- Associated Press - Saturday, December 3, 2016

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - After spending years Outside studying community planning and development, Charlene Stern returned to Alaska to fulfill her goal of helping Native communities.

“I’ve learned there’s a big diversity of Alaska Natives and they have their own traditions and models of government,” Stern told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (https://bit.ly/2fMTewN). “I always expected to be working with Native communities but not in other cultural regions.”

Now that she is a parent, Ph.D. candidate and a faculty member at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who is heavily involved with student organizations, her free time is sparse.

“It’s all about balance, which I haven’t achieved yet,” Stern said. “Getting hobbies - I’ll make time for that after I get my Ph.D.”

Stern grew up spending her summers in Arctic Village and each academic school year in Fairbanks.

“I just love this community. I have a home (in Fairbanks),” Stern said. “It’s my hometown but it’s not my home-home . Arctic Village is beautiful; it’s a one of a kind place surrounded by mountains, on the east fork of the Chandalar River.”

Stern left Alaska for college. She got her first taste of community planning as a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque.

She said it was both good motivation and experience to work on a project as a master’s student, and have Native tribes implement her work. She was most proud when the Zuni Pueblo used her plan for a train station.

After New Mexico, she returned to Alaska and has since helped communities all across the state implement plans for infrastructure.

“I would travel to villages and help leadership develop plans. It was mainly in the Bethel region, but all over as well,” Stern said. “I was traveling five days a week. I would get weathered-in (from snowstorms) and I slept on tribal council floors and tribal clinic floors. The people were always very hospitable, though.”

Stern said she is always impressed when a village is able to secure funding for an infrastructure project, as it can be extremely difficult, because of the multiple public and private agencies that the villages have to go through and also because of the short construction season.

Stern’s 4-year-old son is part Gwich’in and part Navajo, and she puts a lot of time into immersing her child in the two cultures.

In Fairbanks, she takes her son to a Gwich’in language nest, in which parents get together and teach their children the Gwich’in language.

“It’s nice to be in a place and time where that’s an option,” Stern said of the language nest. “It’s the generations beyond their late 40s that are still fluent. We didn’t have that opportunity growing up.”

Stern makes a point of bringing her son to Arctic Village when she can so he can be around his extended family as well.

“He can see us carving caribou meat and go to potlatches and celebrations. My people love him there and that love exists throughout the entire community,” Stern said.

Stern also took her son to his First Laugh Party, a Navajo tradition, in which the first person to make the baby laugh hosts a dinner party for the baby and gives gifts on behalf of the baby so that it can learn to be a generous person. It was Stern’s sister that made her son laugh for the first time.

Stern’s favorite part about raising a child is “just watching a child develop. You see these trademarks of other family members, but they’re still their own person,” she said.

Stern is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in indigenous studies, which she described as “intense.” She also teaches in the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development. She is has been very involved in the Native Student Union as an adviser, too.

UAF junior Ben Nemqerralria Anderson-Agimuk said Stern has steered the NSU in a positive direction.

“She’s definitely a strong partner and mentor,” Anderson-Agimuk said. “I couldn’t imagine anyone else.”

UAF senior Christina Kk’odohdaatlno Edwin said there is only a handful of people she can count on and Stern is one of them.

“After working beside (Stern), I’m in awe,” Edwin said. “She’s one of the reasons I’m considering a master’s program. She’s supportive of my ideas and she knows how to implement them . I’d like to work with her when I’m done with school. I don’t want to cut that relationship short.”

“I love my job and this program,” Stern said.

With the holidays approaching, Stern said she plans on doing a lot of baking, if she can find the time.

“I make the best zucchini-cranberry bread,” she said.

___

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


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