Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Agatha Erickson – A Native Voice in Alaska Politics

Agatha Erickson picking cranberries with her niece in Fairbanks. Courtesy photo
Agatha Erickson picking cranberries with her niece in Fairbanks. Courtesy photo

I met Agatha Erickson a couple years ago at a conference in Dillingham, Alaska. She spoke on behalf of the Begich Administration at the conference. Agatha is originally from Kaltag, but has lived in both the Interior and Southeast Alaska. Her father, Arne Erickson, is a teacher. Agatha is the rural liaison for Senator Mark Begich.

Agatha’s bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth in Native American Studies gave her a great foundation for policy work. Agatha’s senior honors project was on the evolution of subsistence law in Alaska. She studied each major law, such as statehood, ANCSA and ANILCA and how they affected the generations of her family’s subsistence practices. Agatha comes from a large family, her mother Susan Solomon, is one of nine siblings.

Agatha was hired by the Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) as the communications director after college. She got a crash course in tribal politics. Jerry Isaac, TCC president/CEO, taught Agatha the intricacies of community outreach and working with tribal governments. She learned about how to communicate and work with people and communities across the Interior.

Agatha Erickson and Senator Mark Begich in Barrow. Courtesy photo
Agatha Erickson and Senator Mark Begich in Barrow. Courtesy photo

Agatha’s education and her work with TCC prepared her for her role as Senator Mark Begich’s rural liaison. Even with preparation, she faced a steep learning curve with the daily inner-workings of a political office. Agatha discovered the work is very fast pace, responding to constituents, planning events, writing memos and keeping up with current issues.  Despite the fast pace of a Senate office, she also learned patience waiting for the deliberative Senate to move on policy. She is learning more about the many issues faced by rural Alaskans, like the energy crisis, access to health care, education funding and food security. She asserts that although they are tough issues to be faced, there are solutions and there are great community leaders.

Agatha enjoys traveling and learning about different communities across the state. Agatha said, “There is so much diversity in our state.” She is most familiar with the interior and southeast regions having grown up in them. Agatha says she is the eyes and ears on the ground for Senator Begich.

It was a challenge for her to move from the interior to Anchorage. Agatha missed her family and friends in the interior. After about six months, she felt less lonely as she built connections and made new friends and found her Native circle.

Agatha visits her Grandpa Solomon in Kaltag. Courtesy photo
Agatha visits her Grandpa Solomon in Kaltag. Courtesy photo

With such a fast-paced day job, I asked Agatha how she keeps grounded. She runs on the Anchorage trails, and hikes around southcentral Alaska. In the winter time, she enjoys skiing. Agatha also practices what she calls ‘urban subsistence’, including fishing, berry picking, cooking traditional Native dishes with a twist (testing out different ingredients and cooking styles).

If you are interested in getting involved in politics, whether it be by running for any type of office or working in a governmental office, Agatha recommends getting an internship. It is the first step in starting a career in in the government and to learning how it operates. What you see in the media is only a small percentage of what actually happens behind the scenes.

Agatha and her friend, Tiffany Zulkosky, picking berries in Bethel. Tiffany was the former Rural Director for Senator Mark Begich. Courtesy photo
Agatha and her friend, Tiffany Zulkosky, picking berries in Bethel. Tiffany was the former Rural Director for Senator Mark Begich. Courtesy photo

Agatha has built a strong camaraderie with other Alaska Natives who are serving representatives and senators. She has found that even though their offices may have differing ideas and policies, they are all serving for the same purpose of the overall betterment of Alaska Native people. Despite long hours and hard work, they formed a strong bond and remain to be close friends.

Over the past few years, Agatha has also had to build her public speaking skills. She has studied other public speakers and she has also had a lot of practice.

Agatha’s Advice on Public Speaking

  • Practice makes perfect. Get comfortable with public speaking.
  • Find a way to deal with your nervousness. People can tell you are nervous. Agatha forces herself to breathe deeply before speaking to calm herself down.
  • Speak five times slower than your mind is going. Consciously slowing down will help you to process your thoughts and it will also give the audience a chance to digest the information you are sharing.
  • Plan to share three main points. Any less may be too short, and any more may bore people.
  • Be ready to respond to questions. Be honest if you don’t know the answer to a question, but make sure to let the person know you’ll get back to them with an answer.
Agatha at the Golden Nugget Triathlon in Anchorage. Courtesy photo
Agatha at the Golden Nugget Triathlon in Anchorage. Courtesy photo

I admire Agatha’s ability to be an ambassador for rural Alaskans, Native and non-Native. I appreciate her willingness to learn more about topics. I also admire her ability to deal with stress through physical activity. That is something I wish I learned a long time ago. Agatha is a great example that you can go far with an education and just going out and doing it.

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