Jessica Black
Ft. Yukon / Fairbanks | Assistant Professor, UAF

“A conversation about salmon is a conversation about Alaska’s future, because the social, economic, and environmental fabric of Alaska depends on salmon. Yet the state of salmon in Alaska today is fragile. With dwindling Chinook runs, changing ecosystems due to climate change (among other factors), changing regulations that impact livelihoods and equitable access to salmon, salmon are in a precarious position and will need to be positioned at the forefront of critical conversations and political spheres. When salmon sustainability is threatened, not only is the Alaska economy threatened, but also the social lives of many Alaskans, who depend on salmon for food, but more importantly their cultural and spiritual sustenance.”

Jessica Black was raised in a traditional hunting and fishing family in Fort Yukon.  Her maternal shitsii (grandpa) raised his large family in fish camp on the banks of the Yukon River. “It is there that we each learned our culture, our stories, our traditional values, our language; how to become Gwich'in people,” Black recalls. “Salmon was the conduit for this. In return, we took care of the salmon. Salmon was never wasted, always cared for and always shared. All that I learned at fish camp and with my family has motivated me to continue to protect and advocate for our way of life for generations to come.”

Black is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development and Tribal Management at the College of Rural and Community Development, University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).  In this role Black not only teaches Alaska Native Studies and Tribal Management, but she also engages salmon research with Alaska Native communities.  She has focused her efforts on the human aspects of salmon research, particularly the impact that salmon and other natural resources have on individual and community well-being.  Black is also a Ph.D. Candidate at Washington University in St. Louis, expecting to graduate this year.  She holds a B.A. in Social work from University of Alaska Fairbanks and a MSW from Washington University.

Prior to her current role, Black was an Assistant Professor in Indigenous Studies and in the Department of Social Work in the College of Liberal Arts at UAF. She has authored and co-authored published research, reports, and articles, and presented at conferences.  Her community engagement includes service as a Fairbanks Native Association Board Member, Native Vision Steering Committee Member, Tanana Chiefs Conference Hunting and Fishing Taskforce Volunteer, National Association of Rural Mental Health-Board Member, and consultant to the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments.