Student Highlight: Jessica Harshman

Student’s love of traditional medicine inspires educational pursuits

Jessica Harshman, Lummi, is 19 years old. She started out as a running start student at Northwest Indian College (NWIC) and is less than a year away from receiving her direct transfer associate degree from the college. Jessica has dreams to take her education to the next level and to use her education to help the traditions of her tribe thrive.

“I want to become a well-educated tribal member so I can work for my tribe to help make it a better place,” Jessica said. “I also want to show others that it is possible to go further than high school. They can become anything that they choose to be, not just what others say they can be. I was always told that your education is something that nobody can take from you.”

Jessica chose to attend a tribal college because it felt right to her, she said.

“It is where I come from,” Jessica said. “There aren’t many Indian colleges and I feel thankful that we have one on our reservation.”

Many of Jessica’s family members have also attended NWIC, including her cousin, Lora Boome-Heaton, NWIC’s Women’s Wellness Program Coordinator. Lora has been a huge influence in Jessica’s life.

When Jessica was much younger, her 2-year-old brother was very sick. He had a stomach ulcer that was leading to immune deficiencies and severe health problems and doctors thought these problems would eventually cause severe allergies. Lora made traditional medicines for him.

“The tea Lora gave him helped boost his immune system and the honey she gave him helped him breathe better,” Jessica said. “The doctors were surprised.”

When she was about 13 years old, Jessica started making traditional medicines with Lora and quickly became her assistant. This work led Jessica to NWIC’s Native American Men & Boys/Women & Girls Conference, a camp that teaches wellness.

Each year, Lora would teach participants at the camp how to make traditional medicines, but the summer after she had her baby, she couldn’t attend. Jessica was 17 at the time, and she was asked to step in and teach for Lora.

Jessica did step in and said that her experience teaching at the conference gave her confidence. She realized she was capable of making medicines on her own and she also found out she could comfortably talk about the work to groups of people. That practice helped her when she was presenting her senior project on healing bath salts to a group of 15 of her peers (which was a lot of people for Jessica). 

In 2010, Jessica started working with Lora at NWIC’s Women’s Wellness Project as the student wellness mentor. Today, Jessica still holds that position, working there 15 hours per week. She also goes to school full time and works as a program assistant for the college’s Traditional Plants & Foods Program for 20 hours per week. 

Jessica said the work she’s doing means a lot to her and has helped her figure out what she wants to do when she graduates in June 2013 with her AA – Jessica will continue on at NWIC in the college’s Bachelor of Science in Native Environmental Science program.

“I think the Bachelor of Science degree will help me take my traditional medicine making to a higher level,” Jessica said. “It is more related to my culture and something I have always dreamed of is keeping my traditions going here on Lummi.”

Jessica doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do after she gets her BS from NWIC, but she does know she wants to continue her work with traditional medicines.

“I want to further my education as much as possible so that I can come back to my tribe and help make it a better place,” Jessica said.