Inspired by the lifelong work of our honoree, Betty Parent, in the field of education, NACC is proud to announce the formation of the Betty Parent Fund. For more information on the Betty Parent Fund and how you can donate, Click Here.
Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Ann Parent PhD.
Member, NACC Board of Director
The enormity of opposition Dr. Parent has faced in her life only accentuates the scale of her successes, and highlights her unyielding drive for social awareness and justice. Upon hearing some of the stories about Betty Parent and the fights she has won, one might picture a grizzled and seasoned warrior. To those who know her (and know that she can be fierce), most would describe Betty as a thoughtful, generous and compassionate person. Depending on when and how you might have met her, both are true.
Betty began her journey in education as a student at Holy Names Academy in Seattle, Washington. From there, she moved back to Alaska to pursue a BA in anthropology from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. During this time she also minored in English and education. After a short break, Betty continued her study of education at Harvard University. In addition to achieving a Master’s degree in Education Administration, she was also awarded a Certificate of Advanced Studies and served on the Editorial Board Editor of the Harvard Educational Review. In fact, she was the first Native American to be on that Board. If that wasn’t enough, Betty was also a single mother.
In 1974, Betty moved to California to pursue yet another MA in anthropology from Stanford University, followed by a PhD. Coming full circle, her thesis focused on education and Alaska Natives, entitled The Educational Experiences of the Residents of Bethel, Alaska: A Historical Case Study. In her second year of the program, Betty sat on the admissions committee for master’s students at Stanford. A short time later, she also became a Danforth Fellow.
Before going on to UCLA for her Post-doctorate fellowship and before completing her PhD, Betty was already teaching Native American Studies at U.C. Berkeley where she was a lecturer for three years. The following year she taught in the American Indian studies program for the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. After one year at SF State, Betty was offered an Assistant Professorship and not too much later, became the department chair.
Around the same time, but before going to UCLA, Betty also the hosted thirteen half-hour episodes of a public broadcasting show called Reality, Mind & Language dealing with, of course, education, Native and women’s issues. If that didn’t scare the FCC enough, Betty made her way back on the air in 1985 through Pasadena Community College’s bi-monthly radio show on KPCC, earning her the nickname ‘Treaty Lady’ because of the show’s discussion of treaty rights and related radical content.
Returning to San Francisco, Betty’s voice and action played an integral role in the building of the American Indian studies program at SF State into an amazing department. At the start of her tenure, Betty says “I felt like I had a future at SF State and I couldn’t wait to dig in.” Many of her memories of San Francisco State are fond, though her drive to develop and enlarge the American Indian Studies Department was met with criticism and petty academic politics. “I’ve never been afraid to stand on my own, to be a minority” she says, “But, I had angels on high. I am a woman, a minority and single mother… And with tenure I had a voice, but I also had angels on high.” Betty certainly had connections with ‘angels’ in the upper echelons of academia, but it was her own fighting spirit which saw most efforts to their ends. She says, “I like a good fight. [SF] State is a good place for that.” She taught at SFSU for nearly 20 years.
Every good fighter encompasses a strategy into their fight. One of Betty’s tactics has been the use of journalism which she says, “can start a fire faster… it’s more immediate; academia kills it sometimes.” Betty has been involved for many years in various facets of the journalism world. During the later half of the 60’s Betty wrote an article which was featured as a cover story for the Tundra Times entitled The Reaccredidation of the University of Alaska which was a critical look at UA’s racist and sexist environment and generally unavailable faculty. Needless to say, she started a fire with that one.
Today, Betty remains involved with journalism through the Native American Journalism Association (NAJA) of which the Board Treasurer and Board Elections Committee Chair is a former student of hers from SF State. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Native American Cultural Center.
Betty has had many students who have become successful in their fields and aspirations. One student is now the Tribal Chairman of his Nation. Another former student had an exhibit at the Smithsonian based on a paper written for one of Betty’s classes. Even her three children have gone on to succeed in their respective fields. The eldest has a PhD. The next eldest is a writer and librarian, while the youngest is in the midst of finishing medical school.
The impact Betty has on those around her is profound. Whether she is known as a mother, professor, colleague or friend, Betty has consistently shown herself to be a warm loving and companionate person as well as a determined and worthy adversary. She has consistently given more, taken less and toughed it out where many would have curled up and quit. As she says jokingly, “we Alaskan’s, we’re pretty macho. We make Texans look humble.” From Alaska to California, high school diploma to post-doctoral fellowship, lecturer to professor and department chair, Betty has defied the stereotypes of who can do what and what is acceptable behavior for women and Native Peoples,
One of Betty’s greatest strengths is her ability to speak to the moment in the realization of what is before us. It stems from a realization which she made early on as a Native woman in academia and in life. In her words, “If you don’t want to be a token, don’t be invisible.”