Tlingit man and woman in full dancing costumes, Alaska, 1906
I am Hiyash, the “foundation floor of the beaver house.” This name was given to me from the Raven Beaver Clan of Angoon, Alaska, after I was formally adopted into three West Coast Native American tribes: The Tlingit, the Duwamish, and the Snoqualmie.
I am now retired after 31 years of teaching anthropology at Seattle Pacific University. I’ve learned that an academic can study anything to death, but the true scholar is the one who does something for good with the knowledge he or she has gained. While I was getting my master’s in missions and philosophy at Asbury Seminary in the 50s, I realized the greatest weakness of missiology was anthropology. The failure of ministering to others was due to a lack of understanding how people are shaped by their cultures and social values. It was then I decided to go to the University of Oklahoma to earn a master’s in anthropology, before pursuing my Ph.D. at the University of Washington.
I am dedicated to championing native subcultures, helping them attain recognized government status. In the case of two Alaska youths convicted of robbery in 1994, I advocated for the establishment of island banishment, reinstituting and preserving the tradition in the Tlingit tribe. This punishment was in place of the federal courts decision of imprisonment. In 2009, I joined the efforts for the appointment of a sacred site for Snoqualmie Falls.
Because we want to support future activist generations, my wife and I established the Kenneth D. Tollefson Minority Student Scholarship Endowment for SPU ethnic minority students majoring in sociology, anthropology, or social services.
If we’re not involved in the world, how’s it going to change?
— Kenneth Tollefson, anthropology professor, emeritus