Q&A with Kristen Parr, ’99, UOAA Board Member
Kristen started out majoring in French, but switched to Japanese. Her love of languages is further demonstrated by her career as a language instructor at the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Where are you from originally? What brought you to the University of Oregon?
I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. Once, when I was 12, I was in my junior high French club, and I was able to visit the UO on “Language Day.” It used to be this cool day where all the languages the UO offered were showcased for up and coming students. That was my first exposure to college life, and I knew right then that I wanted to be a Duck. I can remember it like it was yesterday, and it has been about 27 years.
What was your major, and why did you choose said major?
When I first started attending, my major was French, but I was also studying Japanese as well. I needed to make up my mind and I was excelling at Japanese so I just changed my major to Japanese and went with it.
What were you involved in while attending school?
I was the Recruitment and Retention officer for people of color in Associated Students of the University of Oregon
- I was very involved with the Native American Student Union
- I was on the Leadership Team for two years for the Office of Multicultural Affairs (my age is showing)
- I was a United States Student Association member
- I was on the Board of Directors for the Multi-Cultural Center
- Numerous hiring committees
- I was one of the people that created Weaving New Beginnings, but it was called People of Color in Academia first.
What are some of your favorite memories at the UO?
My favorite memories at the UO are things like going to Max’s for a big mug; being around all the student unions and their activities; the nightlife atmosphere; being in the WUSHU Kung Fu club; representing my tribe, the Cayuse people; and 13th Street before and after the huge renovations. I absolutely loved going to the campus art museum on a regular basis, I loved going to basketball games, I loved hanging out at NASU or MECHA or BSU or ASU (anything to do with students of color), storming Johnson Hall with our political demands, being able to live in Japan, walking all over campus during the different seasons to experience the scenery, and the street fairs.
How has life been post-graduation? Jobs?
Life has been fun. A lot of challenges and a lot of rewards. I tried moving to Seattle after graduation to pursue a career in Japanese, but ended up getting my Pharmacy Technician License, and worked in that industry for a while. I realized that Japanese was really not in the cards for me, and I was always missing my Reservation in Pendleton, Oregon, and my family. I travelled to New Mexico and learned that almost every Native I met spoke their own language. That was a turning point for me. I kind of woke up and realized that my heart just was not in anything I was doing so I decided to apply for Grad school in Linguistics at UO, and to my surprise I was accepted. I journeyed back to Eugene and tried getting my master’s but I left early so I could come work for my Tribe’s Language Program.
Tell us what it is like to be the language instructor at the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
This is the job I was truly meant to have. I am not just an instructor, but a true advocate of language revitalization. I love my career and I feel blessed every day that I am able to give back to my own community. Since starting this journey, I have learned that I really do not know as much as I thought I did. I have been really humbled during my eight years here, and have come to see my true identity as a Native American woman. I have received a state teaching license from TSPC (Teacher Standards and Practices Commission) and I am the only person in Oregon with the license to teach CAYUSE/NEZ PERCE. I am so proud and now I am able to help children realize their full potential through teaching.
What kind of duties do you perform on a regular basis on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation?
I have a high school class, two elementary level classes, and I teach at our Tribe’s General Council meetings. I started a customer service program and am trying to implement it and I am trying to create policy for our languages to be used in every part of our government. I create all Cayuse/Nez Perce curricula, I sit with my Elders and practice speaking, and I collaborate with other tribes and entities of our tribe to get language out there. I have translated words for a major motion picture, I have been featured on a couple documentaries, and I practice a lot of my Tribe’s traditions and culture. I am also on our tribal Housing Commission, so I still like being involved in my community.
You’re on the UOAA Board of Directors, why did you choose to be on the Board? Why is membership important?
I chose this position for many reasons, including being a voice for Native alumni and students, and a chance to represent equality and fairness. Membership is important to me because I believe in my alma mater, and I know that I can represent a huge demographic by doing this work.
Any suggestions for young Native American students looking to pursue a degree in higher education?
Native students should know what tribe they are from and know who their families are. One should not go to college thinking you will find out who you are as a Native. You go to college to strengthen who you already are in your heart, and you take your knowledge back to your people to help the struggling future generations.
I received some advice when I was first starting school, and I believe it was the only thing that got me through the tough times, because there are always tough times. I was told the best thing to do is to get involved. If it was not for the networking and the friendships that I made during my time at the UO, I really believe that I might not have made it. The relationships you build are the secret to your success as a student. Those relationships carry on after graduation and even help you maybe 15 years after you graduate. You just never know who is going to be the next great leader, and it is beneficial to have good relations with others that maybe can help you succeed in the future, and you may be able to help someone as well.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I guess I would just like to say that being a student at the UO were some of the greatest years of my life, and I would not change them for anything. Any type of higher education is medicine for your spirit. What you learn today can help you and others tomorrow.
Q&A by UO student Chelsea Fullmer. Originally published in the November, 2013 UOAA newsletter.