June I. Degnan (B.S. ’79 & ’84) and her siblings are the first generation of formally educated members of her family. They are aboriginal people known as Yupik Eskimos. Her late father, Frank A. Degnan, was the first Yupik Eskimo elected to the Territorial Legislature and the co-founder of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), established in the 1960’s as the lobbying effort that was successful in acquiring the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) Public Law 92-203 on December 18, 1971. He began this effort in 1924 and lived to see the success of his efforts in 1971. This entitled 44 million acres of land along the rim of Alaska and $1 billion to the aboriginal people. This was placed in 12 corporations to manage with developments including drilling for oil, military contracting and more.
Serving as corporate directors, Degnan and her siblings got the corporations off the ground, later entrusting the management to others. They needed advanced education to run the corporations, which led her to attend Nova. “Nova had everything I needed to succeed. The instructors were excellent, the climate was warm, and I appreciated the philosophy and delivery of the curriculum. Nova showed me a world I otherwise would have never known. My degrees grounded me, and allowed me to feel good about myself.” She is grateful to her mentors at Nova for shaping her into the exceptional writer, public speaker, and advocate for social justice she is today.
With occupations changing about every five years including jobs as a teacher, researcher, librarian, urban planner, paralegal, lobbyist and park ranger, Degnan has enjoyed a varied career path. “I change what I do so I can stay involved as a role model, mentor, and advocate for our people.” She has a deep passion for the spiritual element of her tribe and for poetry, which she studied in France. She very much believes in education and empowering others. Whether she is lobbying for a healthy workplace or mentoring the next generation of leaders, Degnan makes inspiration and empowerment her goal.
Dividing her time between Sitka as a national park ranger, Degnan spends the other half in her Juneau home with Haven House, a halfway house for women recently released from prison. Haven House is a non-profit, faith based organization for which she is president and grant writer. Her experiences working at the Broward County Courthouse while studying at Nova led to her ambition to establish Haven House.
Degnan is currently looking for a publisher for a book that she is writing on the stories of her life. (Her sister, Frances has written their life story of growing up in a remote village in, “Under the Arctic Sun.”) “I’m writing the story of us. Things happen for a reason, and we have gained our strength from adversity. Life is about family, friends and protecting the environment. Our voice may be small, but it is strong.”
Degnan returns to her “second home” of South Florida once a year, and visits with former Nova classmates. She encourages the next generation of Nova students to “know who you are. Look in the mirror and like that person. Carry that person and know your strengths; for you are unique. Find the passion and joy in life; it is always out there.”