Story and Photo by: Christian Kamkoff

The cultural support of American Indians and Alaskan Natives is incredibly important to the community. A critical component of this support comes through cultural preservation. Equally significant, however, is the continued growth of Native American culture. It is important to show the world that Indigenous culture is not simply a historical culture, but a vibrant, living culture as well. I have met individuals, both from the United States and abroad, that were surprised to learn that American Indians are not a bygone ethnicity. I believe that the low percentage of American Indians and Alaskan Natives who graduate college compounds with the fact that fine and performing arts are the smallest category of degrees received, resulting in an incredibly small number of Native Americans in the arts—especially in literature. The success of American Indians in any field, but particularly in the arts, reminds the world that we are still here, we are thriving, and we have a beautiful, creative culture that enriches humanity. It is my hope to contribute as an author to the voice of this culture. By giving me the tools to improve and become a successful writer, my education will help me make an impact as an artist of Native heritage.

I have been admitted into Columbia University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, one of the finest programs of its kind in the country. My short-term goals are to graduate Columbia’s program with a completed collection of short stories and possibly the manuscript for a novel. Within the first five years of completing my MFA program, I hope to establish myself as a published author. I’m currently working on a collection of short stories inspired by growing up on the Lummi reservation. By drawing from my experiences as a Lummi and Alaska Native, I am able to honor my culture through literature and to share it with those outside the community, so they may have a better understanding and appreciation of our people. My ambition is to finish and edit this collection during my MFA program and then seek publication.

Though little is certain in creative industries, with a published novel or collection of short fiction, I would be well on my way to establishing a successful career in my field of interest. Long-term, I hope to have the kind of success that will not only open up opportunities for me to freely pursue my creative projects, but also create opportunities for aspiring writers in the Native community. As an MFA in Creative Writing would permit me to teach at a university level, I would like to be able to someday lead creative writing workshops on the reservation, and perhaps even at the low residency MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. The support of The CIRI Foundation scholarship will help me achieve these goals with less student debt, allowing me to focus on writing and giving me greater latitude to pursue opportunities educating others.