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Documenting Alaska Native History

October 20, 2016

Holly Miowak Guise (History) has won two prestigious prizes that will enable her to conduct interviews and consult archives in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and rural Alaska: the 2016 Walter Rundell Award from the Western History Association and a grant from the American Philosophical Society Phillips Fund for Native American Research.

Using oral histories and archival materials, her dissertation examines how “race, gender, and colonialism influenced Alaskan racial categorization and the construction of ‘indigeneity’ as a racial category.” More specifically, she focuses on the experience of Alaska Natives during World War II and looks at how “Indigenous people resisted and challenged US colonialism in daily life.”

Guise had previously conducted interviews in Anchorage, Juneau, Metlakatla, and Unalaska, with funding from the Ford Foundation, the Cook Inlet Historical Society Brian Davies Memorial Grant for Alaska History, and the Oral History Fellowship from the Yale Department of History. She met with Tlingit elders who remembered the war years, Aleut internment survivors, and Tsimshian WWII veterans who had been stationed in Papua New Guinea and the Aleutian Islands, only to return stateside and face discrimination. 

The Alaskan colonial landscape and Native-white race relations changed during World War II,” she says. The Alaska Equal Rights Act was passed in 1945, but prior to that, segregation was the norm. Growing up in Anchorage in an Iñupiaq family, she had heard about the discrimination that her relatives endured when they left Unalakleet, a tiny (pop. 700), remote village in the Alaskan bush. As an undergraduate at Stanford, she came across an article by Terrence Cole, “Jim Crow in Alaska,” and realized that the stories she was told as a child were true, even though not widely known. 

I never learned about Indigenous segregation in school, and I decided that for my senior honors thesis I would interview Alaska Native elders on their lived experiences of segregation. In studying Alaskan segregation, I wanted to center Alaska Native voices and to understand how Alaskan segregation replicated, or varied from, Jim Crow in the United States.”

That project evolved into her doctoral dissertation, advised by Ned Blackhawk, Birgit Brander Rasmussen, Jonathan Holloway, and Matthew Jacobson.

At Yale, Guise has been a Davenport Graduate Affiliate, a fellow at what is now the Office for Graduate Student Development and Diversity, and co-chair and co-founder of the Indigenous Graduate Network on campus. She has worked and volunteered at the Native American Cultural Center, taught beading classes, and cheered at Yale hockey games.