Fienup-Riordan to discuss ‘culturalism’ in Nelson Island road debate

Time: 6:30 p.m.
Location: Murie Building auditorium

Anthropologist Ann Fienup-Riordan will discuss cultural features of a debate over a proposed road on Nelson Island in Southwest Alaska during a lecture at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, in the Murie Building auditorium.

Fienup-Riordan’s lecture is titled “The Past is Old, the Future is Traditional:  Icenrraat, the DOT, and the Inventiveness of Tradition.”

In 2005, the state Department of Transportation proposed a 15-mile road to connect villages on Nelson Island. Some villagers opposed the route because they said it crossed a place inhabited by “icenrraat,” or other-than-human persons. For a variety of other reasons, islanders also were divided about whether the road was a good idea.

Fienrup-Riordan was invited to sit in on some of their discussions. She wrote an essay about the debate in the 2016 collection “A Practice of Anthropology: The Thought and Influence of Marshall Sahlins.” Fienup-Riordan wrote that the villagers’ public conversations about the project “provide a modern means for the traditional ends of consensus building and recognition of wider social responsibilities.” Their discussion was an example of what Sahlins called “culturalism” — the use of heritage to gain recognition of a distinctive way of life.

A book signing and light refreshments will be available following the presentation.

Fienup-Riordan is a cultural anthropologist with Calista Education and Culture.  She has lived, worked and taught in Alaska since 1973. Her lecture is sponsored by UAF’s Resilience and Adaptation Program and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Arctic Division.