MacArthur Fellows Program

Sven Haakanson

Alutiiq Curator / Anthropologist / Preservationist | Class of 2007

Reviving and giving contemporary meaning to indigenous languages, customs, and culture in an isolated region of North America.

Alutiiq Curator / Anthropologist / Preservationist
Alutiiq Museum
Kodiak, Alaska
40 at time of award
Area of Focus
Culture and Society
Published January 28, 2007

About Sven's Work

Sven Haakanson is the driving force behind the revitalization of indigenous language, culture, and customs in an isolated region of North America. A native Alutiiq trained with a Ph.D. in anthropology, he is straddling worlds in an effort to preserve and give contemporary meaning to Native history and local legends, rituals, and customs. The Alutiiq Museum, which he directs, is an archaeological archive and anthropological repository of cultural artifacts of the Kodiak archipelago. Under Haakanson’s leadership, the museum also serves as a traveling resource, bringing innovative exhibitions, educational programming, and field research to the landlocked villages throughout the island of Kodiak by boat and small plane. The museum provides Haakanson with a unique opportunity to establish and cultivate collaborative relationships with museums throughout the world whose holdings include ancient Alutiiq artifacts. Bridging cultures and continents, he has orchestrated the exhibition and acquisition of Alutiiq masks and other artifacts dispersed throughout Russia and France in the 18th and 19th centuries. He has also organized first-time, traveling exhibits of antiquities on loan to museums in Alaska. As anthropologist, Haakanson is currently leading a large-scale study of a sacred Alutiiq site to identify and archive petroglyphs and stone carvings from the southern coast of Kodiak Island. As skilled carver and talented photographer, his masks and images of isolated tribes and customs depict a way of life rarely seen outside of the region. Through these and other activities, Haakanson is preserving and reviving ancient traditions and heritage, celebrating the rich past of Alutiiq communities, and providing the larger world with a valuable window into a little-known culture.


Sven Haakanson received a B.A. (1992) from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and an M.A. (1996) and Ph.D. (2000) from Harvard University. Since 2000, he has served as the executive director of the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak , Alaska. He is also an adjunct member of the faculty at the Kodiak College campus of the University of Alaska in Anchorage and the former chair of the Alaska State Council on the Arts.

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