Nicole George: Jack-Of-All-Trades

Angoon

My name is Chòoshdatlàa yóo xát duwasáakw; but most people refer to me as Nicole. I’m currently 23 years old and proud to call Alaska home. I spent the early part of my childhood in Angoon, Alaska where there are currently more bears on the island than people. The later part of my years I lived in Juneau, Alaska the only U.S. state capital to border another country.

The last six months have been pretty crazy. I started a new job for the State of Washington Professional Educator Standards Board and I’m already halfway done with my Sealaska board term. When I’m not working as an administrative assistant, corporation director, or program ambassador you will find me working on my thesis Ax daakanóox’u hás: Historical Trauma in Contemporary Times.

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to go back to Juneau, Alaska to intern for Sealaska Heritage Institute. My travel back to Juneau, Alaska allowed me to rekindle relationships and spend some much needed time with family and friends. 

I found solace in home cooked meals, constantly eating my weight in subsistence foods, staying up way too late with friends binge watching television and movie series, and hiking 130 miles of hiking trails to remind myself how lucky I was to call this place home. 

Being back in Alaska and seeing familiar faces has literally been a breath of fresh air. I never knew how much the land and a simple hello meant to me until I came back after living in a city for seven months.

I was a returning education department intern for Sealaska Heritage Institute and I had the pleasure of working closely with education director Jackie Kookesh. I assisted education director Jackie Kookesh and deputy director Phyllis Carlson prepare for several summer programs. Those programs included: Our Cultural Landscape: A Cultural Connectedness Project for Educators, Latseen Leadership Academy, Latseen Hoop Camp, Latseen Running Camp, Baby Raven Reads, and Voices on the Land.

I assisted Jackie Kookesh and Phyllis Carlson by completing different administrative tasks such as booking travel and hotels, reserving program spaces, preparing and maintaining program workbooks, completing purchase request forms, teaching Lingìt, drafting correspondence, and conducting surveys and evaluations for each individual program. I’m excited to say that my work will be passed on to the current education department administrative assistant Brittany Higgins.

As a returning intern for Sealaska Heritage Institute, I thought I had a clear image of what my summer internship would look like. I imagined myself assisting as a teacher for Opening the Box: Math and Culture Academy and serving as a chaperone for the Latseen Leadership Academy. I also pictured myself as a classroom aide for Voices on the Land helping students make their vision a reality and capturing their growth on stage.

Instead, I was tasked with administrative duties. Honestly, I was happy that my internship didn’t turn out the way I had imagined it. The new change of pace and responsibilities was both exciting and rewarding. I had come full circle with Sealaska Heritage Institute and have gained a new and deeper appreciation for my own experiences as a program participant 8+ years ago.

With this summer experience, I was exposed to the cost of hosting one student at one of the programs, experienced firsthand the amount of planning and execution it takes to put a program, and the significance of the follow-up work needed to obtain and maintain federal funding for future programming. The exposure I had to administrative work through this internship helped me secure my current employment with the Professional Educator Standards Board as the administrative assistant for the Paraeducator Board.

At first glance, I thought my education background didn’t fit in with the line of work that I was assigned to do. For a while, I was envious of the other interns who were placed with the natural resource department or the corporate secretary. I kept reminding myself I had spent the last five years of my academic career learning about environmental science, environmental policy, and tribal policy and didn’t have a strong background in education. Before, I always thought I was pulled to be an education intern because of my previous experience as a program participant and my involvement in the Tlingit culture.

I began to learn that it goes much deeper than that. The mission of Sealaska Heritage Institute is to perpetuate and enhance Southeast Alaska Native cultures. The environment plays a vital role in all aspects of our culture. The environment is tied into our art, language, and stories and those connections run much deeper than just occupying and using natural resources in Southeast Alaska.

My experience as a program participant and my current academic background puts me in a position to view our projects in a new light. I’m running with the words that I recently heard from elder David Katzeek, “What’s the use of language if you can’t live it?” Now I question, “What’s the use of my education background if I can’t live it?”

I would like to give a big gunalchèesh to the Sealaska Heritage Institute staff as well as the different communities in Southeast Alaska. Gunalchèesh for sharing your children, your elders, and your teachers. Our programs would not be possible without your continuous commitment to preserve and perpetuate our cultures. Gunalchèesh for sharing your knowledge and treasures.