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A Q&A With Alaska Native Education Coordinator Yatibaey Evans

This Native American educator changed her major to return to her homeland and help her Alaska Native people succeed.

After 10 years away from her relatives and friends in Alaska, Yatibaey Evans, an Ahtna Athabascan, has come home to coordinate the Alaska Native Education (ANE) program. She is glad to be back and has big plans for ANE.

Evans began in her position as coordinator in July and is really settling in.

“Amazing, incredible, wonderful, and grateful are some of the ways I feel for being a part of Alaska Native Education (ANE),” she wrote in the ANE fall 2011 newsletter. “I’ve been warmly welcomed back into my hometown.”

Returning to Alaska helped Evans define who she is, and that picture wasn’t always so clear for Evans. As reported by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, while in her last semester of pre-med at the University of Washington, she decided to forgo medical studies to attend Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a Master of Arts degree in education.

ICTMN caught up with Evans to find out more about her views on education, sharing Native American culture and her goals for ANE.

What do you like best about being back in Alaska? Since this is where my mother’s side of the family has lived for thousands of years the connections are deep and strong. Many people struggle with defining their purpose in life, and I am so thankful to have an intense confirmation by returning back home. I sense the different defining moments of my life have framed a large portion of my personal life puzzle. The clarity that has come in my return is allowing me to fill in portions of the central picture.

Are you content with your decision to forgo the medical field for education? When I made the decision to go into education I took a careful look at where I would be the happiest during this time in my life. Education is such a broad field such as the medical field. Some might think that I am limited in who I reach, but I believe the horizon has been widened. In my position I am able to work with students of all ages, parents, and elders. The topics that we share are not only in relation to reading, writing, and math, but they reach into the lives of the students in a holistic way. We are striving to incorporate cultural activities to Native Americans as well as other students in the schools. It is part of my vision to have students of other ethnicities to recognize the values and unique attributes Native Americans hold. It is important for each different ethnicity to see the amazing qualities one another possesses so that we as a human race can go forward together.

For too long the medical and the education fields have been viewed as distinctly separate. In order for Native Americans and all other people to be healthy, the gap between the two fields needs to be bridged. With the higher rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and subsequent complications, it is critical to educate people on what they must do to live healthy lives. The education of our children should also extend beyond self-health and into an awareness that their actions will affect the lives of their family members and friends.

Do you have any broader ideas (not just Alaska) about education non-Native students about Native Americans? Personally, I believe the message needs to be spread that the indigenous people of the Americas, which include the historical tribes many students have read or watched movies about, are still alive. We are your teachers, your doctors, your bank tellers, your neighbors, your friends, we are a part of your life. The indigenous people have had to adapt to the western ways, and so we don't look like many perceive us to be, but we are still here. The message will involve the collaboration of thousands of people nation wide. Perhaps, when more people are aware of our presence then we can follow the footsteps of our ancestors to teach them some of our ways. The Native ways of knowing can then be related to their own lives and a deeper connection can be made between the people of different heritages. I believe when people understand each other then they can be more receptive to the ideas each brings to the table.

What are your goals for ANE in the future?

  • Increase the graduation rate for students who are a part of our program;
  • Reduce the achievement gap;
  • Share Alaska Native cultures with all students in the Fairbanks North Star School District;
  • The incorporation of different teaching strategies;
  • Impact generations of youth to be the best they can be because we all have amazing attributes inside of us.

What advice do you have for Native students? My advice to students is to dream, DREAM BIG.

According to the website, Alaska Native Education started in 1974 when the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District applied for and was granted an Indian Education Title VII grant to create the program, which provides tutoring, cultural enrichment activities, Native language studies, counseling, and career and post secondary training exploration to Native American and Alaska Native students.