Katiya simonsson


Simonsson stands between rows of houses in Unalakleet.

Simonsson stands between rows of houses in Unalakleet.

"I think that, within the [Covenant] Church, things that they offer are very focused on what the community needs. ... The sewing circle; they give a lot to single mothers, or kids in need. They focus a lot on elders. Instead of how it used to be, other people coming in and telling how things work. It’s now, 'What does this community need? What can we offer?'"

my experience growing up

I was born in Kotzebue, but I’ve moved around the state. My dad is a retired State Trooper, and so he’s been stationed in Anchorage, Kotzebue, Glennallen, and finally here, but both my parents are from [Unalakleet]. My mom’s full Native, and my dad is full white. ... Usually I’ll just say that I’m Alaskan Native, because my experience growing up is more-- not as "white America" as it seemed in the Lower 48. Even though I am that, as well. A lot of people will say, "Oh, well you don’t really look Eskimo," or, "I thought you were part Asian or something like that." And I’m like, "Well I guess you don’t really see a lot of Natives down in the lower 48."



In high school, I knew that I wanted to get out of the state, because I felt stuck here. Because, you kind of are literally stuck here, you know? You can’t hop in a car and go to another village; you have to buy a really expensive flight ticket to get anywhere. And so I felt like I couldn’t really do what I wanted to do. And even if I was in Anchorage or Fairbanks... it still felt too close-- that I needed to get a little bit of space and get out a little bit, and, you know, experience something different. So I decided to go to North Park University in Chicago. That was the only application that I finished. And I got accepted.


life in the lower 48

Moving to Chicago is basically like moving internationally, cause the cultures are so different. A lot of people ask me why I didn’t do like a study-abroad thing, and I’m like, "I did study abroad; I studied in Chicago!" … Like, "Do you want to come home with me [to Unalakleet]? We just paved our roads five years ago. We got cell service eight years ago." It was a study abroad in Chicago. It was hard. ... I’m really introverted, and I’m a homebody, and so I moved there without really knowing anybody. It was really overwhelming. I basically was a hermit in my first year. I just kept to myself, because in my head everything was really scary and big and noisy and crazy to me. So it took me a long time to really feel comfortable-- and I never really was completely comfortable. I found a way to cope with living there. But it was a good stretch for me to do that.

churches and schools in rural alaska

A lot of times, Western people who come up [to rural Alaska], they end up kind of oppressing the culture. When [the Christian churches] started their schools, they only allowed English. If you spoke another language, you’d get punished for it. So there is this oppression of culture and...it’s always been a really sensitive thing. There’s been a lot of really stressful interactions with the Baptist church, family there. Because it was kind of like [repeating] the experience that they had long ago, where they came in and they wanted to save everybody, without really knowing-- without like, stepping in our shoes, you know? They came out of their culture, into our culture, bringing their culture. And they would write letters back to their donors, telling a lot of hurtful things. And a lot of untrue things. So that was really difficult, and there’s still a lot of tense things now between [the church ministries] and a lot of people here in town. It hasn’t really gone away. ... Another experience I think of is teachers. It happens in a bunch of villages, that teachers come from out of town and stay here for a year, and then they kind of leave. And that's hard for the students because they know the teachers, and then they get attached, and they leave. Then a whole new other teacher comes in, and so it’s hard because, teacher turnover is-- It's a hard place to live here. [The teachers] need to be some pretty tough people, and some well established people, to live here long term, I think. It’s hard to find that, and it’s hard to figure who those types of people are, and get them here. Usually they are in other places and they do good there.

a side of me that shows up

It’s been really good here for me, [living in Unalakleet]. I’ve been working on my art and drawing more. ... Things work a little slowly here, a little bit more my pace. It was a little too much, living in Chicago, and all those expectations and trying to work. I was really unhealthy; just kinda burned out. ... My parents told us they were separating. ... And it took me like a week ... to realize that [we were] going to have to move back, and possibly live with my dad, because there's really no housing opportunities here. ... So, at first I was like, "No, absolutely not. I would rather live on the streets in Chicago then try to go back home and deal with all that stuff." But then I was like, "Actually, okay. There are some really big positives. ... As hard as it’s gonna be, and as much as I’m going to hate it during the process, it’s my responsibility to be home and be there for my brothers." I will be here for them, and I’ll get to watch Caden’s basketball games, and Cale’s basketball games, and that would be awesome because I hadn’t been able to, because I’ve been living across the country. So there are good things here, and [Thomas] gets to see where I’m from, and I am a little different here than I was in Chicago. There’s a side of me that just doesn’t show up when I’m in Chicago, but when I’m here it’s more my element.

it just seems right that we are here

[Thomas and I] assumed a lot when we were dating [at North Park University in Chicago]. ... When we were talking, we assumed we understood each other. Because, the way I was expressing myself is very clear--from the culture I’m brought up in. And the way he explains himself is very clear in the way he was brought up, the language he was brought up in. But it would build up into these big arguments over very-- pretty simple things that we just missed! Now we know what we really mean. ... Honestly, we both enjoy it here. It’s a nice community. As crazy as everybody is within this community, it’s nice. You do rely on each other and help each other out, and I like that. At least for me, I like that my family is close. ... We’re both thinking about starting a family. And I like the idea of raising kids here. ... You kind of have to find and make your community. We’re thinking about where we could be other than here. But right now, it just seems right that we are here.

Simonsson with husband Thomas, who works in music ministry for the Unalakleet Covenant Church.

Simonsson with husband Thomas, who works in music ministry for the Unalakleet Covenant Church.