First Nation’s Focus intern Jarrette Werk (Aaniiih) shares life story
This story was first published in the August 2017 edition of First Nation’s Focus.
RENO, Nev. — Hello everyone. You may have seen me at some point this summer across Northern Nevada at an event with a camera and notepad in my hand and wondered who I am.
Well, now I am finally getting the chance to formally introduce myself.
My name is Jarrette Werk, and I’ve been working this summer as an intern with First Nation’s Focus, the monthly newspaper published by the Sierra Nevada Media Group that focuses on tribal news of Nevada and the Eastern Sierra.
As a proud Aaniiih (WhiteClay) Tribal Member from the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation of Fort Belknap, Montana, I am chasing my dreams as an aspiring journalist while enrolled at the University of Nevada, Reno.
I have a 2-and-a-half-year-old “son” named DiMaggio. He’s a handsome little English bulldog and my absolute best friend.
My passion is Indigenous Journalism. Through the Reynolds School of Journalism at UNR, I am able to hone in on the skills needed to be a successful storyteller.
I want my visual storytelling to bring the voice back to those who are unheard, and I aim to focus my career on sharing stories that need to be heard.
However, before I can successfully share the stories of others, I first need to share mine.
A deep family history
I am going to be honest with all of you — not only because honesty and transparency are fundamental to journalism, but because I want you to know the person behind the stories you are reading.
When I got the assignment to write this first-person article for First Nation’s Focus, I knew it would be the hardest story I would have to write this summer.
Personally, I don’t like talking about myself, and having to share who I am with all of you is scary.
Now that the tables have turned, and my story is the one being shared, I know how my interviewees feel when they have to talk about themselves.
Well, here goes nothing.
I grew up on and off the small Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana, just 40 miles south of the Canadian border.
My parents are James Werk and Kimberly Graham, and though they are not officially married, they have been together since the ages of 14 and 16.
My mother being a perfectionist and father a jokester, the two were polar opposites, but somehow fell in love.
My mom was the valedictorian, prom queen, basketball captain and captain of the cheer squad, and she was involved with student council. The list basically goes on and on.
My dad was more of the class clown, but an outstanding athlete. He still holds records for both football and track and field, being selected to play in the Montana All-Star Football game his senior year of high school.
Upon graduating high school, my mom enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, and my dad encouraged and followed her to wherever she was stationed.
Overcoming hurtful obstacles
After completing her service with the Air Force, Kimberly and James had four children: James “Jimmy,” Jarrette (me), JayCee and Johnathon “J.T.”
My parents always instilled in the four of us from a very young age the idea of ‘reaching for the stars, and to change the world.’
As I grew older, I always hoped to be the first in my family to graduate college with a bachelor’s degree.
This was easier said than done. Throughout my educational journey, I have had been faced with many obstacles.
At a young age, teachers told me I was never going to amount to anything, that I was nothing but a “worthless Indian” who would end up becoming a drug addict and alcoholic.
For a long period of time, I began to believe their hurtful words. I fell into a deep depression, and I always felt as though I was silenced — silenced because of my stutter, anxiety disorder and the fact I was different than all of the other kids.
However, when I was 14 years old — and with the help of my amazing mother — I picked myself up and worked toward my dream.
I told myself I was going to make something of my life. I was going to help others, because I believe everyone has a story that needs to be heard.
Proving those people from my past wrong, I graduated at the top of my high school class and was off to college.
I was accepted into the Indian University of North America, where I spent the summer at the Crazy Horse Monument in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota.
I was surrounded by likeminded Native scholars from across the country. Just hearing their stories and struggles to get to where there were motivated me to do the same.
When I was 20 years old I decided to leave Montana and to transfer to The University of Nevada, Reno, to fulfill my dreams.
Achieving my dreams in Reno
I have always dreamed of traveling the world. Ever since I was a little boy, I imagined all the amazing and beautiful things I would see and do, despite the opinions others had of me.
With my passion for writing and photography I can make my dreams a reality, and I plan to.
Since moving to Reno three years ago, I have come to find my voice. I have come to find who I am and what I want to achieve with my time here on Earth.
I want to travel to places across the globe where people are silenced. I want to be their voice.
I want my words and photographs to tell their stories; I want to share them with the world, because everyone has a story, and that story deserves to be heard.
In addition to college, I work as a tutor at the Hungry Valley after-school program; as a server for Cherry Bomb Catering; and of course this summer as an intern with First Nation’s Focus.
I am finishing up my time at UNR and I am excited about to begin my next journey.
Working at the after-school program, I am surrounded by the joy and laughter of young and beautiful minds. It fills my heart with so much joy when I am able to help them overcome a problem with their studies.
I hope my presence has a positive impact on their lives. I want them to know that there is someone who is encouraging them to follow their dreams.
I only wished to have someone do that for me when I was younger, but now I get to be that person for my students. I want to see them achieve their dreams — just as I am achieving mine.
Jarrette Werk (Aaniiih) is a journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno, who worked this summer for the Sierra Nevada Media Group as an intern, writing and taking photos for First Nation’s Focus.