CIRI shareholder uses cultural psychology to help youth

CIRI shareholder uses cultural psychology to help youth

Not many people actually become what they wanted to be as a child. For CIRI shareholder Chantel Justice, however, using her education in cultural psychology to help troubled Native American teens was her dream from day one.

“I wanted to work in a culture similar to mine and be a positive experience in people’s lives,” said Justice.

Justice works as program director of youth services for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe in Durango, Colo., focusing on peer counseling and drug and alcohol prevention with youth 12 to 18 years old. She turned down other offers after graduating from college that wouldn’t allow her to assist minority cultures. She feels that helping Native youth recognize and seize the opportunities available to them makes it more than worthwhile.

“A lot of these kids have home lives that are scary to learn about,” said Justice. “They haven’t had an adult that looks at them and really believes them. To be a voice in the kids’ ears that helps them realize how special they are is such a huge blessing for me.”

Justice graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango in April 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in psychology and accounting with a minor in Spanish. She was a CIRI Foundation scholarship recipient. She is currently looking at different graduate schools that have an emphasis on cultural psychology, and is considering becoming a doctor.

“The studies out there on cultural psychology are few and far between,” said Justice. “I wanted to be in a field that could help cultures and peoples that were like me, were like my family.”

Justice graduated magna cum laude and was a member of four different honor societies. She attributes much of this success to the steadfast support of her family, particularly her father.

“My dad was always very positive. He gave me a lot of encouragement to do well in my life,” said Justice.

Justice’s father is Sam Hague. Her mother is CIRI shareholder and CIRI employee Sheila Hague, and her grandmother is CIRI shareholder and elder Alexan S. Paisley.

Justice overcame many challenges to achieve this success. A single mom, she had to balance the needs of her seven-year-old son, Jackson, with her academic workload. Her father passed away while she was at school, which made it difficult to stay in Colorado at school. Her mother encouraged her to continue, however.

“The most difficult part was being away from my family,” said Justice.”My family’s very close to me and has always been very supportive. It was hard for my son as well.”

Cultural shock had to be overcome as well.

“People are very individualized here, that was different from what I was used to,” said Justice. “There were other changes, like how dark it gets in the summer.”

Justice hopes her example encourages her friends and relatives, especially the younger ones, to reach for higher accomplishments.

“I see myself more as a piece of hope and a piece of reality for my family,” said Justice. “I have a lot of cousins that don’t realize the opportunities they have. Leaving Alaska to go to a completely foreign place to get a degree seemed impossible, but I did it. And my friends and relatives saw that.”

Justice encourages young Alaska Natives to set high goals and strive to achieve them. Although she was making good money working at a job after high school, she wanted broader horizons for her son and knew an education was a crucial step in that direction.

“My biggest fear is that our Alaska Native youth will settle for the first thing that’s handed to them. Very rarely, that might work out, that that is what interests them and what will propel their family forward,” said Justice. “You don’t have to get the first job you find out of high school, you don’t have to do manual labor.”