Jessica Koski

Implementation of Indigenous rights to lands & resources
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Anishinaabeg 1842 Ceded Territory, Baraga
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I’ve had a calling to continue my education for over a decade since I was a graduate student at Yale’s School of the Environment. Bringing my education home to my tribal community was an important first step for me. Especially to assist in immediate efforts to protect freshwater, a sacred site, and important cultural and natural resources from threats posed by sulfide mining near Lake Superior on traditional Anishinaabeg homelands and Treaty territory. After serving my tribe for over four years and seeking to expand my work to support additional communities and efforts to protect and restore Great Lakes ecosystems, I worked with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs Midwest Region for almost six years as a program manager and then branch chief. In these roles, I was able to coordinate across multiple communities and agencies, especially the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Great Lakes National Program Office, to help bolster capacity and self-determined support for Tribes to increasingly lead in efforts to protect culturally important species and ecosystems throughout the Great Lakes and Midwest Region. It took time to invest in building and strengthening programs for Tribes, and time to clarify which direction to go in this next step back to graduate school. Once established in a purpose-filled professional role it can also be difficult to pivot. Though I maneuvered between considering anthropology and law for many years, feeling a pull towards both. After settling into a convenient life and house in the suburbs of Minneapolis with my son in the summer of 2020, I quickly realized it was time to reconnect with my passion and follow my larger purpose.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

During the time I was connecting the dots of my purpose and slowing down to listen to inner wisdom and signs, one by one things aligned and pointed to the University of British Colombia. ‘Sparkly breadcrumbs’ as one mentor calls it. Now that I’m here, I know it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

When I found UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability (IRES), I knew it was a perfect match. Not only was it an unparalleled interdisciplinary program, the professors were doing amazing and impactful work to help accelerate changes for a more equitable and sustainable future. I was particularly drawn to a research theme of Governance, Policy, Law & Justice within IRES. I’ve also found interconnection and support beyond IRES across additional schools and departments including Public Policy & Global Affairs, Political Science, Anthropology, Geography and more.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

The best surprise about Vancouver is the natural beauty, which was anticipated but amazing to experience. I’m grateful to be a visitor on the traditional and unceded Musqueam territory and want my time and work here to also intersect and support local Indigenous communities in some way. I’m also enjoying a temperate winter compared to very cold winters in the Midwest. The best surprise about UBC is how much of a gem my particular program and pair of supervisors are at IRES. I feel very grateful and fortunate to be here and to learn from additional professors engaged in meaningful and transformative work on a global scale.

When I found UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability (IRES), I knew it was a perfect match. Not only was it an unparalleled interdisciplinary program, the professors were doing amazing and impactful work to help accelerate changes for a more equitable and sustainable future.
What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I’m looking forward to learning and growing through the research process and PhD journey. I’m grateful for the opportunity to focus on my passion and personal growth as a graduate student and aspiring Anishinaabe-Ojibwe scholar. I’m also looking forward to connecting and reconnecting with others who are engaged in advocacy, research and other work that intersects with my own. Also, to simply go about my graduate program and research in a good way, maintaining balance, and respectful of the gift and responsibility of knowledge.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

Ensuring that there is adequate support and capacity in whatever endeavor I may choose to embark upon. Many challenges are expected though in answering a call to seek to find ways to collaboratively reimagine and intervene in dominant systems and structures that are resistant to change.

How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?

I trust my program, mentors, experiences, and strong grounding in my traditional culture and teachings will help prepare me for any future challenges.

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

Many aspects of my life and career before prepared me for graduate studies at UBC. First and foremost, my culture and connection to community are a critical foundation and starting place for my educational journey which began at Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College. Further education, research and mentorship have also prepared me. Other experiences including grassroots and cross-border advocacy as a community member, tribal environmental professional and federal program manager have all prepared me with an abundance of skills and experiences, especially collaborative skills. Ceremony has also been an important part of my journey and preparation for return to graduate school. Perhaps one of the things that has best prepared me though was a transformational feminine leadership program that equipped me with lifelong tools and strategies, including a continued and growing circle of support, for maintaining alignment and balance on my path.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

My greatest joy is spending time with my son, whether it be at home playing a game or watching a movie, in the forest biking or hiking, or checking out new places around the area. I also enjoy music, audiobooks & podcasts, photography, beading, personal growth, ceremony, fitness & nutrition, traveling and being by the water. Yoga and tea are my favorite ways to unwind in the evening. I also begin each day with a morning practice to center within before going about the day. I think it's important to prioritize time for self-care and daily reflection. To seek balance spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I've seen how much can shift when the most important things are prioritized first, and when my cup is filled first.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Follow your passion & chart your own path with each step you take.


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