- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - If you ask Phillip Charette “What makes you who you are?” don’t expect a simple answer.

The half Yup’ik, half French Canadian director of the Department of Alaska Native and Rural Development at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has such an eclectic background, he could only be described as a Renaissance man.

From world-wide exhibits of mixed-media sculptures based on ancient Yup’ik masks to being on the administration team for the University of the Arctic - a group of 180 institutes concerned with education and research in the north.

He oversees the Festival of Native Arts, has taught wood and high-fire clay flute making, and won awards for his flute music.

He earned bachelor degrees in arts and education from UAF and a master’s of education from Harvard.

“It all contributes to what you can do and your breadth of experience. An innovative person, I think that’s where my strength is,” Charette said, beaucoup name cards from various groups, organizations and conferences hanging in his office.

Wearing cowboy boots and a sharp suit, Charette’s gentle voice contrasts his rapid speech; stories of family, youth and early adulthood decorate technical parlance and professionalism.

Born in Jacksonville, Arkansas, Charette’s dad was in the Air Force, and he’s had many homes.

He’s lived, worked and studied in Florida, Wisconsin and Oregon, to name a few, but said “I’ve lived in Fairbanks longer than I’ve lived anywhere. I really consider Fairbanks my home.”

Formerly a full-time job, Charette’s life creating new art has taken a back seat in recent years, though he still presents work in gallery shows, “I used to do a lot, but I’ve spent a great deal of time with my son and my wife, he’s my past time now,” he said, adding most of his work is still in an Oregon storage unit.

One of many highlights in Charette’s career as an artist was receiving “Artist’s Choice” award at the Sante Fe Indian Market.

Now Charette’s professional life is more administrative than artistic.

He recently returned from a University of the Arctic staff meeting in Finland, where he said discussion focusing on insuring indigenous northern populations can share their voice and “making sure there’s equity across the board.”

Charette approaches the University of the Arctic the same way he approaches most aspects of his life - holistically.

He said too many problem solvers take a myopic approach and look for solutions through a microscope, when the answer could be directly behind them.

Being in tune with his surroundings is a result of Charette’s native genealogy, “People from nomadic societies are more programed to be looking around,” he said.

But it took a long time for Charette to truly embrace his indigenous heritage; his Yup’ik name, “Aarnaquq,” roughly means “one who is dangerous.”

He struggled with labels, and teachers thought his constant distraction was a learning disorder. His first language, Yup’ik, was “beaten out of me” in grade school, which he is still trying to relearn.

As he talks, Charette looks out the window of his small office, the gentle slope of Birch Hill visible to the east, and he shared the definition of a Yup’ik word that summarizes his approach to life - “ellamquq.”

“Become aware of self and those around you. Awareness of person, of spirit, it’s very holistic,” he said.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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