In our Storyteller profile series, we highlight the dreams, journeys and achievements of Doyon Foundation students, alumni and supporters. Profiles are available to read, watch and listen.
This edition of Storyteller features Geoffrey Bacon of Fairbanks. He is the son of Glenn and Adele Bacon, and the grandson of the late Michael and Eleanor Michel, and the late Joseph and Frances McCullough. Geoffrey, the 2021 – 2022 recipient of our Marissa Flannery and Aaron Schutt Legal Scholarship, is attending the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. He expects to receive his Juris Doctorate (JD) in May 2023. Watch the full interview below, listen to the podcast, or read a transcript of the interview (with minor edits for clarity).
PURESTYN MILK: Thank you everyone. Today we’re talking with student Geoffrey Bacon; he is a Doyon shareholder from Fairbanks, Alaska, and he attends the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Geoffrey, can you please tell me a little bit about your educational journey?
GEOFFREY BACON: Certainly. First, a gracious thank you to the Doyon Foundation for all of the support that you have provided me over the years in my various degree programs.
Right now, I’m a second-year law student at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Prior to that, I worked in human resources after earning a bachelor’s in that field, as well as a master’s. Most recently I had been working as a human resource business partner for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.
After another year and a half, I will earn my law degree and plan to return to Alaska and practice law there. My goal is to plan a clerkship position, which is where you work closely with a judge, helping them write legal opinions, doing legal research, and learning the law on the ground, and after that, working for a law firm that represents tribes and tribal organizations. I have the privilege of, this summer, going to work at Sonosky Chambers, in their Anchorage office, which represents tribes and tribal organizations such as ANTHC.
PURESTYN MILK: That’s so awesome. What influenced you to choose this field of study?
GEOFFREY BACON: Ever since I was little I had thought about the law, and my grandmother said, ‘Ah, it’d be good to have a lawyer in the family.’ And so that had been percolating in the back of my head for many, many years. I enjoy solving problems, and that’s what drew me initially to work in human resources because you do research and you apply employment law, and things like that. And, in that time, I got to work with some really great and smart attorneys, several of which are at ANTHC, and it dawned on me that I can do that too. And so I decided to apply. This last year and a half have been really, really invigorating for me. I feel like I found my calling and it just seems like the right fit for me.
PURESTYN MILK: Thank you. What do you hope to accomplish with your education?
GEOFFREY BACON: The biggest thing is earning the degree as well as passing the Bar to practice law. Once I do that, then the nice thing about a law degree is it’s very flexible. You can practice law, you can teach, you can do a lot of different things with it and not necessarily being a practicing attorney. But for me, right now, I do want to practice the law and applying my legal education to help tribes and tribal relations is the place that I feel my strongest about going. That was the same when I was in human resources. Working for ANTHC, some of my most fulfilling moments were being a practicing HR professional on site. I see the law as an extension of that.
PURESTYN MILK: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced during your educational journey?
GEOFFREY BACON: There are several. Unless you go to school in Alaska, being away from family is really hard. With the COVID pandemic, my first year of law school was entirely online so all the stresses of the pandemic were always present. There was a silver lining in being able to attend classes remotely at home with my wife and our dog, who both have been so supportive during this journey. But this last semester, I did go in person and it’s just hard being away in a very, very large city. I used to think Anchorage was big, but it feels tiny compared to the Bay Area where there’s millions of people with no patience.
PURESTYN MILK: Oh, yeah. How did you overcome this?
GEOFFREY BACON: Fortunately, we have FaceTime and Zoom and I can talk to my family and my wife every day. Obviously, you can’t hug your family when you’re thousands of miles away, but sharing your feelings and just how hard school is, and just the reaffirmation that you’re there for a reason, you have all these people behind you, is incredibly motivating.
PURESTYN MILK: Yeah, learning definitely is easier when it’s in a classroom and not online. What was the hardest part about learning online for you, instead of in person?
GEOFFREY BACON: Other than making sure I logged into the right class at the right time, just those technical issues. It was different because of the remoteness. When you’re sitting in a classroom and you’re hearing the lecture, and you’re completely puzzled, you feel like you’re the only one going through that, when the reality is that your classmates are equally as puzzled because the law is new to them, too. Nobody is a practicing attorney starting in the first year of law school. So the nice thing about being in person is that you can see the quizzical looks of your classmates that you can’t get in a Zoom or remote online format.
The other thing you can do is bombard office hours and ask the questions. Somebody told me a long time ago, your tuition cost is paying for those faculty to be responsive and answer your questions, and you have just as much a right to ask them for help as any other student. Your voice is just as important and probably more important, because like it or not, there are very few law students from Alaska at any given school, much less Alaska Native law students. And that comes up a lot in the classroom. I took a course on corporate law last semester, and the professor was talking about this novel new corporation type where it’s a public benefit corporation that has profit for motive as well as social well-being and it’s like brand new, and we’re not sure how it’s gonna work out. And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Doyon’s been doing this for almost 50 years, balancing profit and long-term social mission. Caring for our people, is nothing new to us.’ And so in that sense, Doyon, Limited and our region and the entire state has been leading some of these brand new things. And it’s just these types of observations that other people that don’t have our history wouldn’t understand until you share that.
PURESTYN MILK: I agree. Thank you for sharing that, that’s definitely going to be helpful for the other students, just because we do have a lot of students still that are fully online instead of in the classroom. What are your activities outside of class?
