Emily Tyrrell, MBA, Director Of Sustainability At First Alaskans Institute
Looking at Emily Tyrrell’s contagious smile, you would never know the struggles she’s faced. Emily, a Calista Descendant, has a beautiful nine-year-old daughter, a career she’s passionate about and a life filled with purpose. But Emily has faced more heartache in her life than most can imagine.
Emily spent most of her childhood in Texas, with her Yup’ik/ Iñupiaq mother and white father. Seeking to know more about her Alaska heritage, at age 19 she enrolled at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She quickly fell in love with her college sweetheart Jake Tyrrell. The pair married, adopted Emily’s younger sister Holly and welcomed a daughter, Anya.
“We were rich in love and happiness,” said Emily. But a year after their daughter was born, Jake was killed in a motorcycle crash. With a baby on her hip and her younger sister to raise, Emily reenrolled in college, determined to persevere and create a life for her family.
“My truth today is that because of education and because of hardship and all of the loss in my life, it has helped me to get where I am at today,” said Emily.
Emily studied hard and graduated with a degree in journalism and public communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage and went on to receive her executive master of business administration in strategic leadership from Alaska Pacific University.
“Knowledge is power,” said Emily. “Education has allowed me to give back to my community in meaningful and rewarding ways.”
Emily’s family is originally from Emmonak. She is the great-great granddaughter of Sinrock Mary, and great granddaughter of Axel and Pearlile Johnson (Axel Johnson is the first President of Calista).
Emily’s mother was adopted and it wasn’t until recently that Emily met her biological family. Because she was raised without the Alaska Native culture around her, she feels passionate about discovering her heritage. She is also making a point to immerse her daughter in Alaska Native culture. Anya attends the Alaska Native Charter School and participates in events such as the First Alaskans Institute Elders & Youth Conference.
“She corrects my Yup’ik,” said Emily. “It’s a beautiful thing when you don’t grow up knowing where you came from and now I see it in my daughter.”
Emily is making a difference among her people. She is the director of sustainability at First Alaskans Institute and a founding board member of Forget-Me-Not, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to connecting the Anchorage homeless population with family members in rural Alaska. Her goal is to change the way people treat the homeless in Anchorage. She encourages others to have conversations with people and to remember to treat everyone with respect. Emily practices this by handing out care packages containing socks, food and other essential items.
“We have brothers and sisters who are hurting,” said Emily. “But as much as there is hurt, we are a strong, resilient people.”
For a city girl who was once in the dark about her heritage, Emily now shines brightly in the Alaska Native community.
She truly embodies her Yup’ik name – Keneggnarkayaaggaq – meaning beautiful persona, spirit, aura and friend.
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