MARRY Anne (Walton) NAVITSKY, DDS
• Native Culture
Deceased: November 28, 2015
MARRY Anne (Walton) NAVITSKY, DDS
Dr. Mary Anne (Walton) Navitsky, a Haida/Tlingit, was born on April 17, 1947, to her mother “Petie”, a single parent who also raised her and her two sisters, Janice, and Joyce. They lived in a small home on DeGroff St. in Sitka, Alaska. Dr. Navitsky was destined to live most of her life and make her mark in this lovely southeast Alaska community. She graduated in 1966 from Sitka High School and worked during her teen years as a dishwasher at Sitka Community Hospital, babysat, and learned basic skills such as thawing frozen pipes under her house.
Dr. Navitsky met a young man, Jack Navitsky, who was stationed with the Coast Guard in Sitka, fell in love and married him in 1967. She and her new husband embarked on her first trip outside of Alaska to Long Island, New York, over 3000 miles away, where Jack was assigned to a Coast Guard lifeboat station. Dr. Navitsky was quite overwhelmed with the lights of Seattle as they were landing during the first leg of their voyage to New York. Needless so say, New York was quite a new experience for her. She, who had walked everywhere as her primary mode of transportation in Sitka, laughed when Jack told her they might need a car in their new home. She learned quickly to adapt, took driving lessons, and received her New York driver’s license.
Adjusting to new circumstances was truly a strength for Dr. Navitsky. She became pregnant and gave birth to their son, John. She loved watching him grow and took him on many outings to Long Island beaches to watch John discover his world. She had a particular love for children and raising their son was a true joy for her.
The next move for the family was to Connecticut for Jack’s work, and Dr. Navitsky decided to continue her education, in the health field. She loved learning and completed a practical nursing program, working in a hospital setting with children.
In 1971, the family returned to Sitka for Dr. Navitsky to help care for her mother. She worked at Sitka Community Hospital for a few years but decided that she wanted to continue her learning in the field of dentistry. From this point on, she set her sights at becoming a dentist. She never wavered in this goal even though the road was not an easy one. She took classes at Sheldon Jackson College where she received an Associate of Arts Degree and received several awards including the Sheldon Jackson Incentive Award in 1975-1976, and the Alaska Federation of Natives Externship Award in 1975, and 1977. She applied and was accepted to the University of Washington and graduated with a degree in microbiology in 1981. She received several awards during her time at the University of Washington that included Health Professional School Workshop; Association of American Indians Physicians; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 1979, Harvard Health Careers Program; Harvard University; Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1978 and 1979 and Sealaska Heritage Foundation Award; Sealaska Corporation; Juneau, Alaska 1981.
Dr. Navitsky’s goal of becoming a dentist was finally becoming a reality when she was accepted to the University of Iowa Dental School where she graduated in 1985. She received numerous awards during her time at the University of Iowa. These included the Don Bassett Award; University of Washington; Seattle, Washington 1984, the Indian Fellowship Award; United States Government 1981-1985, the Earnest Carmichael Memorial Award; University of Iowa; Iowa City, Iowa 1985, and the American Fund for Dental Health; American Dental Association; Chicago, Illinois 1985.
During her education at the University of Iowa, Dr. Navitsky was an exchange student in Greenland and Denmark with the Royal College of Dentists in Aarhus, Denmark. She traveled through Southern Greenland as a part of the Danish Dental team. When she arrived, she had to travel to her first village by open skiff, covered with a fur robe because the usual mode of transportation, a helicopter, was down for repairs. It was a reminder of her native heritage as most early travel within the southeast native communities was by canoe. Her work impacted an international community and she brought back much of what she learned from Denmark dental care which is focused on prevention to enrich her practice in Alaska.
Upon Dr. Navitsky’s graduation from Dental School she became the first Alaska Native woman dentist in Alaska. Dr. Navitsky’s ability to achieve a landmark as the first Alaska Native woman to become a dentist had significant impact on her native communities, Alaska, and our country. She became a symbol of perseverance to achieve a complex goal that was unique in her culture. Through her own fortitude to achieve her goals, sometimes despite others who advised her to quit, she exhibited an inner strength that allowed her to accomplish her lofty goals. She was
humble about her accomplishments. She constantly worked at bettering herself in both continuing education and providing her much needed services in her community.
Dr. Navitsky returned to Sitka and worked in the Dental Program with the Public Health Service for six years. Within that capacity, she provided dental care in many remote villages. One such village was Angoon. She spent 6 months in Angoon, Alaska in a special project to reduce the ravages of baby bottle tooth decay amongst the village children, for which she received the U.S. Public Health Service Achievement Medal for her significant work. Initially, when she first arrived in Angoon, there was a line at the door. Dr. Navitsky had to orient herself to the clinic and she was not provided with housing, so she had to sleep on the clinic couch. That did not deter her, and she was able to make significant progress in improving dental health in that community. She was given the Hazardous Duty Ribbon; United States Public Health, United States Government 1987, the Alaska Dental Prevention Program In Appreciation and Recognition For Outstanding Effort in Dental Prevention 1989 Achievement Medal; United States Public Health, United States Government 1991, became a Board Member; Rural Health Program; Fairbanks, Alaska 1989-1991, and received the Eight Stars of Gold Citizenship Award; Governor Steve Cowper, State of Alaska 1990.
