Social Work alumna and UAA’s newest fulbright scholar is New Zealand bound

by Matt Jardin  |   

Panikaa smiling and posing in front of building

Ever since she was six years old, Panikaa Teeple, B.S.W. Social Work ’21, knew that spreading love was her life’s purpose. Now, she does exactly that through her work as a program coordinator in the Behavioral Health Department at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC).

Next year, Teeple will have the opportunity to spread love internationally as UAA’s latest recipient of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant, which provides students in more than 140 countries the opportunity to pursue graduate study and research abroad.

“Healing from cycles of historical trauma is both a privilege and a burden,” said Teeple. “That truth is something I hold deeply within my heart and spirit, but at the same time I also got the opportunity to experience timeless love and connection because of my family, community, culture and ancestors. So I carry those close as I continue to be someone that pushes boundaries for healing work for the next generation in a Westernized world.”

In January 2024, Teeple will travel to New Zealand for graduate work in Indigenous studies at the University of Auckland. There, she aims to learn about the country’s history and relationship with its own Indigenous peoples, the Maori, and apply her findings to the ongoing advocacy taking place among the United States’ Alaska Native and American Indian communities.

Through her current role at ANTHC, Teeple coordinates the Alaska Blanket Exercise program, which provides internal and external workshops meant to foster truth, understanding, respect and reconciliation among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people through the participatory telling of Alaska Native history.

After returning from New Zealand, Teeple hopes to apply what she’s learned to strengthen existing advocacy efforts and eventually develop an organization or a program that offers community-based healing workshops and training to address historical trauma.

“My interest is in what healing efforts are taking place to address the effects of historical trauma in a specific country,” said Teeple. “One of the values that is part of my Inishapik culture and my Yupik culture is partnership. How can we learn from each other? How can we continue building bridges and finding connections so we can adapt, adopt and transfer lessons about healing efforts and what that could look like in communities on the other side of the world?”

As a kid, Teeple not only knew that she wanted to help people as a career, but also that she wanted to travel to New Zealand. Originally from the Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan, Teeple’s family briefly hosted Maori visitors who were working with the local Gnoozhekaaning tribe — which translates to the Place of the Pike — as part of a cultural exchange event. During those days, she recalls many lively dinners talking about decolonization and healing efforts.

Wanting to explore her mother’s Yupik culture, Teeple moved to Anchorage where she was encouraged by her extended family to enroll at UAA. At UAA, she not only learned about her culture and about advocacy leadership, but also about the potential to travel to New Zealand as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

“I often think about the meaningful conversations I had in my classes. My teachers were planting seeds regarding my confidence and how I can be a leader, and now I’m in a place where I can say it without a doubt,” said Teeple. “This award means everything. It means I can continue opening doors to new opportunities for the rest of my life. It means I can actually see my goals and have concrete pathways to achieve them. Now I’m excited to see what door I get to open next.”


This story originally appeared in the UAA Green and Gold News.