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Ahtna Kanas Winter 2022

Barbara Blake Joins Juneau Assembly

Please join us in congratulating Ahtna shareholder Barbara ‘Wáahlaal Gíidaak Blake on her successful bid for a seat on the Juneau Assembly! Of Ahtna Athabascan, Haida and Tlingit descent, Barbara belongs to the Káat nay-st/Yahkw ’Láanaas (Shark House/Middle Town People) Clan.

Blake began her career with an Ahtna internship right out of high school, and Ahtna scholarships helped her through her undergraduate and graduate programs. Her Ahtna internship opened the world for her and helped her see that it wasn’t as scary as she had thought. She learned that she could achieve anything as long as she was willing to take that first step. “My Ahtna family, culture, and values kept me connected to our region and to the teachings of our Ahtna ancestors. I keep that in my heart and mind when things get challenging or when I need a reminder of why I’m doing these things,” Blake says.

When Blake decided to run, a large part of her motivation was the fact that there wasn’t any Alaska Native representation on the assembly. “I knew there was a voice missing from the table and wanted to do what I could to ensure a voice for the Indigenous people of Dzantik’i Heeni [Juneau],” she explained. Blake has always had a passion to shift systems that disproportionately impact Alaska Native people. She has years of political experience in federal, state, and tribal governance, but part of what makes her unique is her experience as an educator and parent, on top of the education she’s received as an Alaska Native woman who was groomed into service for Native people and communities.

Part of that grooming has included leadership building. “Humility, speaking up when necessary, leading by example, not cowering when you know your people will be impacted, relationship building, bridging communities that otherwise might not connect, leading with love (quoting Valerie Davidson), kindness, ability to see things from other viewpoints, listening deeply before making a decision, and dedication,” are just a few of the things that Blake feels make a good leader.

Blake’s top goals while serving on the assembly include a deeper dive down the path of equity and inclusion – to ensure Juneau’s government is a place of welcoming for Indigenous people and people of color. She also wants to foster greater housing access for all peoples and incomes. Finally, she would like to see the economy of Juneau grow and potentially expand to sectors that may not have been previously considered, such as support for cottage industries and seaweed/kelp farming.

Blake’s advice to Ahtna youth interested in a future career in politics is, “Take advantage of every opportunity. Internships and fellowships will get you a foot in the door, but it will be up to you to push the door all the way open. Ensure you have someone to keep you rooted in the wisdom and values of our people. A former professor once shared a quote that I still think of today, ‘Have I removed myself so far from my own people that my own grandmother wouldn’t understand me?’”

Blake credits many people with providing inspiration along her path: grandmother Irene Johnson, father Ken Johnson, mother Sandra Demmert, Ahtna, Inc. president Michelle Anderson, First Alaskans Institute president/CEO Liz La quen náay Medicine Crow, Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit & Haida) cultural heritage & education manager Sarah Dybdahl, former lieutenant governor Valerie Davidson, Tlingit & Haida president Richard Peterson, general counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Janie Hipp, former Alaska senator Albert Kookesh, former lieutenant governor Byron Mallott, Tlingit Elder and original Sealaska Native Corporation board member Clarence Jackson, former governor Bill Walker, and countless others.