What drew you to the Caleb Scholars Program? Do you have a personal story about meeting Caleb, connection to his legacy, or family connection?
Caleb Pungowiyi was my grandfather. He was always taking me and my cousins to the beach, the tundra, and out on the water. He used his knowledge to answer all of the questions that our young eager minds could muster up, and he made things so fun and interesting to learn. Little did I know, that taata was instilling in me a passion and care for our environment. The greatest lesson he taught me was to approach everything with love and respect; whether it was with our oceans and lands, people, or ourselves. The opportunity to be a part of his legacy through this scholarship program is a great honor, and I am challenged to uphold his legacy.
What does marine conservation mean to you? How do you engage with marine conservation at school and/or at home?
Marine conservation means perpetuation of a way of life to me. Not only does marine wildlife provide nourishing food, clothing, and sharing possibilities, but it feeds our spirit, our Inua which keeps us going in difficult times. I engage in marine conservation by only harvesting what me and my family need, no more. I also work hands on with the animals in harvesting, processing, preparing, and cooking them. There’s a direct relationship with the ocean life and my life. There is no middleman. I enjoy every minute of it.
What are your future educational and career goals? What are the top three things that are moving you toward those goals?
My future educational and career goals are to finish my undergrad, then start teaching biology and Inupiaq in the Northwest Arctic region. The first thing that has moved me toward my goal is my community. Many people in my community have shown their support, whether it is through guidance, advice, or professional support. I want to show the same support for the children in our community. Secondly, my family. They have taught me well, guided me to do my best, and support me in every decision I make. Lastly, my cultural values have moved me toward my goals. Our Inupiat llitqusiat is embedded in me and has shaped how I approach wildlife, people, and situations.
Can you share a memorable story from your past when you felt a relationship to the ocean or waterways?
Springtime ugruk hunting is my favorite time of the year. Listening to gigantic sheets of ice nudge past each other on their race to the ocean. Watching 600-pound bearded seals, who do not seem to recognize their own magnificence, lazily bask in the sun. Feeling the warm springtime sun and the crisp winter air compete for my skin’s attention. Smelling the salty ocean while enjoying the crunch of pilot bread as we take a break to eat. When I am out there, I am at the ocean’s mercy. The unforgiving waters are just below my feet, and one misstep can have lifechanging effects. Being out there feels like hitting reset. Every time I am out there, I feel a new connection with my family, our sustenance, my culture, and God’s creation.