Cultural sensitivity training for businesses draws local industry leaders, teaches about Indigenous history

On Monday, the first of three Cultural Sensitivity Training for Businesses and Local Indigenous History classes supported by the Ilanka Cultural Center and the Cordova Chamber of Commerce was held. The class is led by Teal Hansen, the cultural coordinator for the Native Village of Eyak (NVE), and is the first time a sensitivity training and local Indigenous history program like this has taken place in Cordova.

Participants learned about cultural sensitivity and local indigenous history in an environment conducive to exploration and asking questions. The class is designed to “decolonize our thinking, approaches, and procedures not only on a personal level, but on a professional level,” according to Hansen. She said her class also provides a “safe space” for any questions or discussions: “Odds are, if you have a culturally related question, somebody else will wonder about it as well.”

Hansen said interest levels were encouraging – they had nearly 30 people register for Monday’s event, and already have 17 people signed up for the next event on June 21. Participants included individuals as well as those representing small businesses and organizations.

Hansen said that businesses and organizations like 4H Music Camp, A Little Alaska, the Prince William Sound Economic Development District, Acupuncture & Wellness of Cordova, Copper River Watershed, the Cordova Historical Society and Museum, Ace Hardware, Cordova Telecom, and the Prince William Sound Science Center have all expressed interest in involvement.

The idea behind this program had been brewing for a while, Hansen said. Earlier this year she started working with NVE’s human resources director June James to provide a local history presentation for NVE employees. Around the same time Hansen was approached by community members who wanted to learn more local history.

Hansen said over her years working at the village she’s found that many employees don’t know who they are representing. She attributes this partly to local history not being taught in schools – and when it is, it’s from the perspective of the victors. Even in tribal households this history was not discussed, she said.

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Hansen then partnered with Cathy Long at the Cordova Chamber of Commerce to connect with local businesses.

Hansen believes this class should be a general requirement for adults looking to expand their inclusive knowledge.

“We all live on the unceded territories and traditional lands,” she said. “A one-hour class pales in comparison of what the Russian and American colonizers required of our ancestors in just a single day.”

The class provides introduction to cultural sensitivity, and includes information on land acknowledgement, self-designation, maintaining Indigenous deference, systemic trauma, and how to decolonize thinking and institutions. The three main cultures that inhabit Cordova – the Eyak, the Prince William Sound Sugpiaq, and the Yakutat Tlingit – are all explored.

“We have approached a major cultural renaissance on a global platform. Ignorance is only acceptable to a point, and that point is now,” Hansen said. “Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the unceded traditional lands of our Indigenous populations, and may we attempt to honor them a little more with a simple endeavor of seeking understanding and giving recognition.”

The next sessions will be on June 21 and July 12. The one-hour class is $12 a person, and the fee can be paid by visiting or calling the ICC prior to the class. Contact [email protected] or [email protected] with questions.

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