After months of couch surfing, I was 14 and in foster care. My journey began in Fairbanks, AK, at an emergency shelter. Eventually, I was told that I was going to be placed in Tribal foster care because I am a registered Alaska Native. At first I thought, "What's the difference? Still a system right? One can't be worse than the other." But even though my family is Alaska Native, I grew up in the city. No one in the family is traditional in any way, except for the food our distant family members sent us on occasion. What did I know about Tribal anything? I didn't even have Alaska Native friends. Thoughts of native foster parents living in the village crossed my mind, and I was scared.

TribalFosterCare-lgThe papers finally came through, and I was officially a ward of my Tribal Counsel, a counsel of native people in a village more than 500 hundred miles away. Luckily, a home was available right in my city. When my new foster parents came to meet me for the first time, I was shocked to see that they were White. What would Caucasian people know about raising native kids?

Bob and Donna are lifelong Alaskans, and Donna was born and raised mostly in the villages. It wasn't long before Donna started to show me what it meant to be native. She cooked traditional foods, skinned and cleaned the animals in the "native way," and also knew how to sew and bead all the traditional clothing. In a culture that is usually against outsiders, Donna was extremely popular among the native community for her foods, crafts, and love and support she showed to the children.

Within 6 months of living with them, I was actually going to school, playing for the Alaska Native Basketball league, attending potlucks regularly, and even making my own regalia. My Caucasian foster parents taught me how to be native. They showed me that being a part of a community doesn't mean you have to look or act like them or be raised in certain way. Being a part of a community meant just actively participating and being there. I did not stay with Bob and Donna long, and when I left, I got to take a lot more than my garbage bag of clothes. I got to take my culture and community.

Years after aging out I eventually went to work for one of the largest native corporations in interior Alaska, providing behavioral health services to the Alaska Native population. I believe my ties within the community helped make my job so much easier as I provided services to those who needed them because they trusted and knew me already. To this day I'm thankful for my Caucasian/Native foster mom for everything she taught me; I proudly label her Native-by-Association.

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