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Doyon Foundation Student Profile: Agatha Erickson

After graduating with honors from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire last month, Doyon Foundation alumna Agatha Erickson has returned to Alaska, where she has accepted a job in Fairbanks. Erickson, who majored in Native American studies, has her sights set on attending law school in the future.

“Most schools want you to have some work experience,” said Erickson, who is the new editor for Tanana Chiefs Conference’s newsletter, The Council.

Law holds a special interest for Erickson, who is the daughter of Arne Erickson of Tok and Susan Erickson of Kaltag. For her senior honor thesis, Erickson did a legal analysis of subsistence rights in Alaska. As part of that, she interviewed her mother and grandparents to see how federal Indian law has impacted their rights to access their homelands.

“When I interviewed them, I realized these laws have a very real and lasting effect on our lives. The law creates worlds in which we, as Alaska Natives, have to live and work. To know and understand the nuances of the law helps me to understand my life, my family and our existence as Alaska Natives,” said Erickson, who received the Daniel Simon award for outstanding academic achievement for her senior thesis.

Erickson, who was born in Fairbanks and grew up in Hoonah, said attending school so far from home was a challenge for her.

“When I graduated from high school, I couldn’t wait to leave. It took coming to the East Coast to help me realize how much I love home,” she said.

Now, Erickson’s long-range plans involve living in Alaska and working for Alaska Native peoples.

“I’ve done a lot of traveling and I haven’t found anywhere I like better,” said Erickson, who studied abroad in Berlin, Germany during her sophomore year.

One thing that helped Erickson overcome the challenges of being away from home was her involvement in the student group Native Americans at Dartmouth.

“It was one of the cornerstones of my experience here. The East Coast is so radically different from growing up in a village. Having other Native students to hang out with has been amazing. It has been a really big part of my life,” said Erickson, who was the co-president of Native Americans at Dartmouth when she graduated.

In addition to Native Americans at Dartmouth, Erickson was also editor-in-chief of First Voices, a student publication at Dartmouth, and was a Rockefeller Leadership Senior Fellow. In fall 2008, Erickson was also cited for outstanding academic achievement. Members of the Dartmouth faculty submit citation reports only when a student’s work is sufficiently distinguished to merit special recognition. Such citations are rare; typically, only a few undergraduates receive citations each term.

Erickson credits her successes to the fact she is studying something that truly interests her and impacts her life on a daily basis.

“Find your passion,” she advises other students. “It makes doing schoolwork easier. Work ceases to become work. It becomes something you enjoy. For me, federal Indian law and Alaska Native law is so fascinating. It’s fun because it’s a topic I enjoy learning about.”

Erickson is grateful for the financial support she received from the Doyon Foundation, her village corporation Gana-A’Yoo, Hoonah Indian Association and Dartmouth College.

“I’m graduating debt-free. The Doyon Foundation has helped me extensively. Thank you to Doyon and all who supported me,” she said. “I can’t imagine getting through college, especially one of this caliber, without the support of my family and everyone back home.”