A Heart to Serve Alaska

An issue that many indigenous people have before them is whether they are deemed “native enough” based on blood quantum requirements defined by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) or on someone’s own perception as determined by the color of their skin. The old saying “you don’t look native” undermines many indigenous people’s identity and connection to their living culture and their heritage. As a light skinned person, I have learned to not let what other people’s perceptions of me dictate what I think about my identity and myself. I know who I am, where I come from and who my family is. I thank my family and friends in the Alaska Native community who have helped me get to a point of self-assurance in my identity as a Tlingit and an Alaska Native woman.

Alyssa and her dad, Tate London in Juneau, Alaska at Celebration 2016

My strong identity as a Tlingit and the values I carry today are a direct result of growing up with strong supportive parents. Gunalcheesh (thank you) to both my mother and father for making sure I understand and value identity. My parents’ choice to name me so that my initials match to the state of Alaska, I believe exemplifies their intention for me to always have a strong tie and connection to the state of Alaska and the Alaska Native community of which I am a part. I will be a Tlingit wherever I live and I always represent the goals and values of my community. My personal goals have taken me to wonderful places. I have lived in California while attending Stanford University, my time as the Board Youth Advisor for Sealaska took me all over Southeast Alaska to many of the communities Sealaska’ represents, and I studied abroad and lived in Madrid, Spain where I pursued fluency in Spanish. No matter where I live, I will always be an Alaskan and a Tlingit.

As tribal members we are often referred to as “enrolled descendants” or “shareholder descendants.” These terms are not meant to undermine our legitimacy as an Alaska Native; instead they indicate the distinction that we are descendants of an originally enrolled shareholder. Despite these formal descriptions, our tribal affiliation is much more than that. Our Alaska Native identity is not something that can be undermined and challenged through notions of “blood quantum.” In fact, this is a made up construct not upheld in our own values or actions as our people would intermarry with other groups of people such as Hawaiians in order to keep relations and genetic lines strong. Even today as our people intermarry with people from other groups, we are still Alaska Native people, as we stay tied to our culture and our community.

Alyssa with Grandma Gayle (left) and Grandpa Ernie (right) in Ketchikan, AK

Alyssa with Grandma Gayle (left) and Grandpa Ernie (right) in Ketchikan, AK

I hope to now inspire our own people to continue promoting the vitality of Alaska Native cultures. One way I am accomplishing this, is through the products I develop under Culture Story, and through the work I do as a contractor for the Alaska Native Heritage Center (ANHC). My Culture Story products are developed to show the world that we are a living, and breathing culture. This is why I enjoy my work at ANHC, a place to promote how Alaska Native cultures are evolving and alive today, and that there is much more to discover about our cultures than what can be seen in museums. The Culture Story brand is a way to promote the vitality of cultures, and as my passion evolves I am developing a retail platform to promote other artists, their cultures and offer a place to sell their work.

Each Alaska Native is an ambassador to our rich culture and heritage. I’m excited to share my story while competing in the Miss Alaska USA pageant. This program is an opportunity for me to not only share what I am doing to make a difference, but the journey preparing to compete serves as a time for focused personal growth and development. Through this process, I have recognized how important it is to tell my story and in doing so help to motivate others. There is a place for women to break the glass ceiling, and I am passionate about being an example for how women can do just that. Therefore, I am very proud to be able to share my story as a female entrepreneur who empowers other women to make their ideas a reality and pursue self-sufficiency through entrepreneurship. I believe there is incredible value in finding your own independence, and that is the beauty of entrepreneurship.