Payton Bordley is one of two new 2019 recipients of Education Northwest’s Steven R. Nelson Native Educator Scholarship. Now in its third year, the scholarship program strives to increase Native representation in the field of education by supporting students in the Northwest who are pursuing a master’s degree in policy, leadership, technical assistance, research or a closely related field. See our feature on Rachel Ellenwood who also received a 2019 Nelson scholarship.
When conducting interviews with members of the Skokomish Tribe, Payton Bordley discovered there was a severe lack of mental health resources for young tribal members. Something clicked. She had been considering a career in public administration but had not yet settled on an area of focus. Here was an issue that was close to her heart and that desperately needed to be addressed, both in her own tribe and throughout Indian Country. She decided to dedicate herself to addressing this problem on a national level.
Payton currently serves as the suicide prevention program manager for the Skokomish Tribe and will soon begin a master of public administration program at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance.
Suicide has hit close to home for her, as she has lost a family member and a family friend in the past year. “Suicide is one of the many issues that disproportionately affects Native people,” she writes in her application essay for the Nelson Scholarship from Education Northwest.
“The health of my community, and of Indian Country in general, depends on policymakers with personal experience.”
Her interest in pursuing a career in public policy was sparked during a White House Tribal Nations conference in 2016, where she learned from her peers about the many policy issues that were playing out across Indian Country. Other formative experiences include her three years at the City of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and her year of teaching English in Japan through the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program.
Payton has served as a role model for many Skokomish young people. “When I tell youth stories about living in Japan, that becomes their dream. When I talk about going to the University of Washington, that becomes their dream,” she says. “When more Native students pursue higher education, they will inspire others to do the same. I have had mentors who passed everything on to me. I hope to inspire young people to believe in themselves and their accomplishments.”
She also reflects on advice she received from her grandfather and mother that she now passes along to young people: Find your role in the community and pursue it. Figure out the steps it will take to get there and follow them. If higher education will do that, then follow that route.
“Surround yourself with people who will support your dreams,” she says.
Shanon Millman Rodriguez, who directs tribal programs at South Puget Sound Community College, says that Payton will be a change agent for improving the lives of Native people. “Payton is a powerhouse,” she writes. “She has strength, intelligence, passion, honesty and humility—characteristics that will serve her well as she embarks on this journey to graduate school.”
Learn more about the Steven R. Nelson Native Educator Scholarship Program.