Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation

Project Spotlight: A Conversation with Alaska Native Artists

ᓄᓇᖃᖅᑳᖅᓯᒪᔪᑦ ᐱᒋᔭᖏᑦ ᑭᒡᒐᖅᑐᐃᔩᑦ ᒐᕙᒪᓕᕆᔨᓂᒃ ᖃᐅᔨᑎᑦᑎᔩᑦ
A graphic advertising the panel discussion includes the title and speakers’ names, and a photograph of a person silhouetted looking out at a body of water while the sun sets.

Join moderator Melissa Shaginoff (Ahtna Athabascan, Paiute) and speakers Dimi Macheras (Dena’ina Athabascan), Vera Starbard (Tlingit, Dena’ina Athabascan) and Ilgavak/Peter Williams (Yup’ik) for a conversation on the subject of cultural appreciation vs. cultural appropriation, as it relates to Alaska Natives and other Indigenous peoples. Dawn Biddison from the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska introduces the event. Recorded on: May 21, 2021

A graphic advertising the panel discussion includes the title and speakers’ names, and a photograph of a person silhouetted looking out at a body of water while the sun sets.

Note: This video is recorded from a live event on Zoom and may be of varying quality due to different Internet connections.

Credit: This video, event and resource were originally published by the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska on May 21, 2022. COURTESY SMITHSONIAN ARCTIC STUDIES CENTER.


At the Alaska office of the Arctic Studies Center, staff work together with Alaska Native Elders, knowledge-keepers, artists, educators and cultural organizations on collaborative research, education and outreach programs. They also work with colleagues across Alaska and the Arctic. Their work benefits from the exhibition Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska at the Center’s office within the Anchorage Museum. The exhibition features more than 600 heritage pieces on long-term loan from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian collections, and it was created in collaboration with Alaska Natives, including research, layout, selected pieces, central videos, text and book essays. For content from the exhibition and programs, and for educational resources and edited webinar videos, please visit the Learning Lab site “Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska” at

A photograph of a person from the waist up, wearing an apron and standing in an outdoor environment.
Melissa Shaginoff during the Material Traditions: Athabascan Moosehide Tanning & Sewing project in 2018. COURTESY MELISSA SHAGINOFF.

Contributor biographies

Melissa Shaginoff is part of the Udzisyu (caribou) and Cui Ui Ticutta (fish-eater) clans from Nay’dini’aa Na Kayax (Chickaloon Village, Alaska). She is an Ahtna and Paiute person, an artist, a social activist and currently the curator of Alaska Pacific University’s Art Galleries. Her work is shaped by the structure and processes of the Dene ceremony of potlatch. Melissa has participated in the Island Mountain Arts Toni Onley Artist Project in Wells, British Columbia, as well as the Sheldon Jackson Museum Artist Residency in Sitka, Alaska. She has been published in the Alaska Humanities FORUM Magazine, First American Art Magazine, Inuit Art Quarterly and the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Learning Lab. Her artwork is collected by the Institute of American Indian Arts, the Palmer Museum and the Pratt Museum. Melissa is also a part of Shared Universe, a new media group focusing on the collaboration and representation of Indigenous experiences in science-fiction. In the spring of 2021, Melissa will participate in a digital residency with the Jenni House of the Yukon Arts Center in Whitehorse, Canada. In the summer of 2021, Melissa will travel to Sweden and participate in the Skövde Musuem’s AiRs International Artist Residency, where she will work on a project exploring conversation as art practice. 

A photograph of a person from the shoulders up, looking into the distance with a red clapboard building behind him.

