Ayyu Qassataq is an Iñupiaq advocate from Uŋalaqłiq, currently residing on Dena’ina lands in Dgheyey Kaq’ with her four children. Her activism for the self-determination of Alaska Native peoples is inherited and inspired by her grandparents Stanton Talialuk and Irene Pan’niuq Katchatag, her parents Doug and Vernita Sitaktun Qutquq Herdman, and her children Kutuukhuq, Talialuk, Qanigluk and Inuaathluuraq. She currently serves as the Vice President & Indigenous Operations Director for First Alaskans Institute, where she has been since 2010.
She works closely with the leadership team to center Indigenous knowledge and wisdom throughout FAI’s work, amplify the self-determination of Native peoples and unify the collective strength of our community. Recognizing a shared responsibility to contribute our individual gifts for the betterment of our community, Ayyu works to advance healing, awareness, and advocacy around the challenges and opportunities that face our Native communities.
Ayyu earned her MA in Rural Development from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a BA in Organizational Management with a Nonprofit Emphasis from Alaska Pacific University.
What drew you to/inspires you about the Caleb Scholars Program?
I believe that indigenous peoples are born into advocacy; it is our birthright. To grow, strengthen and contribute to who we are as peoples – and to live healthy and well – are both political acts and imperatives that all indigenous peoples carry. I have an inner fire for justice and carry the perpetual thrival of our indigenous peoples’ in my spirit and mind. I work hard to demonstrate that commitment in how I show up in my education and work.
As I considered the opportunity and timing of returning to school, it was critical to me that my schooling be centered in the brilliance of thousands of years of Native knowledge within our languages, traditions and stories. The Caleb Pungowiyi Scholars Program stewards higher educational funding opportunities that speak to the heart and mind of our peoples, and support the growth of our leaders and culture bearers. The Caleb Scholars fellowship provided an important way to strengthen and support my own leadership journey in service to our communities. For that, I will always be grateful.
What does conservation mean to you?
There is no one with more depth, length, expertise or investment in ensuring that the land, water and animals within Alaska are cared for in perpetuity than Alaska Native peoples. We inherently hold a longer view than the term conservation expresses, as it too often narrowly focuses on preserving what currently exists. Our worldviews encompass a more expansive understanding of stewarding the thrival and growth of that resource in perpetuity, since our health and wellbeing is sustained by the abundance of our lands and waters.
The over-regulation and de-prioritization of our ability to harvest the plants and animals that have sustained us since the beginning of time doesn’t just harm Native people, it inhibits our ability – as Alaskans – to utilize the best, smartest, most time-tested, proven-successful management of our resources to everyone’s benefit. What sense does that make? The continued erasure of our histories and suppression of our knowledge is one of the greatest travesties of Alaska and indigenous lands across the world.
I dream of a time when all Alaskans will come to recognize and believe that Native knowledge and stewardship of our lands and waters protects those resources for everyone, and our laws and policies will come to reflect that deeply held belief.
Taikuu for your commitment to the Caleb Scholars Program!