Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Jessica Edwin – Ahtna Athabascan

Jessica Edwin presents about the value of higher education in Glennallen in 2008. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Jessica Edwin presents about the value of higher education in Glennallen in 2008. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Jessica Edwin is Ahtna Athabascan and grew up in Copper Center. Jessica now lives and works in Anchorage, where she is raising her two children. I met Jessica in Glennallen in 2008 during the Rural Providers’ Conference. I served on a committee with Jessica’s mom, Katherine McConkey. Jessica was presenting to a youth about the importance of achieving an education.

“My grandpa always talked to me about education and how he wanted me to go to college. The stories I hear of his tribal leadership, inspire me to do more.” – Jessica Edwin, Ahtna Athabascan

Jessica still believes in the value of a higher education in a college setting, but now she pushes vocational and apprenticeships. She also tells it like it is when it comes to student loans and other challenges of going to school. Jessica realizes each person is different and may follow an alternative career path.

Jessica currently works for NANA Management Services. She has served on the Ahtna, Incorporated board of directors for three years. In addition to a full-time job, Jessica obtained a real estate license and sells homes part-time. Getting into real estate is a big investment and sometimes tiring, but she loves to help people achieve their dreams of owning a home.

According to Jessica, purchasing a home is one way to move people out of poverty. She says, “Poverty is the root of a lot of our problems.” Jessica says home-ownership is possible, and is happy to help people to figure out what they need to do to buy a home. She remembers growing up in a home without running water.

“My concentration in real estate is driven by my personal vision to see more Alaskan Native homeowners. The thing I look forward to most is guiding first time home buyers through the home buying process. The earning ‘customers for life’ perspective, is why I selected Jack White Real Estate.” – Jessica Edwin, Ahtna Athabascan

The Alaska Native Professional Association (ANPA) recently highlighted Jessica as a new member in their newsletter recently. They said, “With her enthusiasm and passion towards her real estate profession she will certainly see the successful results from her efforts.”

Jessica Edwin and her children, Clarence and Angel. Courtesy photo
Jessica Edwin and her children, Clarence and Angel. Courtesy photo

Jessica and her children watch TED Talks and discuss the topics afterwards. No matter what you do for a living or where you are in life, Jessica encourages people to find ways to use their brain and be open to new ideas.

It is a challenge to move to the city, work full-time and raise a family. The traditions, mannerisms, self-expression is different in the city. All her life, Jessica was taught not to look at elders and adults in the eye. She had to unlearn this traditional rule when she moved in the city. Jessica remembers a previous boss asking her if he did something wrong or something to offend her. She explained the tradition, and reassured him she did not mean to offend. Jessica offered up some tips for those who are making the transition to the city.

Tips for Rural Alaskans Moving to the City

  • Don’t minimize the transition. It will be a big change for you and your family.
  • You may get lonely in the city, so take steps to prevent lonesomeness. You are often surrounded by family and may be used to visiting and doing things in your community. Make friends and look for community events to participate in.
  • Make eye contact with people, especially in a professional and educational setting.
  • Speak up. From a young age, we are taught to listen more than to speak in the village, but it is different in the city. You are expected to participate in discussions in the city.
Jessica Edwin grew up living a subsistence lifestyle on the Copper River, and gets back when she can. She is catches, cuts, smokes and cans Copper River red salmon. Courtesy photos
Jessica Edwin grew up living a subsistence lifestyle on the Copper River, and gets back when she can. She is catches, cuts, smokes and cans Copper River red salmon. Courtesy photos

Jessica Edwin grew up living a subsistence lifestyle on the Copper River and gets back when she can. She catches, cuts, smokes and cans Copper River red salmon. Jessica advises not to abandon all of your traditional ways. She says, “Bring old ways into the new ways.” For instance, Ahtna people were taught to save everything and not to waste. She explains below.

“I started learning traditional beading at the young age of 3. One of the major lessons at that time was to be careful not to drop my beads and it was considered lazy to make my thread to long. These two things were really important to the Elders who taught me to bead because they grew up in a time where beads and thread (sinew) were very scarce. Others may see these beliefs as old fashioned or even irrelevant, since beads and thread are relatively cheap now days. The lesson remains with me to be responsible with my belongings, take care of what I have, and use supplies efficiently. The other lesson that sticks with me is, time should be used to be productive. In quiet times, our ancestors still kept busy and made clothing and tools. There is always some kind of work to do!” – Jessica Edwin, Ahtna Athabascan

Jessica was taught to work hard and not to be lazy. Jessica advises people not to hop from one job to the next. In an effort to move up the ladder professionally, Jessica says, “I jumped jobs real often, and it’s made my resume choppy and that’s been a negative to potential employers.” She has learned from her mistake and advises people to ““Put in your time in a job.” Not staying long enough at a job may hurt your career and potentially your ability to purchase a home.

Jessica and I have similar stories. We are both from rural Alaska and later moved to urban Alaska. I remember how challenging it was to move the city. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 24 years old. Then, I had to navigate my way into city life. I admire Jessica for her great attitude and perseverance in facing her challenges and overcoming them.

More About Jessica Edwin

Jessica Edwin sits with her grandfather, Hector Ewan. Jessica says, "My grandfather influenced my life choices in many ways and I always wanted to make him proud, even though he passed when I was just eight." Courtesy photo
Jessica Edwin sits with her grandfather, Hector Ewan. Jessica says, “My grandfather influenced my life choices in many ways and I always wanted to make him proud, even though he passed when I was just eight.” Courtesy photo

She was born and raised in Copper Center, home to the best fish in the world, Copper River reds. She is the mother of two teenagers, Clarence and Angel. Despite living in the in Anchorage, the Copper River Valley will always be her “home”. Her parents are Clarence and Katherine McConkey. Her grandparents are Marie Craig and the late Clarence McConkey, Sr. and the late Hector and Grace Ewan. Jessica is Taltsiine (water clan) from the Native Village of Kluti-Kaah. She is a shareholder of both Ahtna, Incorporated and Cook Inlet Region Incorporated.

Throughout most of her career, Jessica has been in positions advocating for youth and for Native employment. When she lived in Copper Center, she was an active member of her community and organized dances and other events in an effort to prevent drug and alcohol use. Jessica is a gifted beadworker and artist, creating regalia and other decorative items. She very rarely sells her beadwork and gives most away as gifts to family and friends.

Athabascan beadwork by Jessica Edwin. Courtesy photo
Athabascan beadwork by Jessica Edwin. Courtesy photo

0 thoughts on “Jessica Edwin – Ahtna Athabascan”

  1. Thank you so much, Angela, for following my blog. I am honored and delighted to have found yours and to be connected in this way with women of Alaska. I have so much to learn from your and their experiences. I live only part of the year in Fairbanks with my daughter’s family, but when I’m here I feel so at peace.

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