Behavioral Health Researcher
Louise Shavings is a Cup’ik Eskimo born and raised in the village of Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island. Her Cup’ik name is Lakautarkar. At 14, Louise was sent to a boarding school in Unalakleet called Covenant High. Initially, she was in culture shock and missed her family a lot. “But once I became involved in academics and athletics that the school offered, I started enjoying myself.” After high school, Louise traveled to Hawaii to attend college. She was inspired to leave Alaska when she heard about a girl from her village who had visited Hawaii. She spent 5 years in Hawaii before returning to Alaska.
Louise became interested in the field of behavioral health as she learned more about the many issues surrounding the Alaska Native peoples. “Initially I was interested in substance abuse because it was directly related to my own family issues and other relatives.” While pursuing an associate degree in Human Services, Louise became interested in the counseling field. She was trained to become a substance abuse counselor through an internship with Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s Family Services program. She also had an opportunity to work as a substance abuse counselor with the Alaska Native Alcoholism Recovery Center (now known as the Ernie Turner Center), the Alaska Women’s Resource Center, and the Southcentral Foundation’s Pathway Program.
Louise went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Social Work. In 2001, she was hired as a Research Assistant at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, University of Alaska Anchorage. She also assisted with research projects at the Native Resource Center for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Elders, the Center for Alaska Native Health Research, and the Maternal and Child Health program. During this time, Louise earned a Masters degree in Social Work. Currently, she is finishing a comparative study of people who attended boarding schools in Alaska. At this writing, Louise is moving to a new position as a Senior Researcher with Southcentral Foundation. She is excited about being involved in new research projects.
When Louise is not at work, she enjoys spending time outdoors. “Nature is very healing for me. It allows me to calm down and to appreciate what nature has to offer. When I do subsistence activities, it’s like I’m reaping what nature has to offer, while at the same time healing and connecting to the universe.” She also loves to power walk and knit. “Knitting helps me slow down and ponder where I am at in life. It’s a great outlet for creativity. Louise is a qiviut knitter. “Our village of Mekoryuk uses a 100 year old harpoon pattern.” In addition, Louise enjoys traveling. “When I was a little girl, I remember lying on a hill near my village and wondering where all the people in the jets that flew over were going. I told myself I’d be up there some day.” Louise has traveled in those jets to places like France, Belgium, Spain, and Mexico.
“There is no real typical day when you do research. The day will focus on whichever part of the research process you are currently working on. Research involves data collection, data analysis, literature searches, and report writing.” Louise says she really enjoys the data collection and analysis, as well as searching the literature. She finds the report writing the most challenging aspect of her job.
All of Louise’s research revolves around Alaska Natives. “For me, personally and professionally, I really enjoy looking at both historical and current events involving Alaska Natives. Traditions are changing, evolving, shifting. Alaska Native cultures are very capable of adapting to the environment and the changes that have occurred. Being in research gives you an ‘eye-view” of what is happening now culturally. In the Cup’ik tradition, we have what you call the 3rd Eye, the Eye of the Universe. It allows you to see and connect with the environment and the people around you. I think my research is helping me develop my 3rd Eye.”
Advice to students…
When asked if she had any advice for high school students living in rural Alaska, Louise said, “when you apply yourself, you discover more about yourself.” She advises students to get involved. “You may discover strengths inside yourself you never knew were there. Never give up. But also, don’t forget who you are and where you came from. Hang on to your values and traditions because they are your strengths. Also, know there are people out there to help you when you need it.” For people just starting out in the research field, Louise said it is important to understand Alaska Native history when working with Alaska Natives.
This page was last updated by Janice Troyer on January 16, 2007