UPDATE: Below the announcement, find examples of work by Langdon’s students and read about the impact they had on local knowledge of the Dena’ina people in this area.
Steve J. Langdon, professor of anthropology at UAA, is this year’s recipient of the University of Alaska Foundation’s prestigious Edith R. Bullock Prize for Excellence. The Bullock Prize for Excellence includes a cash award and is the largest single award made annually by the UA Foundation’s Board of Trustees.
“The purpose of the Edith R. Bullock Prize for Excellence is to shine the light on individuals that demonstrate excellence in support of the university. As the University of Alaska strives for excellence and accountability to the people of Alaska, Dr. Langdon has exemplified that by connecting the university with the indigenous peoples of our state on issues crucial to them,” said Jo Michalski, chair of the foundation’s board of trustees, in announcing the winner of the prize.
Langdon is not only recognized as one of the top social scientists in Alaska, but is highly regarded in his field nationally and internationally. He has taught at UAA for 36 years. During his tenure, Langdon has inspired many students to further their education and contribute to their communities through research and teaching. His book, The Native People of Alaska, first published in 1986, has provided an informative and compelling overview of Alaska Natives that has contributed to greater awareness and understanding of Alaska’s indigenous people. Many schools, agencies and organizations use it to acquaint students and newcomers to Alaska with basic information. He has worked with Alaska Native groups in Anchorage and elsewhere to prepare educational materials related to cultural heritage and history for their youth.
As a lifelong resident of Anchorage, Langdon felt that more people needed to be aware of the city’s rich Dena’ina history. He developed collaborative relations with the Eklutna Village Council to document traditional knowledge about places and their names in the Anchorage area. His research and influence can be found in the interpretive signage throughout Anchorage informing people of the Dena’ina history in the area and the naming of the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center.
Langdon’s research has also informed public policy changes that affect fisheries management and local economies through his analysis of the impact of limited-entry fishing programs on rural and Native Alaskan communities. He has been a consultant for national and state organizations since 1978 and served on committees of the National Academy of Sciences in 1994 and 1999.
Langdon has been deeply involved in understanding Alaska Native adaptations to the natural environment. He has made path-breaking discoveries on the nature of pre-contact salmon fisheries of the Tlingit and Haida, and how they sustained runs for thousands of years. His research on traditional knowledge of salmon has demonstrated how deeply held spiritual beliefs about relationships between humans and salmon, when coupled with well-designed engineering practices, insured the continuity of the salmon runs in southeast Alaska.
Langdon, a graduate of West Anchorage High School, received his formal education from Stanford University. He joined the faculty at UAA in 1976. He has been a visiting professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University for two semesters. He served as National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology Program Director from August 2010 to August 2011.
The UA Foundation raises, invests and manages privately donated funds for the sole benefit of the University of Alaska. The award was established by the late Edith R. Bullock, who served the university for 30 years as a member of the UA Board of Regents and the foundation’s Board of Trustees. Bullock established the award to recognize and reward an individual who has demonstrated excellence in support of the University of Alaska.
Sidebar: How the Dena’ina Convention Center got its local name
For a tangible perspective on how Dr. Steve Langdon worked with students to influence a local understanding of how the Dena’ina people lived in the Anchorage Bowl long before it was called that, we turn to a class he helped create with Dr. James Fall and forner anthropology student and Dena’ina tribe member Aaron Leggett, who now works as the Den’ina Cultural Historian at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Here is an excerpt from a letter that Leggett wrote on behalf of awarding the Edith Bullock Prize to Langdon:
In the spring of 2005 while I was still a student at UAA, Dr. Langdon approached me about helping to organize a class at UAA through a community engagement grant that ultimately would be called “Dena’ina Heritage and Representation in Anchorage.”
Both Steve and I grew up in Anchorage and it was his observation that little if any of the indigenous history about the Dena’ina people was being told and he wanted to use his connection through the University to help create awareness throughout Anchorage so that the Dena’ina story could be shared.
By creating this class, we were able to bring Dena’ina people into an academic setting to share with our students the rich history of this area as well as be able to have our students, including several local Dena’ina people, participate in creating signage that we felt was appropriate to inform people of the history of this area. As a student the fact that one of my professor felt that I could assist in creating this class was a huge compliment and I credit Dr. Langdon with having the resolution to make sure that this class happened…
I am happy to report that this class was a success on many different levels. The most obvious success came from the fact that, because of the research and reports by our students, we (Dena’ina people) were in a much better position to be able to argue successfully for the naming of the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center by the Municipality of Anchorage in 2006. Another outcome from this class was that many of the ideas that our students developed are now being used in interpretive signage throughout Anchorage.
Below are examples of the posters students created in the class, tying traditional Dena’ina activities to various locations around Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska.
Click on the small version to see one large enough to read.
Chanshtnu, “Grassy Creek,” now known as Chester Creek
Nuch’ishtunt, Point Woronzof
Dena’ina locations around Southcentral Alaska
Dena’ina War Stories
Eklutna People’s Land