At just 25 years old, Sealaska shareholder descendant Stephanie (Sxhaalghén) Masterman was recognized by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development as a Native American 40 Under 40 award recipient for 2020. The announcement came in November.
Masterman is Tlingit. She is Wooshkeetaan (Eagle/Shark Clan), a child of German, English, Irish and Navajo ancestors, and a grandchild of the T’akdeintaan (Raven/Sea Pigeon Clan). She was born and raised in Washington state but traces her family roots to Hoonah and Juneau, where her mother, Pamela Dalton, and grandparents, Hazel McKinley-Hope and Tommy Dalton, are from.
Masterman is the retail and special projects manager at Eighth Generation, a Native-owned art and lifestyle brand with a flagship store in downtown Seattle’s iconic Pike Place Market. With the tagline “Inspired Natives, not Native-inspired,” Eighth Generation works closely with artists and entrepreneurs to provide a platform for 100% Native-designed products, including blankets, fine art, apparel and jewelry. Masterman has been with the company for more than four years, rising quickly through the ranks to her management position.
Eighth Generation was founded by Nooksack artist and entrepreneur Louie Gong, and is now owned by the Snoqualmie Tribe. Eighth Generation has been an active participant in NCAIED’s annual Reservation Economic Summit, and Masterman’s role in Eighth Generation’s presentations is what put her on NCAIED’s radar for the 40 Under 40 award. Gong and members of the Snoqualmie Tribe’s leadership nominated Masterman for the award back in May.
“Honestly, (the nomination) was the big thing for me — ‘Wow, my team is proud of me,’” Masterman said. “I sort of thought, ‘There’s no way NCAIED is going to pick a youngster like me,’ but I was just honored my team would want to lift me up and acknowledge me like that.”
Masterman is active with the Seattle Tlingit & Haida Community Council, and has been recognized as a Tlingit & Haida Emerging Leader. She is currently a junior at the University of Washington, majoring in American Indian studies and minoring in Arctic studies. She was also just named an Ocean Nexus Indigenous Ocean Ecologies fellow.
The fellowship started this fall and lasts a year, during which Masterman will be studying the impacts that climate change may have on Southeast Alaska; reviewing what tribes, regional and village corporations are doing about it; and looking to traditional stories — like the Tlingit story about how Kaasteen moved the glacier — for insights into culturally appropriate responses to migration and evacuation.
“I am studying at the intersection of policy, climate change, international relations, Indigenous self-determination, and education, and these are all things I’m very passionate about,” she said. “I know there’s more digging to do, but I have no doubt I’ll be working for the community in some way. I’m just kind of putting my trust in the process and letting what’s meant for me come to me.”“The UW experience has been amazing,” Masterman said. “I’ve always been so intrigued and passionate about science, especially environmental science and environmental justice, but I never thought I could be a scientist because I was never encouraged in that way in high school. To get to participate in this way is so exciting.”
Masterman said she has been coming home to Alaska a few times a year, every year, since the age of 16, and describes Juneau as “home, where my heart is.” After she finishes her bachelor’s degree, she is considering going to graduate school but isn’t sure exactly where her focus will be.