Dimi Macheras is a Chickaloon Village Tribal Citizen, raised by his storyteller mother, Patricia Wade, and taught cultural values and traditions by Athabascan clan grandmother Katherine Wade. He was one of the original students of Ya Ne Dah Ah school, Alaska’s first and only tribally owned and operated full time K-12 school. He worked for the village and illustrated the Ya Ne Dah Ah children’s story comic books as well as designed the Ahtna Athabascan language curriculum for the school. He teamed with Juneau based storyteller Ishmael Hope in 2007 to create the hit comic book ‘Strong Man’ which interwove a traditional Tlingit legend with a modern narrative counterpart. His art is featured in Trickster (2010), the first graphic anthology of Native American trickster tales. He has been a guest speaker/art teacher at numerous tribal workshops, rural schools, and even collaborated with renowned storyteller Dovie Thomason at 2013’s Utah Indigenous Day Storytelling Festival, where a live storytelling/comic book drawing workshop was telecast to neighboring school districts and rural Utah classrooms. Among other published works, Dimi currently resides in Seattle, and has partnered with co-creator Casey Silver to form 80% Studios (est. 2010), a creator owned and operated multimedia publisher specializing in cutting edge cyberpunk/sci-fi action comic books for youngsters and adults alike.

A photograph of a person from the shoulders upward, looking slightly downwards towards the camera and smiling.

Vera Starbard: T’set Kwei yóo x̱at duwasáakw. Vera Starbard áyá ax̱ saayí. Dleit ḵáa x̱’éináx̱ Vera Marlene Bedard yóo x̱at duwasáakw. Teeyneidi naax̱ x̱at sitee. T’akdeintaan yádi. Wooshkeetaan dachx̱án. Dena’ina dachx̱án. Takjik’ ḵwáan áwé uháan. Shaan Seetxʼ x̱at ḵuwdiztee. Dgheyaytnux’ ḵux̱aa.óo.

Vera Starbard, T’set Kwei, is an editor, author, and playwright. She is a Tlingit Raven, Dog Salmon Clan after her mother, and a Child of T’akdeintaan, meaning her father is the Sea Pigeon Clan. Her paternal grandfather is of the Wooshkeetaan Clan, and her maternal grandfather is Dena’ina Athabascan. Vera’s ancestors are from the village of Tuxecan on Prince of Wales Island, and she’s lived in many communities throughout Alaska growing up. She now makes her home on the Dena’ina land of Anchorage with her husband Joe Bedard of the Inupiaq, Yup’ik, and Cree people, as well as an adopted Chookaneidi.

Vera is the playwright in residence at Perseverance Theatre through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Playwright Residency Program, as well as editor of First Alaskans Magazine, and writer for the PBS KIDS animated children’s program “Molly of Denali,” which won a Peabody Award in 2020.

She has won numerous local, statewide and national individual writing and editing awards, including the Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Award and Alaska Literary Award. Vera currently serves on the KTOO Board of Directors, HowlRound Theatre Commons Advisory Council, and Kachemak Bay Writer’s Conference Board.

Her full-length play Our Voices Will Be Heard premiered at Perseverance Theatre in 2016. It was then published in the textbook Contemporary Plays by Women of Color in 2017, and turned into a one-hour radio adaptation that aired nationwide in 2018. She published her first children’s book, Raven Steals the Toilet Paper in 2020, inspired by how the Tlingit community addressed past epidemics.

A photograph of a person on a fishing boat wearing a beige beanie and yellow and black waterproof clothing. They are pulling a line of rope from the water.

Ilgavak (Peter) Williams (Yup’ik) is a culture bearer, artist, designer, filmmaker, and educator originally from Akiak currently based in Sheet’ká (Sitka, Alaska). His hand-sewn works repurpose skin from self-harvested traditional foods, bridging worlds of Indigenous art, fashion, and subsistence. Williams completed artist residencies at Santa Fe Art Institute and Institute of American Indian Arts, and has guest lectured and/or taught skin sewing at Yale University, Stanford University, UCLA, Portland Art Museum, and Alaska State Museum, among others. His art has been shown at museums and galleries across North America. His presentations at New York Fashion Week and Fashion Week Brooklyn in 2015 and 2016 led to profiles in The Guardian and The New York Times. He co-produced the documentary Harvest: Quyurciq, which received a Native Peoples Action project grant and screened internationally. In 2018-2020 Williams became a Cultural Capital Fellow, a Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellow, and received an Individual Artist Award Project Grant from Rasmuson Foundation. He was nominated for the 2020 Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant.

This story is part of the Alaska Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.