Category Archives: published

Alaskan author researcher Lydia Black

The following is reprinted with permission from the Kodiak Daily Mirror (thank you) and on-line at

Alaskan author, researcher Lydia Black dies at age 81

Article published on Monday, March 12th, 2007, By SCOTT CHRISTIANSEN, Kodiak Daily Mirror

Dr. Lydia Black, noted anthropologist and author of several books on Alaska Native culture and Alaska history, died this morning at the age of 81 at her home in Kodiak. Black was with family and friends at the time of her death. She died of liver failure and had been ill several months.

Black was well known around the state. Her daughter, Zoë Pierson, said frequent visitors from Kodiak and around Alaska had assisted the family in caring for Black during recent weeks.

“She loved people, so when visitors were in she would visit with them and talk with them if she was awake,” Pierson said this morning.

Black was born in Kiev, Ukraine, of the then-Soviet Union, and educated in Russia, Germany and the United States. She had five daughters with her husband, Igor A. Black, a thermodynamics engineer who worked for NASA contractors during the 1960s, and preceded his wife in death in 1969.

As a young widow, Black became a professor of anthropology, beginning in 1973 at Providence College in Providence, R.I. In 1984 she came to Alaska permanently and began teaching at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Throughout her career, Black traveled Southwest Alaska to research the culture and traditions of the region. She became known as the preeminent scholar of the Unangam (Aleut) of the Aleutian Islands and the Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) of the Kodiak Archipelago.

Fluent in Slavonic and Russian, Black translated many firsthand accounts of Native cultures written during the Russian colonial period.

In her writings, Black was known for emphasizing artistic and cultural accomplishments, rather than social ills of Alaska Native cultures.

“They know they have problems. My job is to remind them of their glory,” is what Black reportedly said of her work.

Family members and colleagues said Black was unapologetic for describing Alaska Native history from that perspective.

“That was the way she felt and she would tell you so if it came up,” Pierson said.

Black retired from UAF in 1998, and continued her work in Kodiak, where she helped translate and catalogue Russian archives of St. Herman’s Seminary. The Orthodox Church in Alaska recognized her contribution by awarding her the Cross of St. Herman.

Black continued to write and edit. Some of her most accessible work was published following her retirement.

One of her best-known books, “Aleut art — Unangam aguqaadangin” is a collection of beautifully photographed and carefully documented art made by Natives of the Aleutian Islands. Another, “Russians in Alaska, 1732 to 1867,” was published in 2004, the year Black turned 79.

Black was also known for continuing correspondence and cultivating friendships with many of her students, even after their professional careers began and after she had retired from teaching.

Katherine Arndt, a close friend and colleague who works in the archives at the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at UAF, had a professional relationship with Black that blossomed into a friendship. Arndt said her own doctorate in Anthropology is the result of returning to studies at Black’s urging.

“If you know her at all, you would know that once you are her student, you would remain her student for life,” Arndt said.

In 2001, the Soviet successor state, now called the Russian Federation, awarded Black the Order of Friendship in recognition of her work documenting the Russian America colonial period.

As with her work involving Alaska Native culture, Black’s writing about Russian colonists in Alaska often confronted commonly held misconceptions head-on, and was meant to be accessible by the layperson.

“She wanted the general public to know that the Russians weren’t brutal, cruel and drunk all of the time,” Arndt said.

Pierson said that during her mother’s final days, Black was able to visit with many of the people who came to care for and visit with her.

Black remained a teacher, even while gravely ill.

“She was a born teacher, so anyone who asked for information, they would get that and more.”

A funeral service for Black is noon on Saturday, March 17, at St. Paul Lutheran Church, with a burial to follow at City Cemetery. A reception is scheduled for 4 p.m., March 17, at the Kodiak Senior Center.

Mirror writer Scott Christiansen can be reached via e-mail at schristiansen AT kodiakdailymirror DOT com.

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Native Crafts Health Effects Project

As part of the HazArt project | Environment, Safety, and Health (ES&H) of Traditional Indian Artisans and Craftspeople Project (HazArt) | we tested the ambient air quality during a firing of black-on-black (reduced) pottery. This field project was a collaboration of Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, Inc., Sandia National Laboratory, and Tewa Women United.

