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Jacqueline Pata's picture

Native American, First People, Alaska Native, Tlingit. All of these words describe me, and none of them describe me. I am a tribal councilwoman, a mother, a daughter, a modern Native woman. I am a fighter, defender, and advocate for my people.

As a Native woman, life for me is about balance just like I was taught by my elders. Day and night, Raven and Eagle, there needs to be balance. I currently live in urban Washington, DC – far away from my home in Alaska. Far away, but not far from my heart. Honoring my culture is a daily priority and I am always aware that I am a Native representative to those who have not had the opportunity to be close to Native people.

As a mother, I wanted my kids to grow up prepared to find their own balance and be contributing members to their community. I also faced the challenge of raising my children in our Native culture when it was still a difficult time to do so. It wasn’t just about attending the cultural gatherings – it was teaching them to be proud of their culture, the responsibility of learning for the future generations, and to live by the values taught by our ancestors. As I was taught by my elders, I wanted them to represent the family, the clan, and the tribe with dignity – to understand that their actions reflect those that have come before them.

I am very fortunate that when they were growing up I ran a Native Youth Culture Camp started by our clan leader Danawak (Austin Hammond). Each summer Native elders came to teach our Tlingit traditions to our young people, enriching their understanding of our culture and themselves. I was lucky to have access to many in our community who were also dedicated to bringing up the next generation in our traditions.

My children are now adults who are proud of and knowledgeable about their culture and are able to share it with their own children and others. My heart is most filled with joy when I am singing our traditional songs with my grandchildren, doing beadwork with my children, and putting up fish with my friends. It is not always easy to continue with our way of life, but that is the reason why I do the work that I do in DC, so that future generations can also have the opportunities to learn their traditions and cultures and be proud to be Native. So they can grow up and find their own balanced world.

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