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MISS Woman of the Week: Kelsey Wallace of Bethel

October 12th, 2012 | Jacqui Lambert Print this article   Email this article  

"Ciugutnguunga. Maairpak University of Alaska Fairbanks-aami elitetuunga taugaam Mamterillermiunguunga. Aanaka Cingarkaq Sheila Wallace-auguq aataka-llu Apassangayaq John Wallace-auluni. Kenkaqa Cungauyar Alfred Wallace-auguq." Kelsey Wallace of Bethel, Alaska introduces herself in her Yup'ik language.

Wallace began learning how to use the Yup'ik language when she was a kindergartner at the Ayaprun Elitnaurvik, an immersion schooling program she attended through 6th grade. She went to high school at the Bethel Regional High School where she participated in events such as student government, drama club, cheerleading, volleyball, speech competitions, honor society, and BRHS' first Yup'ik dance group in more than 10 years. Wallace is currently in her third year at the University of Alaska Fairbanks studying Rural Development with an emphasis on Community Development and a minor in Communications. She is involved in the Inu-Yupiaq dance group and works at the Alaska Native Language Center.

Wallace held leadership roles in the activities she participated in and has received multiple awards recognizing her hard work. She served as a class representative, advisory school board representative, secretary, cheerleading captain, volleyball captain, drama lead role, and dance group chair. The awards include: Internship in the Office of Senator Lisa Murkowski (2010), Two British Petroleum Principle and Commissioner Scholarships (2010), Member of the Alaska Native Education Panel for the Alaska Federation of Natives (2009-2010), Alaska Student Leader of the Year (2010), Academic Honor Roll (2007-2010), Alaska State Cheerleading Squad and All-State Individual Champion (2010), Alaska Regional All Tournament (2008), and six Speech Meet Champion Titles (2006-2008).

Wallace's hometown provided her a connection to the Native culture through a school that offered both language and dance lessons. She attended Ayaprun Elitnaurvik for seven years and learned the vocabulary and structure to speak with her teachers, peers and family members. She has continued building fluency by taking courses at UAF.

"Although it is my second language, I still feel that it is an utmost importance to use my language whenever possible." She explained. "Imagine in 10 years when our elders are gone and we're forced to re-learn our language without the guidance of fluent speakers! I can only imagine the difficulty students and community members will have in continuing the use of any indigenous language. We all need to step up, stop talking about how we need to start using our language, and actually start putting to use that motivation to continue these languages."

Wallace began dancing in kindergarten, too, through a class that lasted about an hour a day. It began as a task that was required through school but as she grew up, she really found herself as a person through recognizing dance as a part of who she is. In high school, she was a part of BRHS' first native dance group in more than 10 years and currently dances with the Inu-Yupiaq group in Fairbanks and Acilquq (meaning our roots) dance group in Anchorage.

"When I hear the drum, it's like a spirit takes over me and I feel the beat of the drum and the beat of my heart drumming together in union. Everyone has that one thing that gives him or her a feeling of utmost happiness; Yup'ik dancing is my energizer" Wallace said.

Her family also plays a big role in defining her identity. Wallace's dancing headdress is made of beads left behind by her grandma who passed away before she was born. Her grandfather taught respect and patience through unspoken words during visits at the retirement home where he suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Her mom helps with building her language fluency by incorporating Yup'ik into her English sentences while speaking to her and her brother. It gives them a better understanding of their second language with the help of their first language. Wallace's father was the teacher of the family on how to properly cut fish. He taught her mom when they got married and what surprises most people is that he is white but still participates in Native cultural activities. Wallace was taught by her father the sense of motivation, of competition with herself rather than others, and to strive to reach her potential.

These roots are what inspires Wallace the most today. The small community of Bethel and her close-knit family drive her to succeed at her full potential while encouraging her to push herself. Because of the impact of her strong family, she encourages parents and communities to always put effort into reminding the youth of dreaming big.

Wallace takes a piece of her culture wherever she goes and shares it with people. She teaches people her Native language, how to make traditional foods, how to sing songs, shares traditional foods and it usually come as second-nature for her. She also shares by telling stories of growing up and telling about the environment.

Wallace is currently pursuing a degree in rural development with an emphasis on community development with a minor in communications. She learned she was not interested in taking a communications direction after her experience as an intern for Calisto. The intern opportunity instead helped her realize she would like to be more involved in cultural awareness through development. Wallace believes the younger generations can be provided with healthy, successful lifestyles through education. She advises parents and communities to focus on giving the younger generations hope for the future through encouragement of reaching for something more.

"I cannot stress how important it is for our younger generations to remember that we need to look past the statistics; look past the peer pressure and use obstacles in life as a reminder and motivator in knowing that we CAN succeed! We can all achieve our goals and dreams."

Kelsey Wallace was nominated by co-founder of MISS, Hannah Atkinson. Wallace was one of her best friends in middle school during her first year in Alaska and she opened up to her and welcomed her to the native culture. Wallace took Atkinson to the heritage center to watch dancing.

"She was cool because she always wore her mukluks to school and basketball games. Her mukluks were probably the first pair I ever saw." Atkinson explained.

Remember, if there are any influential women you would like to nominate to be featured as the MISS Woman of the Week, you can e-mail us the name and a way of contact to We would love to feature women who are making a difference in Alaska to celebrate their lifestyles and accomplishments.

MISS Quote of the Week

"Don't wait for something big to occur. Start where you are, with what you have, and that will always lead you into something greater." -Mary Manin Morrissey, New Thought Minister

MISS Song of the Week

Pretty Girl Rock - Keri Hilson

MISS is a movement organization that aims to empower women through exploration of identity and culture while aiming to combat domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape culture. MISS runs a blog that shares sexual education information and has a weekly post called MISS Monday honoring and celebrating local women's strengths and accomplishments while sharing a quote and song of the week. To nominate a women in your local area, please E-mail us the name and a way of contact to Our blog can be found at as well as our Facebook page at


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