GEOFFREY BACON: There’s a lot of reading and just making sure that I’m there for my wife just as she is for me. I’m also the treasurer for the Native American Law Students Association chapter at our school, and so that means I get to ask the school for money to go do cool things. We were trying to host an outdoor social when we went in person last fall and we were doing ice cream and ice cream melts, so I asked for money to buy a cooler for the group and we got it approved. So it can be those small things that just make life a little bit easier or a little more fun. Having those moments are really positive.
We also have brought in some really great speakers. For example, there is a nonprofit group called Protect Native Elders who were on the ground during the pandemic raging in 2020 on the Navajo Nation, helping get protective equipment and resources to help keep people safe when the federal government was still getting their act together. Hearing those kinds of stories and sharing those with my classmates is really motivating and it helps them understand where I’m coming from, as well as my other Native peers.
PURESTYN MILK: Wow, that’s so awesome. What role does culture play into your life?
GEOFFREY BACON: It grounds me. That knowing who I am, where I come from, helps me know that what I’m doing, this goal of going to law school to get this education, is worth it in the end. It is worth giving up the nights at home with my family or the sanity of not having to cram for a test that’s the next day.
My grandmother grew up in Kallands. She left to go to the boarding school in Eklutna at a very young age. And she was pushed to go by her grandmother. Just knowing that she had the same types of feelings and stresses and uncertainty, probably more so because that was in the 30s, way before any kind of communication, so being 20 miles away from somebody meant being 1,000 miles away from somebody. Having those same types of like, ‘I’m doing this to help myself and to help others,’ is very powerful.
When I started law school, I was trying to find the Denaakk’e word for lawyer and I couldn’t find it, but I found the word for ‘storyteller,’ which, I apologize for the mispronunciation, but it was Nohʉlnik. And I thought that that fit really nicely, because at the end of the day, a lawyer is somebody who takes what they see and presents a story and convinces someone that that’s what should be. And that’s what I hope to do as a lawyer, after I complete law school.
PURESTYN MILK: Thank you for including that because our series is called Storyteller.
GEOFFREY BACON: I know, I saw that and I was like, this is just so perfect.
PURESTYN MILK: Yes, it worked out perfectly. What kind of support have you received from Doyon Foundation, and how has it helped you as a student?
GEOFFREY BACON: I have received financial support, in the form of scholarships, for my undergraduate and my previous graduate degree as well as my current law school education. But in addition, I feel like the most personally meaningful support was when I got a scholarship to go take a class up at UAF to learn from a Denaakk’e speaker. And that helped me learn how to introduce myself in Denaakk’e, and at the next annual board meeting for Doyon I actually introduced myself because I wanted to encourage the board to continue to support being a sponsor of the Doyon Foundation. This was, I believe, before the language program was really a core piece of the Foundation’s mission as it is today. The words won’t capture it, but just sort of feeling like I was in the right and in one with everything. I was so nervous and trepidation in my voice and I was worried it was gonna come through the microphone when I was talking to the board. But then I finished and I thanked them and I walked away and an Elder said, ‘You pronounced that really well.’ And I was just so humbled because I knew how to say who I was in the way that my grandmother would say it. And it felt so wonderful, and I am forever grateful for the Foundation for helping make that happen.
PURESTYN MILK: That’s a great story, thank you. Do you have any words of encouragement for your fellow students?
GEOFFREY BACON: Two words: ‘self-care.’ You can push yourself, and there are times when you want to do that, but if you push yourself too hard, you will end up running yourself into the ground. My first year at law school was very stressful, because you don’t know what you need to know, and especially remote, you don’t have the ability to just ask your roommate, ‘Hey, were you as stressed about this as I was?’ And so you internalize a lot of that stress and if you don’t have an outlet, whether that’s getting outside and walking, or swimming, or even just blaring some music and dancing in the kitchen, which I’m not going to confirm or deny that I do, you just need an outlet, because it’s super stressful. And if you don’t, your body will let you know that something’s not right. I ended up getting sick my first semester just from the stress, and I know it was stress because it’s just not the normal cold that you might get in the wintertime or those things that just normally happens because it’s cold and dark in Alaska. So listening to your body and knowing what you need, and prioritizing that, because nobody else is going to prioritize your health like you need.
I don’t have kids right now, but I have a lot of classmates who do, and I am beyond amazed how they can prioritize and plan out childcare and studying and making sure that they have their selves ready to go. So I know it’s possible, it’s incredibly difficult. But if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t sustain that long-term push that you need for a three-year degree program like law school.
PURESTYN MILK: Yeah, self-care is the most important thing so thank you for mentioning that. Is there anything else you’d like to share today?
GEOFFREY BACON: I just want to reiterate how thankful I am to the Foundation for this opportunity to share a little bit about myself, and also the continued support that you all have shown and the kindness that you and the other staff at the Foundation have shown to me and my family. There’s no way I can repay that, but I certainly want to give back once I’m done with my studies and help make that a priority, so thank you.
PURESTYN MILK: Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your story. It’s going to be super important for our students, especially those who are pursuing a law degree.
GEOFFREY BACON: Yeah, go to law school, we need more Native attorneys.
If you are interested in being featured in an upcoming Storyteller profile, or would like to nominate a Doyon Foundation student, alumni or supporter, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907.459.2048.