Women of the Arctic Council: Interview with Liza Mack, Executive Director of Aleut International Association

06 March 2020
In honor of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we spoke with some of the women who work with the Arctic Council to learn more about them, what it means to be a woman in their field and their advice for young women.

Liza Mack is the Executive Director of Aleut International Association. We spoke with Liza about what it is like to represent an Indigenous people and speak up on an international scale, the challenges and opportunities that come with moving past traumas Indigenous people have experienced and the importance of always keeping in touch with your community.

Can you tell us about yourself, your education and your current role?

I am an Aleut and was born and raised in a small village at the end of the Alaska Peninsula called King Cove. I graduated with my PhD in Indigenous Studies from the University of Alaska Fairbanks last year. Before that, I had been working on a lot of policy issues through my cultural anthropology program at Idaho State University. Currently, I serve as the Executive Director for Aleut International Association, which is one of the Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council. We represent the Aleut people that live in both Russia and the United States in the Arctic Council.

What motivated you to pursue a career in Indigenous affairs?

A lot of my motivation came from my upbringing and being involved in a lot of projects and initiatives happening at the community level in King Cove and throughout the Aleutians. I finished my associate’s degree right out of high school and then I went back to King Cove to help take care of my grandma. I then worked with the Agdaagux Tribe in King Cove where I served as their Economic Development Coordinator. I was involved with policy and looking into the intricacies of what helps sustain our community and help keep it alive. An opportunity arose for me to work on my degree in anthropology, which allowed me to go back to King Cove and conduct interviews, work on oral histories and other similar projects. I was able to document history and be involved in the conversations about what was keeping our community sustained. I was part of a grant that looked at testimony about people who participate in policy efforts at the state level. That was one of my first interactions with the policy world – understanding the system that we work in as community members and Indigenous people, and also how participation in policy leads to being able to sustain our community and preserve our culture. A lot of the things that I have been doing have always had a focus within the Aleut communities.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

My work is very multifaceted and fast paced, and I think that fits my personality and skill set. It also encourages me to keep learning and trying to be better at everything that I am doing. I have always enjoyed being in school, so the learning component of my job is something that I thrive on. I also really like the people that I work with, and I enjoy getting to know different people in different organizations and understanding their dynamics. I like being able to speak up for what is good for our communities in both the US and Russia.

“Being able to represent Aleut people at the Arctic Council is something that is very near and dear to my heart.”Liza Mack

What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Being able to serve my community. I appreciate the trust that people have in me to speak up on an international scale. Being able to represent Aleut people at the Arctic Council is something that is very near and dear to my heart. Being able to work at home and have the support of my communities to pursue projects that are meaningful and helpful to the Aleut people is incredibly rewarding.

Who is your role model, and why?

Probably my sister – she never stops working! Seriously, I feel like I have been blessed to be surrounded by a whole bunch of very inspirational women – my sisters, cousins, aunts, grandmother and mother. My mom and grandma raised us all to be hardworking and respectful and to do what is best for your family. For me today, my role models are the group of aunties, sisters and cousins that help to take care of my son, my family and myself. They remind me about what is important and encourage me to always be better.

What do you think are current challenges and opportunities for women working in Indigenous affairs?

There is a really big conversation in Indigenous scholarship and even on the policy level about decolonization, and how to deal with a lot of the traumas that Indigenous people have experienced in the past while trying to ensure that those things do not happen again. One of our challenges is just being delicate with those situations because we do still need to move forward, while also respecting our culture and our culture's past in what we have been through as Indigenous people. Some of the opportunities that we have is to talk about these issues that are not really being brought up, and to make sure that our community voices and the cultural aspects of research, policy and management are considered as we move forward.

“Do what is right for you, your community and your people.”Liza Mack

What advice do you have for young women who are interested in pursuing a similar career?

Do what is right for you, your community and your people. I am fortunate to have had very supportive family, friends and communities throughout my whole educational career and in my current position. I would encourage all young women to just keep going and not give up. If it is something that you are really interested in, look around, there is always somebody that can help you. I would encourage young women to pursue their education if that is what they are interested in. If they are not, there are other fulfilling careers that they can pursue. I would encourage them to do what makes them happy and keep in touch with their people at home and with their family. And we need a lot more PhD’s.