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.
In this Storyteller supporter profile, our scholarship program manager, Purestyn Milk, speaks with Doyon Foundation alumnus, Kevin Whitworth, who is the interim executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
You can watch or listen to Kevin’s full interview below, or read a transcript, with minor edits for clarity.
PURESTYN MILK: In this episode of Storyteller, we’re here with Kevin Whitworth, a past Doyon Foundation scholarship recipient. Thank you so much, Kevin, for joining us. To start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
KEVIN WHITWORTH: Sure. Thanks for reaching out, first of all. I am Kevin Whitworth from McGrath, a tribal member of McGrath Native Village, and I’m Deg Hit’an Athabascan. My family’s originally from Holy Cross, and I’ve lived in McGrath all my life, pretty much.
PURESTYN MILK: Great. You received a Doyon Foundation scholarship as a student. Tell us a little bit about your educational journey. What school did you attend and what was your degree?
KEVIN WHITWORTH: My educational background really started growing up here in McGrath, living on the river, running up and down with my grandfather, my grandparents, my mom and dad, my aunts and uncles, and just learning about the environment that I live in. I went K through 12 here in McGrath, graduated high school here, and then went to college afterwards. I went to Bozeman State in Montana; I was working there on my wildlife degree. I found out that it was a little bit expensive living in Bozeman, so then I moved to Fairbanks and went to the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) where I pursued my wildlife degree, and then a minor in natural resources.
PURESTYN MILK: That’s great. Why did you choose that field of study?
KEVIN WHITWORTH: Like I was saying in my intro, just growing up in McGrath, being out in the woods, spending time learning about the environment that I’m from and live in, I just wanted to continue that and just learn more about where I’m from and the environment. I thought wildlife biology would fit very well with that and get me outside, so I pursued that. From a young age, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
PURESTYN MILK: What are you doing now, and what do you hope to accomplish through your career and work?
KEVIN WHITWORTH: My role has changed a little bit. I was the biologist for Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; it’s a tribally led commission, Kuskokwim River wide. But now I’m acting as the director of Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. We have a lot of goals, but my highest priority goal is working to strengthen tribal stewardship of fish and wildlife resources so that they have a position to be part of wildlife and fish management into the future. So we’re trying to build that, and I think that’s a high priority for myself personally and the company I work for, so we’ll keep building on that.
PURESTYN MILK: You mentioned that you attended school out of state before moving back to UAF. What was the biggest challenge you faced in your educational journey, and how did you overcome it?
KEVIN WHITWORTH: There were lots of challenges, just coming from a small village and moving out of state, which I’d never done before, and then moving to Fairbanks and going to school there. As you can imagine, just coming from a small town, culturally there’s a shock there, but then I found out in Bozeman that it was just too expensive so I had to make a change so I went to UAF. That was challenging as well, just the expense and trying to make ends meet when you’re trying to pursue your education. So culturally, there were some challenges.
I also felt like I didn’t have a real strong background in biology. I didn’t take high school biology, I didn’t have that opportunity, so there were some challenges, too, when I first got to school, even at 100-level college classes, I struggled through them, but I made it, I kept pushing.
PURESTYN MILK: Thank you for mentioning that; there are a lot of students who experience the culture shock from moving from the village to a big town and attending the university.
Do you expect to continue your education in the future? If so, what are your plans?
KEVIN WHITWORTH: I don’t think I’m going to go back to college and pursue a master’s or PhD at this time. Things can change but I think educationally, I am learning something new every day. So my education has not stopped. Every day, something’s new, especially with this new position, I feel like every day I’m learning something.
PURESTYN MILK: That’s an excellent way to put it. Apart from school and work, what other activities or community involvement do you enjoy?
KEVIN WHITWORTH: I’ve got a family here, two kids and a wife and a little dog team. I love getting out and about with the dog team, and taking the family out camping and just spending time as much as I can out at the cabin, up the river, hunting and fishing, teaching my kids to respect animals and wildlife and fish, and just enjoy being outdoors. That’s what I really like, taking friends out, going camping. I like winter sports, making trails with the snowmachine and trapping and skiing and stuff like that. I really enjoy rural Alaska and living out here. I still live out here and there’s lots to enjoy.
PURESTYN MILK: You mentioned you do a lot of cultural work, like respecting the land. Does Native language play a lot in your life or other cultural activities?
KEVIN WHITWORTH: My family hasn’t spoken their Native tongue in a very long time. A lot of my family grew up in Holy Cross, the mission, so they did not encourage language, their Native tongue. So we haven’t spoken our language in several generations, which is really sad. So I don’t have a very strong background in our Native language. But culturally, I teach my kids to be proud of their culture. I teach them as much as I can about who they are and respecting the land and animals. My kids are also Scandinavian and Russian; they’re all sorts of different cultures, so teaching them all about those different cultures and being respectful of everybody is important, I think.
PURESTYN MILK: That’s great. What kind of support did you receive from Doyon Foundation, and how did it help you as a student?
KEVIN WHITWORTH: Every semester, I’d receive some scholarship money from Doyon Foundation. I got enough to pay for my books, basically, each semester, and maybe a little bit more. It helps, every little bit helps, and so the scholarship helped me.
PURESTYN MILK: That’s awesome. Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for students today?
KEVIN WHITWORTH: That’s a very good question. There’s so much you can say. Basically, it’s going to be tough, there are going to be challenges. There are going to be good times, too. I really enjoyed my education and had a very good time in college, but there were challenges. You have to be disciplined and work really hard to achieve getting that degree. Individually, you have to have motivation to do it. So there are lots of challenges, but I think being motivated, being disciplined and knowing that nobody else is going to do your work besides yourself; you just have to buckle down and do it.
PURESTYN MILK: Great. Thank you for that advice, that’ll be very beneficial for our students. Is there anything else you’d like to mention today?
KEVIN WHITWORTH: Just thank you for this time. Thanks, Doyon Foundation, for the scholarships over my college years. I enjoyed this very much, thank you.
PURESTYN MILK: Thank you for joining us. We’re very excited to get this out to our students, so thanks for that.
KEVIN WHITWORTH: Thank you.
Find more Storyteller profiles at doyonfoundation.com/storyteller. 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.