be comparing and contrasting how Canada has dealt with their First Nations people,” said Williams. “There’s a lot of similarities but also a lot of differences. They don’t have corporations, they have something similar to reservations but not quite. Their First Nations governance is managed differently than Alaska or the Lower 48, so I found myself wanting to learn more.”

As part of the Fulbright organization’s emphasis on the cross-pollination of ideas across international communities, applicants decide the international institution where they want to study. Already knowing her chosen topic meant studying in Canada, Williams chose Vancouver Island University due to their academic offerings in the field of indigenous studies and close proximity to the Tlingit Tribe.

“My tribe is really divided in half, half the Tlingits are in Canada, half are in Alaska. So I always find myself noticing those political differences,” said Williams. “Only a handful of Canadian universities were accepting Fulbrights in indigenous studies, so in essence I’ll also be a student because I really want to learn more about First Nations governance and how Canada has dealt in that legal framework with their indigenous population.”

Williams’ goal is to integrate what she learns into the curriculum of the UAA classes she teaches, Alaska Native Perspectives and Introduction to ANCSA. 

“I’ll be able to incorporate those ideas and that knowledge into my classes so that the students can start thinking about the things that were done differently in Canada and what was done here,” said Williams. “It broadens the scope for the students and if they decide to go into policy down the line, they can use that knowledge and get the best of both sides.”

Maria Williams
(Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Written by Matt Jardin, UAA Office of University Advancement

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