Sven Haakanson was born and raised in the village of Old Harbor on Kodiak Island, but a year in Russia as a UAF undergraduate helped set him on his life’s path.
“That experience in itself was very formative for the things I’ve done since,” Haakanson said in a 2017 interview for a profile in UAF’s Aurora magazine. “It allowed me to learn Russian, speak it fluently, and have an experience very few Americans have the opportunity to do.”
Haakanson went to Russia in 1991 while an English major at UAF. He taught in the city of Magadan on Russia’s far northeastern coast.
However, he’d already started studying anthropology at UAF. His Magadan experience sparked an interest in the Nenets people of the Yamal Peninsula in central Siberia. Aspects of their history became the subject of his doctoral dissertation at Harvard University in 2000.
Haakanson began work that year as director of the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak. In 2007, the MacArthur Foundation named him a fellow, an honor that at the time came with a five-year, $500,000 grant.
In 2013, Haakanson moved to Seattle to become an associate professor at the University of Washington Department of Anthropology. He’s also curator of Native American collections at the university's Burke Museum.
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