“Big life decisions have happened here,” Nicole George tells me with a laugh.
Nicole picks up her white chocolate mocha and takes a sip. We are sitting at a table set in a bay window looking onto a drizzly day in Olympia, Washington. She says this coffee shop reminds her of her favorite places to think in Juneau and Angoon where she spent her childhood.
It was here – at Batdorf and Bronson Coffee Roasters – that she decided to add tribal policy to her master’s thesis in environmental studies.
“I heard someone make a comment about indigenous people – how they are kind of lazy and don’t deserve the [sovereignty] rights,” she says. “So at that moment I was like – no, I really need to do a project on historical trauma and bring to light all these injustices they face. Not only do they deserve these rights, but these are rights they were born with.”
Since then, her studies focus on how energy can be environmentally responsible while also affordable for rural, tribal communities, often isolated from civil infrastructure. “When I study tribal policy, I am always looking at the environmental impact,” she says, “Such as hydro-power as it relates to water management and salmon health.”
Between researching for her master’s degree and working at her school’s gym, Nicole is Sealaska’s 2017-2018 Board Youth Advisor.
[Nicole walks past one of her favorite places on the Evergreen State College campus, a wall that celebrates diversity.]
When she applied for the Board Youth Advisor position, she worried she did not have enough experience. After all, she would be advising businesswomen and men, lawyers and former politicians on the Sealaska board of directors for an entire year.
She soon learned the value of advocating on behalf of her generation’s challenges and concerns.
She learned how to be forceful in the boardroom. “Not in a negative sense,” she tells me quickly. “I learned to be confident in my personal views and my personal values. I learned how to look at the broader sense and go beyond myself and the people at that table – truly think about the current shareholders and the future shareholders, those who are still young and those who have not been born yet, and how they would benefit and be affected by my decisions.”
Scholarships and education are two issues she promotes in the boardroom. “Sometimes I am just there to remind them that, hey, it’s not just about your generation,” she smiles.
[Nicole walks toward the longhouse on campus, a place where she has found a community of Alaska Native students and staff.]
The Board Youth Advisor is a one-year commitment that begins at a Sealaska annual meeting and ends at the next annual meeting. She will travel to and attend six board meetings in total that each last a few days. Before each meeting, she received a packet of information that gives Sealaska’s operational and financial update. It can be anywhere 20 to 200 pages. She says it takes her a few hours to go through the materials, take notes and jot down questions and comments before each meeting. So, the position does come with homework.
Her advice for the next Board Youth Advisor: “Do something that is productive and useful for you, and don’t feel guilty about it. You have a life outside of school and the boardroom, and the directors don’t expect you to stop living that life just because you have this new responsibility. There are days that I won’t even look at my textbooks or read emails from Sealaska.”
[Nicole works at her college’s gym, doing everything from administrative work to helping fellow students check-out equipment. In her free time, she loves playing basketball to unwind.]
On those days, you can find Nicole shooting hoops in her school gym, getting food with friends or sipping coffee at her favorite place to think.
The application for the 2018-2019 Board Youth Advisor is open until Monday, March 26, 2018. Apply and find out details about the position, commitment and stipend here.
This story was written by Sealaska's Digital Media Producer, Kayla Roberts.