2020 Tillman Scholar

Haliehana Stepetin

University of California - Davis

“I joined the Navy to heed my warrior spirit of service. Empowered by a legacy of Indigenous warriors, I now fight for Indigenous rights and representation in academia and beyond.”

Haliehana’s story of service is different from most. Inspired by her experience in a military academy program for delinquent youth, Haliehana enlisted at 17 to stand among the ranks of those who serve this country. More importantly to her, Haliehana joined to serve her family and community in Alaska. Born and raised in the Aleutian Islands—a community which was not poor in culture, tradition or support—nevertheless Haliehana, like many Indigenous people, enlisted due to limited options for success. Haliehana knew this decision meant choosing to fight the odds against her as a homeless, high school dropout versus doing something honorable with her life, making her dad proud and providing a financial foundation to care for him one day. 

Throughout Haliehana’s four years in the U.S. Navy, she developed strong leadership skills and a desire to never stop learning. The experience Haliehana gained as work center supervisor and a vital member of numerous shipboard teams ignited a yearning for a high-paced, intellectually challenging environment. Upon honorable discharge from the Navy, she found this environment while becoming her father’s legal guardian and pursuing higher education. Now, seven years after being discharged, her work has come full circle as she pursues a Ph.D. in Native American Studies at the University of California Davis. Haliehana is fulfilling her lifelong passion of perpetuating her Unangax culture while stepping into yet another role of service for the innovation of Indigenous knowledge with, by and for Indigenous communities.