Saturday, June 03, 2006

How One Alaskan Native American Turned Life Around

Quentin Simeon, 29, was born to two half-Native American, half-white parents and calls himself a "half-breed." He grew up a depressed and troubled teen in Alaska without an identity. At one point, he lived in shelters or slept on the streets. Quentin's life changed after winning first place in the 2002 Native Oratory Society contest with a self-reflective speech called "A Glimpse into a Tannish-Brown Soul."

Winning that contest sparked Simeon to talk about his culture, said Dan Henry, who founded NOS. "The more he spoke, the more he realized who he was," Henry said. Simeon soon began speaking at town gatherings. In the middle of one youth and elders conference, Simeon's father walked in. The two hadn't seen each other in a long time, and Simeon talked through his tears while speaking directly to his dad ... "Something to the effect that, 'Dad, I really needed you,'" Henry recalls. Simeon was exposing a topic often taboo, Henry said. "People knew this was going on -- obvious from statistics -- but no one had really talked about it so frankly and so personally," he said, recalling the audience's tears. "He was clear about his father's absence without being harsh about his father. It was a very honorable way to go. There wasn't anger in there."

A few weeks ago, Quentin received his bachelor's degree from the University of Alaska/Anchorage honors program while his wife and two children looked on. "I never expected to attend or even graduate from college," he told the audience. Simeon is now a cultural programs manager for the Native Heritage Center, where he has worked for three years. The job is a great fit for where he is in his life -- embracing an endangered Native way of life, he said.

See wonderful Native American art from the northwest at Free Spirit Gallery

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