Crystalyn Rose Lemieux-United States-Health Sciences
Interviewing Indigenous students for the development of Indigenous e-portfolios
My name is Crystalyn Lemieux and my Tlingit name is Gunsi. My family is from Angoon, but I grew up in Haines, Alaska. My Mother’s name is Stella Howard, and my grandparents are Angelina Howard and the late Pete Howard. My Dad’s name is Ken Lemieux and my grandparents are Judy and Jake Goenett. My great grandparents are the late Beverly and Carl. I recently graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) with my bachelors in Health Sciences and a minor in psychology. I now work at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
The way we introduce ourselves and how we share our identity is a long process. It is not appropriate to take this long to introduce ourselves using our Native identity and style of introductions at the university. We are aware of it immediately and we try to quickly pick up on the western pace, but it is at the expense of losing our identity. This is a fear many of us have and it feels like trying to paddle against a heavy current. It is not logical to us and some of us give up, because we are homesick or we decide the university route is not for us.
I struggled with homesickness and wanting to give up, because I felt so out of place at the university. Then I woke up to the reality of oppression, colonialism, and a traumatic history that sparked my interest in learning more about Alaska Native history and the way these issues impact our success and identity today. This new knowledge moved me from the brink of giving up to a new motivation to continue my education so that I can support Native peoples in developing healthy identities. In my transcript, you will see where I wanted to give up; it is reflected in my grade point average. I changed my major to Health Education, because it gave me room to work with groups of people and gave me the space to include my culture in future health program planning.
Including Native cultures at the University is important, because we can use our education to come up with innovative ways to develop healthy identities, so we can heal from past trauma and to use our culture as a foundation for resiliency to move forward. Being able to share knowledge about Alaska Native languages, history, and cultures helps us to learn who we are as a Native person and to break away from the negative identities that are often imposed on us. I understand the importance of being immersed in the culture to fully understand what it is like, because a book or article cannot provide that deeper understanding. However, our perspectives could be shared through storytelling and we can get connected with one another to support each other. These venues could provide more opportunities for students to be immersed in other cultures through building relationships and sharing resources internationally.
The Elders and mentors who work on preparing me to become an Elder have taught me never to forget who I am as an Alaska Native person. This means using our culture to cope in healthy ways and to stay grounded in our values to get past the difficult times and to survive. We have the responsibility to carry on our culture, history, and the traditions, so that we will thrive for the next ten thousand years. Without the strength of our culture, we would not be where we are today and we would not have the opportunities we have today. My goal is to create a space for us to thrive for the next ten thousand years through sharing, educating, and celebrating our cultures.