“Whoever wants that job is crazy!” That was Crystal Leonetti’s reaction when she first heard about a job opening with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) in Alaska. Crystal was already working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a federal agency she’d been affiliated with since high school. NRCS was about conserving resources, not regulating them.
“The people who regulate our way of living, of surviving and being who we are,” she said, “they have had a bad reputation in the villages.”
Well, here’s a surprise: Crystal ended up taking that job herself. She’s now in her tenth year as an Alaska Native liaison with the Service. The reasons behind her choice are meaningful and worth understanding. Let’s start with how Crystal introduces herself. She begins in Yupik.
“Waqaa! Ciisquugua. Quyana Tailuci!” [“What’s up! My name is Ciisquq. Thank you for being here.”]
She continues in English:
“My Yupik name is Ciisquq. My mom and dad are Al and Grace Poindexter from Anchor Point. And, my maternal grandparents are Daisy and the late Harry Barnes from Dillingham. My paternal grandparents are the late Chuck and Beulah Poindexter from Anchor Point. I am married to my best friend Ed, and we have 2 daughters, Audrey and Gigi.”
Only at the very end, she adds,
“I am the Alaska Native Affairs Specialist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
To this day, Crystal teaches her agency colleagues to save their job title for the end of any introduction. “Native people want to know your heart,” she says. Naming your ancestors means you accept responsibility to behave a certain way, that you will be accountable.
This is the seed of trust with any Alaska Native community. She shares concrete stories about the difference it makes in government and tribal relationships. So why did Crystal…