In Her Own Words… An Interview with UAII Intern: Aksia Funmaker
Why did you choose UAII for your internship?
When I graduated from high school, I knew that I wanted to pursue higher education. But at the time, I felt that I needed to give myself a gap-year to center myself and reflect on my high school experience to better plan my next steps.
I strive to spend my days learning and growing, and when suddenly faced with so much free time, I wanted to put my energy into something positive for my community. I knew that no matter what I did within UAII, I would always be achieving that goal, so the UAII internship was hardly a choice at all!
What was your first encounter with UAII?
I have so many fond memories of UAII. I’ve essentially been involved with the organization throughout my entire life. Before I was born, my family already had a long history with UAII. While my mom was pregnant with me, she would attend therapy sessions at UAII, and after I was born, she would take me with her. My father, (Little) John De Trinidad has been involved with UAII since he was 21 in 1981, and my great uncle (Big) John Funmaker is currently working as a spiritual counselor and is very hands-on leading ceremonies. My father and great uncle have participated in and hosted ceremonies with UAII for many years, most recently in May, they set up an Inipi (sweat lodge) in Sun Valley.
What was your most memorable experience at UAII?
My most memorable experience was when my father, John De Trinidad, came to UAII to visit me at my internship during my lunch break. As I was giving him a tour of the building, I introduced him to a staff member and he started to explain how proud he was of me. He said that when he was younger, he had wanted to work at UAII. He said that he is so glad that I’m involved in the Native community. At that moment, I saw that he had little sparkles of water in his eyes.
As you were building much-needed connections at UAII, the pandemic happened. What kept you going through the challenges?
Transitioning to work-at-home was disappointing because I was enjoying making more connections within the community at UAII. But I also saw it as a learning experience on adaptation. I have been very privileged throughout this pandemic, as it hasn’t impacted my life in too many negative ways. But it is a constant challenge to navigate this changing landscape of civil unrest and economic hardship, especially when coupled with the threat of the virus. My motivation comes from helping those who don’t have access to the same resources that I do, and from making sure that I’m doing everything I can to give back to the people and community around me.
Challenges will always come up. How do you stay focused on your end goal?
I stay focused on my end goal by attempting to be mentally present. I clear my head and focus on one goal and visualize the steps needed to get there. It is important to have a healthy mental outlook, and if I feel myself getting stuck or frustrated, I make sure to take a break and go for a walk with my dog or have a glass of water before attempting to jump back into whatever I’m working on. I’ve found that to be very effective.
You’ve shown incredible resilience continuing your work at UAII and at the same time continuing on to college. Why didn’t you waiver in your commitments?
I didn’t abandon my commitments because when I have a responsibility, I’ve always looked at it as a promise to myself to uphold. However, I accept that if I put forth the effort and try my best, the outcome may still not be what I had hoped for, and that is ok. The key for me is to be gentle with myself and forgive myself easily, while still holding myself firmly accountable.
What advice would you give other Native high school students who may be graduating soon and feeling overwhelmed by the COVID pandemic?
I would want them to know that it’s ok to ask for help and that sometimes talking to a professional is the best solution. Feeling overwhelmed is normal (everyone is either overwhelmed or lying), but no one has to deal with it alone. Other than that, I think good advice would be to learn to accept things as they come; you can’t control the world, but you can control your response to it. Continue to do what is right, and try to leave things better than how you found them. The most important thing I hope for the Native community and myself is that we keep putting our energy into positive projects and that we continue to learn, grow, and give back.
“When Aksia started straight out of high school, she had an eagerness to learn, and for that, we respected her greatly. Throughout the six months that she interned with us in the Development Department, Aksia took the goals of our organization very seriously. She engaged her coworkers and teammates, and she reached out to the community on a number of occasions in a culturally responsive way, always ready to take on any challenge that we threw her way. My coworkers and I will miss her greatly, and we truly hope that she will consider coming back to us once she earns her college degree!”
Joseph Quintana, UAII Director of Development
“I’ve been so impressed with Aksia’s openness, enthusiasm, and, most of all, her incredible maturity for her age. She is such a pleasure to work with. Aksia, you will truly be missed!
Miriam Wiener, UAII Department of Development
Aksia Funmaker (far right) at a UAII Community Forum in early Spring 2020.