“For anyone lucky enough to have been mentored by them, Hugh and Mary Jane’s words were life changing” – Niisha Walsh

Niisha

A University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) May 2018 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in social work, Niisha Walsh is the daughter of Maureen Walsh of Tanana and Dewayne Sanford of Tok. Her step-mother is Lena Sanford of Beaver Creek, Yukon, Canada. Niisha’s maternal grandparents are the late John Walsh, Sr. and Esther Starr-Walsh. Her paternal grandparents are the late Walter and Laura Sanford of Tok.

“I’m extremely grateful to be the first recipient of a scholarship that honors two people whose passion for bettering the lives of others continues through those who were privileged to be mentored by them,” Niisha says.

Niisha has made a point of meeting people who’ve benefited from the efforts of Mary Jane and Hugh Fate throughout their 65-year marriage. Effects are plain to see: “For anyone lucky enough to have been mentored by them, Hugh and Mary Jane’s words were life changing,” Niisha says.

Born in Rampart and among the first Alaska Native women to attend UAF, Mary Jane drew on her Athabascan subsistence traditions to overcome hardship and become a lifelong leader at the state and federal levels on behalf of Alaska Native people and the status of women. In 2014, she was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame in recognition of her role, along with others, to lobby Congress for passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. A Korean War veteran who came to Alaska in search of new opportunities, Hugh is a retired dentist whose many leadership achievements include serving as president of the University of Alaska Regents and as Alaska state representative from Fairbanks.IMG_2992-001

Established in 2017 by their daughter, Jennifer Fate, the Mary Jane and Hugh Fate, Jr. Leadership Fund is among Doyon Foundation scholarships for shareholders pursuing higher education in a variety of programs.

“This fund celebrates those who strive to make our community a better place, and our people a stronger and healthier people,” says Jennifer, a member of the Doyon, Limited, and the Doyon Foundation boards. Applications are encouraged from Doyon shareholders studying health care, mental health, business and other professions that advance Alaska Native business, cultural or community interests. The next application deadline is May 15, 2018.

Niisha, the first recipient of this scholarship, traces her passion for helping people in part to her grandmother, the late Laura Sanford, with whom Niisha spent much of her childhood.

“She’s remembered as a compassionate but no-nonsense woman, rich in her Athabascan culture,” Niisha says, adding that her grandmother often opened her home to children from outlying villages who needed a safe place to stay while attending school. “She was selfless, resilient and fearless.”

Witnessing her grandmother’s willingness to help others led Niisha to her own commitment to improving the health and safety of youth and families. Today she’s a foster care and adoption recruitment specialistin the Child Protection Program at Fairbanks-based Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC). Niisha’s goals include earning a master’s degree in social work through the advanced placement graduate program at the University of Alaska Anchorage and remaining with TCC, working in the best interest of Alaska Native children.

“I want to continue building community and tribal relationships to better serve youth,” Niisha says, echoing the passion for activism that the Mary Jane and Hugh Fate, Jr. Leadership Scholarship seeks to foster.

“This leadership scholarship celebrates the positive ‘can-do’ activism that has helped build our innovative system of for-profit and nonprofit Native organizations, all geared to improve the well-being of our people. It upholds the values of self-reliance, productivity and creative collaboration for the betterment of our community,” Jennifer says. “Niisha represents these positive values and will carry these qualities into her work and studies.”

A recipient of Doyon Foundation scholarships throughout her college education, Niisha says she’s come to consider the Foundation part of a team that motivates her to always do her best. “I can’t thank Doyon Foundation enough for its generosity,” she says.

Since graduating high school from Tok School in 2002, Niisha’s work has focused on improving the lives of young people, often through education. Volunteering over the years has included time as a basketball and tee-ball coach and working with the Johnson O’Malley Native Youth Basketball Tournament. Before joining TCC, she worked in the Tribal Home Visiting Program of Fairbanks Native Association. Today she serves as treasurer of the Alaska Native Social Workers Association.

“My short-term goal is to continue to raise awareness regarding the need for Alaska Native foster homes throughout the Doyon region,” Niisha says. For instance, in 2013, the state reported that Alaska Native children represented more than half of the roughly 2,000 children needing foster care statewide. However, less than a third of licensed foster homes in Fairbanks that year were Alaska Native foster homes.

