By Don Motanic
It takes a special village to raise a Native doctor, and in the case of Kelsey Motanic, Umatilla, and Coeur d’Alene, the village includes the AISES family.
As her father, I can take credit for starting her AISES family connection. I’ve been a member since 1981 and served on the Board of Directors (1999–2002), the Winds of Change Editorial Advisory Council (2001), the Local Planning Committees for several National Conferences (1988, 1993, 2000, and 2009), and the AISES Finance Committee (2000–2020). I also was an exhibitor at the National Conference Career Fair for more than three decades (1986–2019). My wife, and Kelsey’s mother, Mary Beth, a registered nurse, has also been a part of the AISES family volunteering at National Conferences. During the 1980s, most exhibitors were engineering companies, and health care students used to stop by my forestry exhibit to thank me for being about the environment. Happily, these days all exhibitors, including the engineering companies, have an environmental and sustainability focus.
Kelsey first encountered the AISES family when she was a 12-year-old doing her homework in a room at the BPA Building in Portland during a 2000 National Conference planning meeting. At the 2009 National Conference, she heard Dr. Bret Benally Thompson talk about his experience as a medical student and doctor, which helped inspire her to apply to and complete medical school at the University of New Mexico. During that conference, she also sat next to John Herrington, and they compared their GRE and MCAT preparation exams toward the Ph.D. and MD they would achieve, respectively. Kelsey also received her Sequoyah medal at that 2009 conference. I worked with Shirley Jaramillo on National Conferences at that time, and Shirley would become an extended family member for Kelsey in Albuquerque while she completed her four years of medical school.
The importance of our AISES family circle was underscored this spring when Kelsey finished her three-year medical residency with the Seattle Indian Health Board at Swedish Medical Center. During her last three years, she reconnected with a mentor, Polly Olsen, Yakama, who had helped Kelsey apply to medical school programs in 2009. Kelsey found out that Polly’s family picked huckleberries in the same fields as my family. This AISES family reconnection is also multi-generational because Polly’s uncle was the late Richard “Dick” French, an Ely S. Parker Award recipient and the person who inspired me to become involved with the AISES family in 1981.
Kelsey spent the last challenging months of her residency working the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle at the hospitals while also living next to Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (a focus of international news during the George Floyd protests). She found out that I had also lived in that same Capitol Hill area while I attended the University of Washington during the time of the Fort Lawton Native Occupation and the 1975 George Jackson Brigade attack on the Seattle watershed. I was then a firefighter for the City of Seattle and on the watch for any Brigade attack.
Kelsey and I were both first responders living and working in the same location during historic Seattle events, but nearly 45 years apart, and we’ve both lived to share our stories. Kelsey will continue putting “family” into family practice because she will start her own practice near family as a physician with the Puyallup Tribe.
For the past 25 years, Don Motanic, Umatilla and Coeur d’ Alene, has been a technical specialist for the Intertribal Timber Council. Motanic spent most of his career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, starting in 1978 after receiving his forest engineering degree at the University of Washington. He was a forest engineer at Yakama and a forest manager with his Umatilla Tribe as well as with the Spokane Tribe, where his mother grew up. He’s been president and vice president of the Lower Columbia/Willamette River AISES Professional Chapter (1995–2020) and lives in Brush Prairie, Wash.
Reprinted by permission from Winds of Change © 2020 by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.