My name is Brenda Marie Blankenship, and I’m one of those people who decided to go to school later in life. I am Athabaskan, and an enrolled member of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, as well as a direct lineal descendant of an original Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI) Shareholder, Virginia Wolf. I grew up commercial fishing in Egegik, Alaska in the summers, and hanging out on my dad’s boat, the Perseverance, on Willapa Bay, Washington. After graduating high school in 1998 I took some welding classes and ended up working in sawmills for 15 years, eight of those years serving my union membership as a shop steward and later as the local president. I loved what I did, but wanted to do more. I was also a single mother for a long time, so I stayed in sawmills because ultimately it kept the bills paid.
When I turned 34 I decided that I was ready to make a major change in my career. A group of lawyers in Seattle, Washington decided to give me a shot at my first office based position as their Legal Assistant/Office Manager, and thus my introduction, and what would become my love for the law, was born. That position led to my next job at the Grays Harbor County Prosecutor’s Office. After some time spent there I saw an opportunity to come home to Kenai, Alaska and work for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe as the Executive Assistant to Tribal Administration, and I took it.
I realized shortly after beginning my job at the Tribe, that going back to school was essential if I wanted to advance at work, and more importantly, if I was to contribute my best to my people. I was nervous, but again, I decided to make the plunge and enroll at Alaska Pacific University in the Business Administration Program.
I finished my Associate’s Degree in 15 months, and about a year out from finishing my Bachelor’s Degree if I stay the course (which I will). My plan is to enroll in law school as soon as I finish my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. I plan to specialize in Federal Indian Law.
I am currently the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO) Manager for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, and my main objective is to locate and help open up doors for as many Kenaitze Tribal Citizens and Alaska Native people as possible. The opportunities that have been given to me by those who took a chance and have believed in me has taught me that each one of us has the ability and the power to uplift and change lives of countless people. We just have to keep our eyes open and watch for the chance to do so.
Learning more and more about my culture, and that of all Alaska Native people, has inspired me to reach as far as I can. If I am able to help flip that switch in others than I will succeed in making my ancestors proud. It is our way to support one another. I could not do any of this without the support of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, The CIRI Foundation, Alaska Pacific University, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, and others who have so generously given to allow me the opportunity to obtain my education. It is my pledge to make it worth it.