Caitlin Tozier models a kuspuk and dance fans similar to those used in performances during the annual Festival of Native Arts at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Tozier works as the festival’s student coordinator.
Photo by Bax Bond
Eclectic interests help Tozier share Alaska Native cultures
From France to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Festival of Native Arts, Caitlin Tozier has helped share Alaska’s rich indigenous cultural heritage with thousands of people across the globe.
“Teaching others about our diverse Alaska Native cultures and traditions preserves our way of life,” said Tozier, a mathematics major also studying education and Alaska Native studies. “For my own Iñupiaq culture, for any Alaska Native culture to survive, I believe we need other people to care, too.”
As a student coordinator for the Festival of Native Arts, Tozier helps share indigenous traditional art, dancing and songs with the university and Fairbanks community. Throughout the festival’s 45 years, indigenous performance groups from all over Alaska, the continental United States, and countries such as Japan, Russia and Spain have shared their respective cultures through art, dance and music performances.
This year’s festival will be from March 1-3 at UAF’s Davis Concert Hall.
Tozier has been providing that education for years. In July 2016, she was one of four Fairbanksans who traveled to Caen, France, to showcase Alaska Native cultures at the invitation of the American consulate in France. The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics medalist and former Native Youth Olympics coach demonstrated Native games, taught a workshop on making akutuq (Eskimo ice cream) and introduced participants to the Inupiaq language with traditional stories.
Tozier, who grew up in Nome, where her family worked to teach her how to balance modern living with a subsistence lifestyle, said the trip to France was “a crazy, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
“We shared about our lives and what our cultures meant to us,” said Tozier, whose Inupiaq name is Auktweenna, after her aana (grandmother), Laraine Garrison. “The local participants were very welcoming and genuinely excited to have people from Alaska share their love for their indigenous cultures, history and dance. The trip was surreal, we were honored at the festival as guests, and even the mayor of Caen came to greet us.”
In high school, Tozier became aware of the unique challenges facing Alaska Native people and communities. Inspired by her mother, Marie Tozier, she decided that she wanted to be part of the solution advocating for changes in schools that would improve the education system for Native children. In October 2016, she was elected as a student member of the National Indian Education Association board of directors. Last February, she met with Alaska’s congressional delegation and advocated for Indian education funding, among other things. She now continues her work with NIEA through serving on the Policy and Governance Committee.
Caitlin Tozier holds freshly picked raspberries in fall 2017.
Photo courtesy of Caitlin Tozier
Another opportunity for leadership development and growth came last June. Tozier was one of four Fulbright recipients representing the United States at the inaugural Emerging Leaders for Sustainable Community Development workshop at McGill University in Canada. The program brought together 40 emerging leaders to discuss how to build better relationships and working partnerships.
Tozier juggles a full schedule that includes academic coursework, planning the Festival of Native Arts, and volunteering for the UAF Resource and Advocacy Center. This summer she began training in mixed martial arts and backpacking through Denali National Park. Her eclectic mix of interests keeps her grounded and challenged.
“It all requires time,” said Tozier, who stays active on campus working for the Rural Alaska Honors Institute as the dorm director. “It’s worth it because it’s time spent supporting people in the community and causes that I care about.”
source: University of Alaska Fairbanks