Skip to main content

“Inuktitut courses at UW”—FLAS Fellows present at the Inuit Studies Conference

Ellen Ahlness (left) and Elizabeth Wessells provide a case study of Inuktitut courses at the UW to investigate how classroom lessons can link to study abroad experiences and fieldwork.

October 15, 2019

In early October, Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellows in Inuktitut and doctoral students Elizabeth Wessells, Archaeology, and Ellen Ahlness, Political Science, presented at the 21st Inuit Studies Conference in Montréal.

“Just as fall quarter began, I jetted from campus to attend the Inuit Studies Conference in Montréal. As a FLAS Fellow in Inuktitut, I had the privilege of presenting with FLAS colleague, Ellen Ahlness. Together, we presented on how our different disciplines, political science and archaeology, could benefit from the teaching and learning strategies used in language classrooms, specifically Indigenous language learning settings. Our work is informed by our firsthand experiences studying Inuktitut with Mick Mallon and Alexina Kublu, as well as by our own studies and teaching in the social sciences. In the Q&A period after our presentation, others working in education in the Arctic and Inuktitut language study offered constructive feedback on how to advance our research focus and push for pedagogical changes in social science classrooms at UW.

At the conference, I also presented ongoing research I am pursuing with the UW’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. My advisor in the Archaeology Program, Dr. Sven Haakanson, a curator at the Burke, has helped me set up a photography and cataloguing project for the museum’s wide collection of umiat (open skin boats) and qayat (kayaks) from across Alaska, Canada and Greenland. The next phase of the project is to work with Inuktitut, Yup’ik, and Alutiiq speakers to learn appropriate terminology for the boats and their components with the goal of integrating Indigenous language into how the museum describes and represents the collection. My presentation was early on the Saturday morning of the conference, but luckily for me, a qayaq maker from Nunatsiavut was in the audience and got me started on several new lines of thought for the project. Listening and learning at the conference, I have returned to the UW campus with renewed focus on accountable and ethical research in support of Arctic communities. I am grateful for the support of the Canadian Studies Center and the Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies as I pursue this research.”

Elizabeth Wessells is a PhD student in the Archaeology Program at UW. Her research interests include decolonizing methodologies in museums, community-based participatory research, and Indigenous systems of knowledge. Wessells has been awarded two academic year FLAS Fellowships from the Canadian Studies Center for Inuktitut.

 “At the Inuit Studies Conference, scholarship was emphasized as an ongoing process that has tremendous power to help communities to understand more about their histories, environments and capabilities. The keynote speaker, Dr. Dalee Sambo Dorough, spoke of her experiences serving as the chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, noting that being shapers of knowledge empowers Inuit. Knowledge-shaping occurred through the whole conference, through participating in agreement-forming, through the creation of knowledge, and through community-embedded scholarship. I attended a number of panels that also offered professionalization insights for researchers and instructors working with Native and Indigenous communities and students, including recommendations by Mary Simon, Thierry Rodon (whose work was presented by a co-researcher), and Sarah Angiyou.”

Ellen Ahlness is an early career scholar in political science and a fellow with the Washington Institute for the Study of Inequality and Race. Her recent work comprises research on Arctic Indigenous politics and has been funded through a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship from the Canadian Studies Center for the study of Inuktitut, ICE LAW, Ione E. Curtis, and Normanna grants. Her work appears in Ecologia Politica, Current Developments in Arctic Lawand Arctic Yearbook.


The Inuit Studies Conference is a multidisciplinary and international conference that brings together university researchers and students, as well as professionals, directors, teachers, decision-makers, etc. from Inuit organizations, institutions and governments. It is the largest academic conference in the world about Inuit peoples and territories. The conference also includes cultural and artistic activities of interest to the general public.