Native youth are not given the necessary tools, such as education and knowledge, to live healthy lifestyles, so cycle continues. I was drawn to public health hoping to break down some of the intergenerational historical trauma cycles that exist in a lot of communities. Many people in my Alaska community struggled with substance abuse and domestic violence.
At Stanford, I majored in Human Biology with a concentration I designed that combined Indigenous Wellness and the social determinants of health. I created a Native youth program in San Francisco that took a comprehensive approach to improving mental and physical wellness.
Between Silicon Valley and Copper River, Alaska
During college, I spent my summers in Alaska, where I grew up as a shareholder of the Ahtna Corporation, descendant of the Native Village of Kluti-Kaah, and member of the Seldovia Village tribe. We have land on my mother’s side by Copper River, in the interior of Alaska, where we spend summers substance fishing. It’s my absolute favorite thing to do. My grandfather built our fish wheel, which sits in the bank of river spinning and constantly scooping. We catch 100 salmon a day during the season.
You spend hours cleaning and filleting the XX-foot, xx-pound fish. It’s hot. The warmer temperatures over the past few seasons have meant more bear attacks, because they aren’t hibernating as much. But we mainly worry about meat-eating wasps. They’re super attracted to salmon. The amount of times I’ve been stung by wasps while filleting salmon is insane.
A diverse, intentional learning space
When I heard about the opportunity at the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, I thought, this is everything I want to be doing! Currently, I support the Center’s eight field sites from an administrative perspective. I help our Field Director, Kathleen Norton, make sure everything is being managed so that the research and the projects can function properly.
During the last Winter Institute, in January 2018, I was excited to be able to take public health classes specifically geared toward Native communities. It brought together a wide range of community, cultural, and professional backgrounds. It was an intentional space, more so than other academic settings I’ve experienced.
A support network passionate about improving the health of Native communities
Many of the Center’s field site employees participate in semi-annual training institutes at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, so I came in to Winter Institute knowing a good number of people from work. It was a nice opportunity to spend time with people in a different setting. And I met so many other people. We added each other on Facebook. We have similar passions, and we’re a support system for each other.
The public health courses are helping me in my day-to-day role to better understand the Center’s infectious disease and behavioral health work. During the interdisciplinary courses, one of the biggest topics we talked about was figuring out how to make public health interventions sustainable; how to go about making health changes in Native communities long-lasting. And now, I’m helping to design a sustainability plan for some behavioral health programs within the Center.