Willie Hensley receives NEA honor for his work in education

June 30, 2013
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Willie Hensley

Willie L. Iggiagruk Hensley, a visiting distinguished professor in UAA’s College of Business and Public Policy, has been honored for his significant work in education with the 2013 Leo Reano Memorial Award from the National Education Association’s Human and Civil Rights Awards Program.

Every year since 1967, the NEA has singled out human and civil rights heroes at a special event dinner. The invitation reads:

“We honor our past and rededicate ourselves to the unfinished task of creating a just society. We owe it to the children and young people we educate. And we believe, as did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that people of conscience, acting together, can achieve ‘justice for all.’”

Hensley is noted specifically for his support and development of educational opportunities for Alaska Natives. The award announcement included this remark from a colleague:

“Willie Hensley is first an educator. He teaches, inspires, and exemplifies thoughtful inquiry and the desire to learn.”

His noted accomplishments include securing funding for three village high schools in Kiana, Selawik and Noorvik soon after he was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives. This allowed Alaska Native children to remain with their families while attending high school, instead of the norm at the time, being sent to a distant Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school (an experience that  Willie Hensley had).

Hensley also co-sponsored legislation that created the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska. This center had been instrumental in the preservation and study of Alaska Native languages.

Hensley is an icon in Alaska and his leadership legacy runs deep. He helped frame the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 and has provided leadership in both the public and private sectors in numerous organizations including the Alaska Legislature, the Alaska Federation of Natives and First Alaskans Institute. In recent years, he has mentored other indigenous peoples around the globe.

Two years ago, UAA was fortunate to add Willie Hensley to the faculty for the College of Business and Public Policy. His ‘Policy Frontiers’ course is among the most popular on campus. Read more at his “I AM UAA” profile.

Hensley’s award is named after Leo Reano (1922-1971), a member of the Santo Domingo Indian Pueblo and longtime NEA worker and activist. A teacher, artist and interpreter, he dedicated his life to securing educational opportunities for American Indian/Alaska Native children.

NEA Human and Civil Rights awards program

NEA Human and Civil Rights awards program

The honor was presented in conjunction with the NEA Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women in Atlanta, Georgia on July 2.

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