Niisha’s long-term goals include developing a program offering youth in and out of the child welfare system a way to resolve obstacles to well-being while building on their strengths.

Niisha enjoys family dinners, watching football, baking and boat rides. She’s looking forward to time with family before embarking on her master’s degree, and she encourages other students to remember that educational success depends in part on surrounding yourself with people who push you to be your best.

“When you’re not feeling motivated to write that 10-page paper,” Niisha says, “find people who tell you, ‘Eye on the prize.’ Find people who want to see you win and hold onto them.”

Doyon Foundation is pleased to announce a new scholarship fund, the Mary Jane and Hugh Fate, Jr. Leadership Fund, established by their daughter, Jennifer Fate. Jennifer, a member of both the Doyon, Limited and Doyon Foundation boards, created the fund to honor Mary Jane and Hugh’s accomplishments for the betterment of the Doyon people.

IMG_2992-001“There are many kinds of leadership. There’s community leadership, business leadership, educational leadership and the kind of leadership that stands up and says difficult truths out loud,” Jennifer said. “This fund is in honor of my parents, Mary Jane and Bud Fate. In their 65-year love story, they lived all of these types of leadership.”

“This fund celebrates those who strive to make our community a better place and our people, a stronger and healthier people,” Jennifer added. “It’s a fund that also recognizes the importance of those who bring leadership to healing past traumas, stopping current abuses and reshaping lives.”

Mary Jane’s life has been a positive example of leadership and involvement in her Alaska Native community. Overcoming adversity at a young age, Mary Jane understood the significance of cultural support and community involvement. Through practicing her Athabascan subsistence traditions, through embracing leadership, and with the resilient support of her husband, Hugh, Mary Jane became one of the most inspirational and motivating Alaska Native leaders of her generation.

Both Mary Jane and Hugh dedicated their lives to the betterment of the Alaska Native and Doyon region people. They were co-founders of the Fairbanks Native Association, mentored many Alaska Natives and Doyon region peoples, and provided dental health services throughout rural interior villages, traveling by small plane to villages where no dental services existed. Mary Jane served as the first female co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives, president of Baan O Yeel Kon Village Corporation, and on numerous other boards and commissions.

“We are grateful for the example set by Mary Jane and Hugh Fate, Jr., and we are grateful for Jennifer’s generosity in establishing this scholarship, which will make it possible for future Alaska Native leaders to get the education they need to carry the torch forward into the next generation,” said Doris Miller, Doyon Foundation executive director.

Doyon shareholders studying health care, mental health care, business or any profession that contributes to the greater Alaska Native business, cultural or social community will be eligible for the new scholarship. Funds may be used for college, graduate school, post-secondary education, vocational or certificate programs. Preference will be given to students overcoming adversity or intending to enter a profession that contributes to the social or economic well-being of the Alaska Native community.

The first scholarship from the fund will be a basic scholarship awarded in spring 2018. The deadline for the spring 2018 scholarships has passed. A competitive scholarship will also be awarded in academic year 2018 – 2019. The next competitive scholarship application deadline is Tuesday, May 15, 2018, for scholarships for the 2018 – 2019 academic year.

“Please encourage Doyon shareholders working on a degree or vocation in business, education, mental health and health, substance abuse counseling, or spiritual and cultural training to apply for this scholarship. And thank you to the many leaders out there. Anaa Basee’,” Jennifer said.

Contributions from other donors to the Mary Jane and Hugh Fate, Jr. Leadership Fund are welcome. Secure online donations may be made on the Foundation website; be sure to note “Fate leadership scholarship” in the “special instructions” box. Donations may also be made by mailing a check to Doyon Foundation at 615 Bidwell Ave., Suite 101, Fairbanks, Alaska 99701. Please note “Fate leadership scholarship” in the memo line.

For more information about Doyon Foundation, scholarship eligibility and application instructions, or opportunities to support students, please visit www.doyonfoundation.com or contact 907.459.2048 or foundation@doyon.com.