Advisory Board Spotlight – Saunders McNeill


Saunders was drawn to Alaska almost thirty years ago by the gravitational pull of the maritime north. Her diverse and interdisciplinary education, professional knowledge, volunteer service, and personal pursuits are informed by experience in all three public, private, and non-profit sectors, and include engagement in almost every industry in the state. During her creative sector work across rural Alaska, she has collaborated with many partners to develop and successfully launch ongoing community informed programs and initiatives designed to advance Alaska Native traditional and customary knowledge, indigenous leadership, and community agency.

She feels fortunate to have witnessed and helped support intergenerational Indigenous leaders advance solutions to address complex contemporary issues in Alaska. And her work has enabled her to work with Alaska Native creative leaders, state and federal wildlife protection and enforcement agencies, federal consumer protection agencies, Alaska Native Co-Management Councils, village elder councils, Alaska Native non-profit corporations, Alaska Native Museums and cultural centers, K-12 and university educational institutions, and economic development entities.

Saunders has administered federally funded statewide grant programs, managed our country’s longest-running Native artist authentication program, and helped update Alaska’s governing statutes to align with Alaska Native artists’ contemporary market interests. She established a consortium of state and federal enforcement agency advisors and partners to combat Alaska Native art marketplace fraud, promote consumer education and protection, and identify and impede the transportation and illegal use of wildlife materials in artwork. Motivated to elevate and protect Alaska Native creative leaders and practitioners and further their professional development, Saunders has lead publication research, managed contracts, and served as an instructor presenting Alaska Artist Professional Business Development training materials and curriculum all across the state. She helped develop the Alaska Living Cultural Treasures Program which has directly increased the number of Alaska Native practitioners of endangered customary art forms across rural regions of the state, helped bridge intergenerational learning, and elevated small creative place-based businesses throughout rural Alaska.

She has held multiple operator licenses including; U.S. Coast Guard 100-Ton Master/200-Ton Mate Inland Steam or Motor, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration Private Pilot Airplane-Single Engine Land. Saunders worked as an independent community-supported visual anthropology researcher to design and execute the international Portrait of a Divided Maritime Family Project in the Alaska-Chukotka Russia Bering Sea region.  She is an Armin E. Elasaesser III Fellow and a Foraker Group Catalyst for Excellence in Leadership Program 2017 graduate.

Saunders feels privileged to serve on the Palmer Community Foundation board and appreciates the opportunity to listen, learn and work in service to the region.