In 1990, Nadine Krsnich-Jagoree faced a chance encounter with a band of drummers and dancers that she would come to love and trust, and their message would change her life.
For the first time, she was feeling connected to her people, and she realized she could serve her community. An entrepreneur and cultural worker who founded a leadership program for Native American and First Nations students at Yale University, she has dedicated her life to guiding others to speak up and speak out about mental health.
In an oral history for InConversations, Dr. Krsnich-Jagoree discusses her upbringing in a traditional prairie community, growing up in a traditional residential school, coming home from college, and eventually becoming a professional storyteller in her mother’s throat-dancing community.
The experience of singing in a different cultural setting often gave her a different insight into herself and her community.
When Dr. Krsnich-Jagoree tells her story, she says she finds it helpful to tell the story of her grandmother, Rosalind, and her experiences in residential school. “She would get these letters that would come in from kids and adults trying to come forward and speak about their experiences and they would weep and it was all very heartbreaking and she’d have a look of how can I make this whole community feel better about it. I think what I try to do is channel that, I guess, into the kinds of stories I tell and the presentations that I do and the non-Indian listeners say, ‘Oh, I feel the same way.’ So, it’s one of those really beautiful things that happens, particularly when your calling is to serve people who are less powerful, and those are the kinds of people who are often marginalized.”
On Sept. 21, NPR will broadcast a new documentary about Dr. Krsnich-Jagoree, Inside Circle, directed by Elyse Gantt.
As an educator, Dr. Krsnich-Jagoree encourages students to connect, to celebrate themselves and recognize their cultural identity. “I think it’s incredibly important to honor and connect with your culture. That’s what I hope to do with my work as a storyteller and as a faculty member. I hope to honor and live my culture so that people outside of my community feel comfortable being themselves and speaking their truth.”
Dr. Krsnich-Jagoree says she hopes her students will learn from her story, to heal and to make connections to the world around them. “One of the things I always say is – I write with my words not in my mind, but in my heart. In this case, I really think in my heart and mine I do have a dream, and that dream is to inspire my students to be their authentic selves and to understand that they are bringing real knowledge to their work.”