Beads of Wisdom: Indigenous Knowledge for Workforce Development


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Target Audience

  • Clinicians
  • Community Advocates
  • Community Members
  • Direct Support Workers
  • Paraprofessionals
  • Postsecondary Educators
  • Youth
  • Researchers


In Alaska, it is often said that culture is wellness. A model of resilience, Alaska Native cultures have survived extremely challenging environments and multiple historic traumas over thousands of years. In response to a wide range of health and behavioral health disparities, Alaska Native Elders have joined in partnership with the university to provide community and workforce training. Our mutual goal is to infuse traditional wisdom in workforce training for delivery of best practice services for people of diverse cultures.

Our panel of Alaska Native Elder culture bearers and university training providers will share a variety of paths we have followed in the pursuit of offering culturally responsive workforce training. Participants will learn from an array of examples in behavioral health training development and delivery, for training both in person and by videoconference technologies.

While awareness of historic trauma and trauma informed care has increased substantially over recent years, the essential importance of balance has emerged. We are encouraged by the cultural sources of wellness, resilience and strength which can be mobilized to balance and heal in recovery from trauma and live a full life with disability. Participants will be encouraged to share their own examples of cultural strengths for wellness and living well.

Learning Outcomes

  • Participants will increase their awareness of opportunities for indigenous Elder involvement in workforce training to serve people with disabilities;
  • Participants will increase their understanding of ways to involve Alaska Native cultural/diversity experts in training content development and delivery;
  • Participants will increase their awareness of the ways to mobilize strengths of cultural diversity through a balance of best practices and Alaska Native wisdom.

Workshop Leaders

Photo: Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell, LCSW, was born in rural Western Kentucky, raised in Chicago and lived in Vermont prior to making her home in Fairbanks, Alaska over 25 years ago. She lived seasonally in Anaktuvuk Pass, home of the Nunamiut Inupiat, far above the Arctic Circle. She is a Behavioral Health Training Coordinator for University of Alaska Anchorage, Center for Human Development Alaska Training Cooperative, serving behavioral health training needs throughout Alaska via distance delivery formats and travel to remote Alaska Native villages for collaborative trainings. She is an Alaska Gatekeepers/QPR Institute Master Trainer. In addition to over 20  years of clinical service, she worked for many years with University of Alaska Fairbanks programs in partnership with Alaska Native Elders and culture bearers to develop and deliver culturally adapted postsecondary curricula leading to academic credentials in the fields of human services and rural nutrition.

Photo: Elizabeth Kavruuq Fleagle

Elizabeth Kavruuq Fleagle, Ph.D. is an Inupiaq Elder born and raised in remote Alatna, Alaska. She lives an extraordinary life, growing up on the land in a traditional Inupiat lifestyle, at eighteen leaving home for education as a health provider to help fight the tuberculosis epidemic, raising a family, working, and after “retirement” beginning her journey as teacher and mentor to countless students and behavioral health professionals. She is a credentialed Traditional Counselor, and was recognized by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) with an honorary Ph.D. in Education. She continues to actively work with students from the UAF Rural Human Services Certificate Program through all educational levels to Psychology Ph.D., as well as behavioral health continuing education training with the University of Alaska Anchorage, Center for Human Development Alaska Training Cooperative. She has shared her wisdom as a presenter at conferences throughout North America. She is skilled at beading, skin sewing, mending fishnet, and many other traditional cultural activities.

Photo: Cora Demit

Cora Demit is an Upper Tanana Athabascan Elder born and lived a traditional lifestyle in Northway, Alaska, a small, beautiful village near the Canadian Border. At age 12 she had to go away to boarding school, where she held on to her Native language in spite of punishments. She returned to Northway where she served her community as a Substance Abuse Counselor before becoming a Special Education Aide at the Walter Northway School. She currently works as an Interpretive Park Ranger at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, managing Visitor Services. In recent years she has helped train Alaska’s behavioral health workforce with her cultural knowledge and reflections at conferences as well as through the University of Alaska Anchorage, Center for Human Development Alaska Training Cooperative’s distance delivery, videoconference continuing education trainings. She also serves as a teaching Elder for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Social Work Department, while continuing to live her life as a proud Athabascan woman.

Photo: Marilyn Weaver

Marilyn Weaver, is Inupiat and lives in Fairbanks, where she was born and raised.  For 16 years she worked for the largest non-profit and for-profit Native organizations in Alaska’s Interior Region.  She served Tanana Chiefs Conference as office manager for the Counseling Center, which provided mental health and alcohol services, including treatment, to its beneficiaries. She worked as executive assistant to the President/CEO of Doyon, Limited, one of the largest landowners in the United States with over 18,000 shareholders.  Currently she works as the office manager for the University of Alaska Anchorage, Center for Human Development Alaska Training Cooperative (AKTC), Fairbanks office. In addition to management duties, she provides cultural guidance, resource identification, and serves as a consistent, respectful and heartfelt link to the many Alaska Native Elders who share their traditional wisdom with Alaska’s behavioral health workforce through AKTC training activities.