The Right Path

As the young wolf was walking through the tundra, unclear and pondering about what path to choose ahead, he chose the left path. The wolf suddenly approached a lake, the wolf looked at its reflection in the water and the pup decided it did not like being alone. It wanted to be so badly accepted by its pack and would do anything to get them back. The wolf decided it needed to start a new journey, and this is how its journey went. 

My name is Melvin Captain and I’m 24 years old. I’m Koyukon Athabascan from the village of Ruby, Alaska. My parents are Francis Captain and Deanna Houlton, and my stepdad is Timbre Houlton. My paternal grandparents are the late Billy and Eleanor Captain of Ruby, Alaska. On my maternal side, my grandma is Martha Wright of Kokrines, and my late grandpa is Eugene Davis from Maine. In my Koyukon Athabascan culture, when we introduce ourselves, we also introduce our parents, grandparents, and village. From an early age I had a strong connection to my people and culture. I’ve been resilient in the face of challenges and have always had my community behind me.  

At five years old, my parents filed for divorce and its wake, I had to leave my community and the sense of comfort and security provided by my surrounding family. I left Ruby, Alaska and moved to Fairbanks with my mother and siblings feeling far away from my culture, love, family and so much more. Despite facing difficulties, it was a new beginning. It was hard to not have access to my cultural practices or foods when I moved. As an adult now, I recognize how disconnected I felt from my people. I encountered numerous challenges with my identity and the racism of my non-Indigenous classmates. Looking back, I can see how I was assimilated into this new world.  

As I grew I found pathways to new opportunities, including a course with the University of Alaska Fairbanks that would equip me to be a first responder to wildland or prescribed fires. I became a youth representative for Tanana Chiefs Conference Circle of Care and was selected as Youth Member of the Tribal Advisory Council (TAC) in Fairbanks, Alaska. These opportunities enhanced my professional skills, like communications, facilitation, and building relationships with my peers.  

 Growing into Adulthood  

After graduating high school, I continued to keep fighting wildland fires for the next two years. We had many long and challenging days of physical and mental exhaustion. I found myself struggling with depression and at the bar more frequently. At the end of my second fire season, I moved home to Ruby to help my dad train sled dogs that winter. It was a point in my life many others may connect with: I was searching for who I was, who I wanted to be in the world, and what I wanted in life. That winter I built a relationship with my dad that allowed us to be closer and have a stronger bond. It was not without challenges and this relationship had its ups and downs. I found my way back to volunteering with Tanana Chiefs Conference, attending workshops and conferences focused on community change. I wanted to change the way we supported youth in Ruby and put this vision into action. I was hired by my tribe as a youth coordinator at nineteen to engage youth through various programming. I have realized how fortunate I am with how unique Alaska is. It was nice to be back around similar people with the same cultural values. I felt like a blanket was wrapped up, just by being around my homelands.  

This period of my life reminds me of how quickly our journey and paths can change. I was impacted by numerous health issues. You may be able to relate to the sense of helplessness, fear, and isolation that comes with being dealt a challenging hand in life. I soon came to terms with this and decided to keep going forward. One day, I began applying for various opportunities across Alaska to keep pushing myself. I chose to uproot my life and move to Anchorage, Alaska for the summer for the Indigenous Leadership Continuum. I reconnected with my auntie and began exploring this new, exciting city. This internship changed the course of my life. I learned more about the civil rights that Alaskan Natives must lobby and fight the state and federal government for. I became more knowledgeable about different Indigenous cultures around Alaska and began reconnecting to my roots and how I wanted to express it into the world.  

While this worthwhile experience continued, I endured some of the most extensive challenges to my health. At times, I was completely immobile and in extensive pain. I managed to finish my internship and soon learned at such a pivotal point in my life I would soon be a father. I felt every emotion, including panic, shock, nerves, fear, and excitement. At the time, I knew I wasn’t ready to be a father. After going through this wave of emotions, I got my bearings and prepared for parenthood. My son was born March 7, 2020 amid the pandemic. His birth marked a new path through single fatherhood. It was a challenging transition, but it was my son that kept me going. I was connected to my culture through dog mushing and having a sense of purpose in my community. I recognized that I was a cultural torch barrier and had a mission to pass Indigenous culture to my son. Raising my son to know his cultural heritage is vital for him to know his role in this world. I want to raise him to respect the land and to never be a follower. I want him to be able to walk in both worlds. I want him to thrive in any direction he goes in life. My son knows his culture and how important it is to pass this knowledge to his peers and family. I feel by raising him in a modern, yet cultural home will benefit him in so many ways. Culture is vital to the health and well-being of our communities. Alaskan Native villages have some of the highest rates of substance use, depression, and violence. Culture is how our people continue forward and combat a legacy of colonization that has led to cycles of trauma.  

The Future

My path that I shared with you today was not linear. Since I was sixteen, I dreamed of being my own boss and an entrepreneur. Today my journey led me to be the sole proprietor of Captain Consulting. I work to provide technical and professional advice to tribes, nonprofits, and to public and private sector clients. As a young father, my son played a critical role in my want to create a business for myself. I am present for my son and able to be home for the smallest moments of his life. I paved a new path for myself to provide us with the best life possible. I want young Native men to see themselves as businesspeople too. As a young father, I want to continue supporting youth and young adults by being a positive role model. I want young people, including those reading this today, to know that you can develop inner strength and resilience through understanding and deeper involvements in culture and traditional ways of being.

Written by Melvin Captain

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