A Tlinglit Leader in the Making

Submitted by Kai Wise on
Stephanie Masterman sits outside the Burke museum holding a Tlingit cedar canoe paddle she recently carved

Stephanie Masterman is finishing a busy few years at the University of Washington. Stephanie will graduate this Spring with her major in AIS with Departmental Honors, only our second student to do so, and a minor in Arctic Studies. She was an Ocean Nexus Research Fellow, a delegate for the Washington chapter of her tribal government, the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, an active member of First Nations at UW, and dedicated student on top of it all. 

We're so proud of Stephanie and excited to share this article published on the UW College of Arts and Sciences website and Perspectives newsletter. Help us support amazing students like Stephanie by giving to our Marvin Oliver Scholarship Fund. 

Here's a preview of the article, read the full story on the College's website

As a high school senior, Stephanie Masterman had no immediate plans to go to college. Then the Muckleshoot Tribe awarded her one of its Higher Education Scholarships, which support Native American students pursuing public higher education opportunities in Washington state.

“When I got that scholarship, I figured I had to do something with the money, so I registered for Green River Community College,” says Masterman. “If I didn’t get that scholarship, I don’t know that I would’ve gone right to college.”

That was the first step in a long journey that eventually led Masterman to the University of Washington. She graduates this month with a bachelor’s degree in American Indian studies and a minor in Arctic studies. 

Drawn to Languages — and a Major

Before coming to the UW, Masterman attended three community colleges, fitting in a course or two each quarter while holding down multiple jobs to support herself. After Green River College, she transferred to Highline College. Eager to learn Tlingit — the language of her people — she then enrolled in online courses for Tlingit through the University of Alaska Southeast. 

When Masterman finally transferred to the UW, she tackled another language: Southern Lushootseed, the language of the Puget Sound’s Coast Salish tribes.  “My people are from the north, so like many others, I’m a settler here,” she says of the Puget Sound region. “I felt an obligation to learn the language of this territory. And I really fell in love with the Lushootseed language.”

The UW’s Lushootseed courses, offered by the Department of American Indian Studies (AIS), led Masterman to major in AIS. But there was a time when she wasn’t sure AIS was the right choice. “When I got to the UW, I remember thinking, ‘I’m Native. Maybe AIS will just teach me things I already know. Maybe I should try something else.’” 

A deep dive into Indigenous climate policy during her junior year helped change her mind. “I realized that climate science and climate policy involve so many things — education, culture, language, history, and community engagement,” says Masterman. “It’s all part of it. And that made me realize that American Indian Studies was definitely the right place for me.”