Alaska indigenous performer wins T-Mobile prize

Haliehana Stepetin / Marc Studer photo

A University of Washington Bothell student from the Aleutian Islands, who assembled a performance group of indigenous artists, won T-Mobile’s Create the Change competition at the Equity & Inclusion Conference on campus.

Haliehana Stepetin (Alagum Ayagaa in the language of the Unangax indigenous people) worked with six other dancers, singers, drummers and artists to create the multimedia, multicultural presentation called Resist, Subsist: A Contemporary Indigenous Performance. It was the capstone project for a Master of Arts in cultural studies degree. She graduates in June.

By winning the competition, Stepetin will receive up to $5,000 and mentoring support from T-Mobile. The grant will help the performers travel to indigenous communities at Lummi Island and Neah Bay in Washington and perhaps other places in the Northwest, she said.

“This was the dream of my project. I just didn’t know how it was going to come to fruition, and now it can,” said Stepetin, who grew up on the island of Akutan, which is near Unalaska / Dutch Harbor, the biggest fish-processing port in the Alaska island chain.

Resist, Subsist tells the story of the development of fish canneries that brought colonization and oppressive experiences of forced assimilation and loss of language.

“It tells a sad story, then moves into a story of persistence and survival,” Stepetin said.

Ijeoma Oluo
Ijeoma Oluo / Marc Studer photo

Stepetin is a traditional dancer who added modern elements to broaden the scope and scale of the performance. She hopes to spark conversations about similar native experiences and what it means to contemporize traditional practices. A graduate of the University of Alaska, she said was encouraged to continue the work by faculty at UW Bothell.

“We are a contemporary, evolving people, not boxes in a museum. We are still here.”

Stepetin’s project was chosen from among 18 entries in the contest, which was open to all UW Bothell students. The goal is to enhance work that students are doing to positively impact marginalized communities. The first public Resist, Subsist performance is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Burke Museum in Seattle.

The award presentation took place before about 400 people who filled the Activities and Recreation Center Friday, Feb. 23, for the fourth annual Equity & Inclusion Conference, presented in partnership with T-Mobile, the Bellevue-based wireless carrier. They heard from keynote speaker Ijeoma Oluo, a Seattle-based writer and speaker who talked about the need to have uncomfortable conversations about racial, sexual, gender and other social justice issues.

The conference included sessions on White Fragility, Diversity Activism and Educational Change, Strategies and Skills for Courageous Conversations, and a career panel.

Hundreds attend conference in the ARC
Hundreds fill ARC for E&I conference. / Marc Studer photo

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