Still Presidential: Barack Obama Chats With Alaska Native Mom at Airport

Courtesy Jolene Jackinsky /While returning from visiting family, Jolene Jackinsky had a chance encounter and selfie opportunity with former President Barack Obama. He is seen here holding Jolene’s 6-month-old daughter Giselle Harried.

Indian Country Today

Former President Barack Obama talks family with Alaska Native mom, holds 6-month-old

While visiting family, Jolene Jackinsky did not expect to bump into former President Barack Obama at Anchorage International Airport on July 3, and she certainly did not expect him to ask “Who is this pretty girl?” as Channel 2 KTUU reported about her 6-month-old daughter Giselle Harried.

Obama even asked to hold the baby: “He talked about how fast kids grow up,” Jackinsy told Alaska Dispatch News. “He said his daughter is going into college pretty soon. He asked if I had a phone to take pictures and did a selfie with us.”

Jackinsky couldn’t believe former President Barack Obama held her little girl, and in her home state of Alaska. Jackinsky grew up in a traditional environment in a small village of no more than 200 people near Iliamna Lake. And many of those people in her village of Newhalen are proud of her accomplishments and her career.

Jackinsky currently works as an emergency room nurse and her journey there is a storied one. She applied for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program her senior year of high school in 2005.

“I received it not knowing that they would pay for literally everything,” she told ICMN. “Not just tuition, books, fees but also food, housing, and money for transportation. They even give you an extra grand for a laptop.”

She began her higher education journey in Portland, Oregon during the 2005-06 school year, and then transferred to Hawaii Pacific University—she had always dreamed about going to Hawaii.

“The people [in Hawaii] are so nice, and you feel right at home because locals think of Alaska Natives as locals too, so the local people are extra nice,” Jackinsky told ICMN. But she also ran into some tourists who just don’t understand that indigenous people are contemporary and don’t live in igloos. She found herself telling folks, “No, I live in a normal house just like you.” Then she would have fun with it, telling people, “Actually, my grandma’s igloo is melting, they are building her teepee for the summer.”

Aside from dealing with Native stereotypes, the Gates Millennium Scholarship was what she called “a huge blessing,” and she encourages Native American students to apply for all the scholarships they can, not just those aimed at Native students.

“If you are involved in school, clubs, or in sports, you have a lot to put on a resume about yourself in high school and that’s what they look for, people who are involved with their community and involved in anything academic,” she told ICMN.

“For those who are still in high school, dream big. If you know your family won’t be able to support you in school, start looking for scholarships,” she suggests. And not just from your Native Corporation, and not just those geared for Native American students.

“It might seem like a lot of work when you are filling out the application, but it definitely pays off,” Jackinsky told ICMN.

Former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama were proponents of Indian education, while the future of many Indian country programs is uncertain in this political climate, one little girl can look back and say she got to meet the 44th President of the United States.

Giselle’s father Eric is Athabascan and African American. When he walked in, former President Obama jokingly said, ‘Hey, I’m taking your baby!” reported KTUU.

A Signature Air representative told KTUU that the former president was there refueling for about 40 minutes.

Jackinsky said the whole encounter with Obama only lasted about five minutes, but she told ICMN that she’s always been a fan of his and seeing him hold her child just blew her away.