Jillian Fish: Empowering Indigenous Peoples with “Voice, Vision, and Creativity”

Emerging Alumni awardee Jillian Fish

Dr. Jillian Fish (PhD ‘20, psychology), winner of CLA’s 2022 Emerging Alumni Award, promotes the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in her professional work and scholarship. As a postdoctoral fellow, founder and facilitator of the digital storytelling workshop OrigiNatives, and future assistant professor of psychology at Macalester College, she leads with a decolonial approach and seeks to “empower Native American and Indigenous peoples to own their truths and experiences.”

What do you do professionally?

I’m a postdoctoral fellow in health services research at the Center for Care Delivery and Outcomes Research at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. Afterwards, I’m joining the Psychology Department at Macalester College as an assistant professor.

How are you involved in the community?

Since 2018, I've facilitated a digital storytelling workshop for Native American and Indigenous peoples in Minnesota, which now goes by the name of OrigiNatives. OrigiNatives provides a space for community members to come together, give voice to, and story their life experiences. Additionally, I'm on the Board of Directors at the Native American Community Clinic in Minneapolis, where I'm able to take my knowledge and experiences as an Indigenous psychologist and apply them in a real-world setting to promote the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in their daily lives.

How did your time in CLA inspire you to pursue your path?

During my time in CLA, I was able to pursue courses in psychology and beyond, including in Native American and Indigenous studies. This helped me think critically about how I can push the limits of psychology with history and anthropology to better meet the needs of Indigenous peoples. For instance, as a graduate student, I became involved in the Immigrant History Research Center's Immigrant Stories project, which uses digital storytelling to help immigrants and refugees create meaningful stories about their lives. This inspired me to adapt the project to create OrigiNatives so I could accomplish a similar vision in my own community.

What is your favorite memory from your time as a student?

My favorite memory as a student was spending time with my Diversity of Views and Experiences (DOVE) fellowship cohort, especially during my early years. Looking back on my time in CLA, I now know how important having a sense of community was to my success. Being able to grow as a person and student while sharing joy with others like me was a huge part of my experience that can't be seen on paper, but that I'll remember forever. The University of Minnesota introduced me to some of my closest friends through this community they've created.

What advice would you give to current CLA students?

I would tell other CLA students to follow your own path. What I learned during my time in CLA is that I can use my voice, vision, and creativity to empower Native American and Indigenous peoples to own their truths and experiences. My hope is that other CLA students feel similarly empowered to leverage their lived experiences to create change for those who mean the most to them.

How do you spend your free time? What "fills your cup"?

As of lately, being a mother to my newborn son. As a first-time mom, it has been deeply rewarding to watch my son grow every day. With that, I love family time with my husband. In the few small moments I have to myself, I enjoy reading, beadwork, and being outdoors.

What was your reaction to receiving this award?

Complete surprise! A friend and colleague told me that they nominated me for the award several months ago. My initial response was "I'll never be selected for that!" Now that I'm receiving the award, it's incredibly validating to my scholarship, work, and personhood that I'm on the right path.

What's next? What are your personal/professional goals for the next five years?

After completing my postdoctoral fellowship, I'm focused on transitioning to my new role as an assistant professor and creating new courses for undergraduate students related to Indigenous psychologies and research methodologies. As an assistant professor, I would also like to deepen my community connections and the reach of OrigiNatives to include Native American and Indigenous youth. Finally, all of my work in storytelling has inspired me to write a book about the power of stories and storytelling for Indigenous peoples and our identities.

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