The project was recorded August 1993 by Catalina Reyes of KUNM for National Native News. Her story was broadcast that September.

Principals on the broadcast are

  • Kathy Sanchez (potter) and Evelyn Garcia (assisting the firing), Tewa Women United
  • Pat Herring, CIH, Sandia National Laboratory and
  • myself (M. Pamela Bumsted, Ph.D.), head of the ENIPC environmental office.
  • Mary Attu, doll maker and skin sewer, was also interviewed
  • Field location was the pot firing shed (stable) of the late Maria and Julian Martinez, San Ildefonso Pueblo, great-grandparents to Ms Sanchez and Garcia. Read earlier post,
    | Maria Martinez’s open-source earthenware |

    This digitized audio file does not represent the quality of the original audiotape. The audio is copyright. I’m sorry the quality is not good. I’ll get it improved eventually. There are photos of the project, in deep storage. These too will one day be available.

    The following picture shows the traditional firing. Please read the story and view the pictures at

    Maria Julian Martinez firing pots
    click to play

  • | Native Crafts health effects audio file in mp3 format. 5 minutes, 19 seconds |

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    There is an interesting history of the founding of National Native News by Gary Fife, currently with the Anchorage Municipal Light and Power. [I rather miss the old format (and Nellie Moore, Sharon McConnell, and Patty Talahongva).]

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    Public involvement how-to readings

    I don’t use the term “stakeholders” because of my experience with the US Department of Energy. Too often when an institution or agency speaks about “stakeholders” they mean they hold the stake while the community gets stucked.

    I am after community or public collaboration through public involvement (or community-involvement. [The latest term is CPBR Community-based Participatory Research or CBR].

    I put this list together at the other site, | Getting Results from Your Experts |. It is a listing of references I recommend to communities and other professionals concerned with public involvement. This isn’t a comprehensive (nor especially up to date) listing of references but includes books and websites I have found to be especially useful for myself and others. Books are listed first, then websites. The Internet sites also have training available. The FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) course is very good.

    Public involvement, as a public governance process, has evolved within the highway and risk (environmental health) contexts especially as a requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). However, much of the fundamental research developed within applied anthropology, usually within a health, appropriate technology, or nutrition context. “Expert systems” and now “accessibility” re: WWW sites, are other areas to look to for additional information.

    I’ve put asterisks next to names in the risk communication field who will have other articles and books. The titles in BOLD are especially useful to communities.

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    Nuclear Winter transmittal letter

    This really belongs with the post but I only just located it.


    DATE: May 8, 1986
    IN REPLY TO: CHM-1/86-349-MPB

    Chemistry Division


    The enclosed document, NUCLEAR WINTER: THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF HUMAN SURVIVAL, may be of interest to you as a professional in [public communication] [or public policy] . These proceedings result from an invited session of the American Anthropological Association annual meetings held in Washington, DC, December 6, 1985. The scientific session was an interdisciplinary discussion among senior anthropologists, a physical scientist involved in global climate modelling, and myself of the contributions anthropology can make to the scientific discussion of the long-term consequences of nuclear war.

    Current scientific discussions of the long-term environmental consequences of nuclear war only partially evaluate the impact on human existence and continuity. Anthropologists are generally not participants in the institutional communities or other sciences which provide the scientific and technical advice on issues of national defense. Anthropology can contribute its expertise concerning the cultural and biological adaptability of humans and the comprehensive nature and evolution of human existence.

    An audience of approximately 100 anthropologists and others participated in the discussions. This session is the first and remains the only discussion of Nuclear Winter to focus explicitly on impacts to humans. Other discussions have focused on the non-human environment or on limited aspects of human society which can result in misleading or inaccurate conclusions about effects on human biological and cultural systems.

    Discussion also ranged over whether such matters should be discussed at all, the roles of science and policy in contemporary US society, the nature of uncertainty, the need for anthropological models of nuclear winter comparable to the physical models, and the value of anthropological assessment and input to discussions of nuclear war.

