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Janelle Vanasse

Project Facilitation

The ideas and experiences reflected in this project are not my own. With the guidance of my field mentor, Panigkaq Agatha John Shields, I have learned to see myself as a facilitator in this work.

As a non-Native, I bring my own biases and cultural lens to the project. Part of my passion for this project comes from many years of working in schools with high numbers of Alaska Native students and observing the failure of traditional school models for college readiness. Only through years of experience and guidance from others did I begin to understand the dynamic that both my culture and the culture of the students played in this mismatch. This observation piqued my interest in how a model may be developed to help other educators meet the needs of these students.

The acknowledgement of the shortfalls of the school system is not a substitute for lived experiences. I will always address school needs through my own cultural lens and personal background. This is part of what educators need to understand. In many ways I represent the very history that my project is designed to respond to, a Western educator applying a theory of education to the Alaska Native population. Work with my field mentor, Panigkaq Agatha John Shields and the cultural experts I interviewed are key to balancing my bias in this project. Regardless, I recognize this issue and encourage feedback by those more personally connected to the movement to decolonize education.


I am in a position to do this work at this time, but my role is limited. In the words of  Cajete and Pueblo (2010) “American Indian people must determine the future of American Indian education. That future must be rooted in a transformational revitalization of our own expressions of education” (p. 1132). 


Janelle started Becoming Aware as a doctoral project at Gonzaga University.  She will graduate in June 2021. Janelle holds a Masters degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Alaska as well as a Superintendent Endorsement.  Janelle obtained her Bachelor's of Science in Education from St. Cloud State in Minnesota.

Doctoral Capstone/Dissertation


Personal Story

As an educator in Alaska, I view myself as an advocate for college and post-secondary preparation for underserved students.  I have lived and worked with Alaska Native students throughout my career.  Initially I had very little understanding of the dynamics of schools and Alaska Native education.  Through many years of observing, mentorship from others, and my own mistakes, I began to be more aware of the benefit when students are invited to bring their whole selves into the academic setting. I have worked to honor the culture that students bring into the school with them through becoming reflective of my own culture and biases. 

I am originally from Bemidji Minnesota where I grew up in a large family of nine. Bemidji is home to Dakota and Ojibwe people, yet in retrospect I can see how separated my own schooling was from Indigenous culture. I came to Alaska in 1993 and taught three years in Fairbanks. In 1996, my husband and I moved to Bethel Alaska. We spent 20 years in the Yukon Kuskokwim delta and raised two sons there.  We love the delta and consider it home. The undeniable recognition of the Yup'ik people and culture that characterizes the region and the bilingual and bicultural commitment of the Lower Kuskokwim school district has been powerful for my own growth.  Both my boys attended Ayaprun Elitnaurvik, a Yup'ik Immersion school where they too benefited from the generosity of the culture and teachings of Yup'ik people.  

I currently live in Sitka Alaska with my husband Kurt Kuhne.  I appreciate the beauty of the Southeast and am enjoying learning more about Tlingit and Haida ways.



Janelle has served in education for over 30 years with 20 years of experience in Administration.  She lived and served in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta region of Alaska for 20 years were she was impacted significantly by the deep Yup'ik culture of the communities.  She currently serves as the Superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe High School, a statewide boarding school serving primarily Alaska Native students from all over the state.

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