    We consider our discussions beginnings, not conclusions, to an anthropological assessment of Nuclear Winter. There are as yet no formal, integrative studies of the long-term consequences of Nuclear Winter for humans by public or private agencies.

    If you wish further information on this topic, please contact the authors.


    M. Pamela Bumsted

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    St Innocent of Alaska Bicentennial (Ioann Veniaminov)

    I had a chance to help Prof. Lydia Black with her organizing of the Veniaminov Bicentennial, by acting as a digital translator. 2007-03-13 Lydia T. Black 1925 to 2007

    Ioann Veniaminov is the world’s most famous Alaskan, except in Alaska and the USA.

    Travelling exhibit icon panel

    I was fortunate to find the Orthodox Church in America which hosted the Internet exhibitions and related conference materials. The original website is no longer extant, but some parts are available from the Wayback Machine. I have some additional photos posted here, St Innocent Bicentennial

      Veniaminov Bicentennial Year (1997)

    Proclamation by Tony Knowles, Governor of the State of Alaska, September 9, 1996

      1997 marks the bicentennial of the birth of Ioann (John) Veniaminov, the distinguished Russian Orthodox missionary, teacher, administrator, linguist, ethnographer, and architect. John Veniaminov served as the first priest at Unalaska, the first Orthodox bishop in Alaska, and head of the Orthodox Church of Russia. In 1977 he was canonized a saint — St. Innocent, Apostle to North America and Siberia.

      Communities throughout the United States, Russia, and England are observing Veniaminov’s contributions to Alaskan, Russian, and American history by presenting exhibitions and conferences, and the publishing of new books of his writings. Such observances will be prominent in Alaska where Veniaminov served as missionary priest and bishop from 1825 through 1852. A major exhibition featuring the life and legacy of Veniaminov will travel to many communities in the state.

      John Veniaminov (Bishop Innocent) is honored by Alaska Natives for his dedication to preserving Native languages, for his development of the Aleut orthography, for many translations into Aleut, and for his pioneering development of a Tlingit Alphabet. He is also honored as a teacher, founder of the first school at Unalaska and of the first Orthodox school, seminary, and orphanage at Sitka.

      John Veniaminov was an accomplished builder, having designed and constructed the National Historic Landmark Cathedral of St. Michael in Sitka. He also built the first Church of the Holy Ascension at Unalaska. State, federal, and private monies are presently restoring this National Historic Landmark which contains many of the architectural features from the original church of 1825.

      The occasion of the rededication of the historic Unalaska church is an appropriate time to proclaim the Veniaminov Bicentennial.

      NOW, THEREFORE, I, Tony Knowles, Governor of the State of Alaska, do hereby proclaim 1997: The Veniaminov Bicentennial Year in Alaska, and encourage all Alaskans to join in recognizing the contributions to Alaska of this great Russian missionary, scholar, and statesman.

      DATED: September 9, 1996

    Introductory page Year-of-St-Innocent/UAF-Exhibition/

    On-line Exhibit Announcements/1997-0208-UAF.html

    Travelling exhibit, UAF 1

      Ioann Veniaminov in Alaska and Siberia and his Contribution to Arctic Social Science (University of Alaska Fairbanks, December 5-7, 1997)
  • Veniaminov Project (University of Alaska Fairbanks)
  • “Papers Presented at Symposium Ioann Veniaminov in Alaska and Siberia and his Contribution to Arctic Social Science, University of Alaska Fairbanks USA / December 5-7, 1997” Year-of-St-Innocent/UAF-Symposium/
  • Prof. Lydia Black, Ph.D.Prof. Lydia Black, Ph.D. at the conference

  • special report for radio by Arctic Science Journeys
  • St Gabriel Orthodox Church, Kongiganak
    St Gabriel Orthodox Church, Kongiganak, Alaska

      Orthodox Churches in Alaska

    1997 — pim-index.html

    2006 — Parishes in Alaska location=AK&x=22&y=16&SID=9&CLASS=P&TYPE=STATE


    Biography of St. Innocent of Alaska

    “Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven,” written by “the Apostle of. Alaska” — Saint Innokenty Veniaminov. …

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