After her six years with the U.S. Public Health Service, she resigned her commission as Lieutenant Commander to open her own private dental practice as the first Alaska Native Woman owned and run dentistry practice based in Sitka, Alaska. Dr. Navitsky decided to open her own practice so that she could have total autonomy in how she wanted to develop that practice. Again, she showed the fortitude of a woman with a vision that would not be subsumed under others’ practices. She was a role model for others in her community, both Native, and for women in general. Developing an independent practice is challenging and not for the faint of heart.
Dr. Navitsky and her husband were able to purchase a home in the Central Business District on Monastery Street, a short three-minute walk from the harbor. The building was in need of renovations to make it accessible to all patients and she and Jack completed significant repairs on the home. These repairs and renovations included a circular walkway to allow people in wheelchairs or with limited abilities to access the clinic. They received Second Place in the State of Alaska Governor’s Committee Design for Access. Her efforts were well rewarded, and her practice was very successful.
Dr. Navitsky practiced preventive dentistry for 28 years with a focus on children and elders, that included surrounding areas and remote areas. She had a particular passion for working with both the very young, the very old, and those with physical impairments. Her service to her local and regional communities was clear in the work she did and the kindness and gentleness in which she practiced. She was well known to the Pioneer Home residents and cared for many of them over her years of practice. She was awarded the Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, Certificate of Appreciation to Mary Anne Navitsky For Her Outstanding Efforts in Service to Alaskans with Disabilities, Governor Walter J. Hickel 1993.
Caring for people were not Dr. Navitsky’s only patients. She was approached by one of the veterinarians of the Raptor Center to treat an eagle that had been shot in the beak and was unable to eat. She used her dental and artistic skills to fabricate a patch. She used dental materials and instruments to bevel the blown-out portion of the eagle’s beak and was successfully able to suture the patch in place, saving the eagle’s life.
In addition to her work in her dental practice, Dr. Navitsky believed strongly in volunteering and giving back to her community and the State of Alaska. She was appointed as the first Alaska Native woman dentist to the Alaska Board of Dental Examiners and served for 6 years.
This was a very significant leadership role in Alaska as the first Alaska Native woman dentist on the Alaska Board of Dental Examiners. That board is instrumental in assuring a high level of quality practice among Dentists in Alaska by overseeing and maintaining the licensing standards for the dental profession. In this volunteer position, Dr. Navitsky spent many hours assuring these practice standards were met. The impact of her work has ramifications for quality practice for the entire State of Alaska. She was also appointed as the first Alaska Native woman dentist to the Regional Board of Dental Examiners, Western Region. Being appointed to the Regional Board of Dental Examiners was an important position for Dr. Navitsky, as the first Alaska Native woman on the board. Her work in this leadership role on the regional board assured appropriate licensing exams that focused on fulfilling requirements for safe quality practice of dentistry in Alaska, and the western region
One of Dr. Navitsky’s passions was health education for dental care. She was tireless in her determination to provide information on how to successfully care for teeth and mouth health to all in her communities. She did this with patient encounters and in group and community lectures, emphasizing the importance of dental health as it impacts total health. In addition, she worked with members of the Tlingit and Haida Head Start Program developing a puppet presentation aimed at teaching children about proper dental care to improve dental health.
Her role as an educator helped to improve overall health in these communities.
Dr. Navitsky strongly encouraged employees in her clinic to continue their education and provided support for their continuing education. Her efforts were well rewarded when one of her former employees became a dental hygienist and another became a radiologic technologist as a result of her ongoing encouragement.
Dr. Navitsky had many talents and was very adept at a variety of crafts. She was particularly interested in the arts, including sculpture, fiber arts, and gardening. She took numerous classes and was fascinated with the arts of her native Haida culture. She hosted the first Raven’s Tail Weaving Group in her home, helping to revitalize an almost extinct art. She harvested spruce roots and participated in the Raven’s Tail Project in the State Museum in Juneau. Raven’s Tail is a special form of weaving that is specific to the culture of southeast native populations. It was becoming a lost art and Navitsky was dedicated to bringing this weaving technique back into the spotlight. Her work on this art form was recognized by Cheryl Samuel, an authority in Raven’s Tail weaving, provided Dr. Navitsky an autographed copy of her book “Raven’s Tail “which read “For Dr. Mary Anne Navitsky…Dentist, weaver, sister. For helping start the Raven’s Tail revival in S.E. Alaska. My Love Cheryl Samuel In Sitka June 1989.”
Dr. Navitsky offered presentations role modeling her journey to reach her goals at college campuses and gave public interviews to encourage and promote individual aspirations. She was the consummate role model for perseverance despite roadblocks that might have deterred many. She often spoke of keeping that inner voice and finding people who were supportive of a personal vision. She was a hero for young women and men to focus on what is important in their lives and how to make their dreams a reality. She was a true leader who could inspire young and older people alike to fulfill their vision of themselves.
Dr. Navitsky’s recognition as a role model is best expressed by Rosalee Walker of Northwest Regional Education Laboratory in her letter of Invitation to Navitsky.
“ You have been identified as a minority woman who has demonstrated leadership and achievement in your chosen field. Additionally, it is the opinion of our planning group that you are representative of the role model that young minority females need.”
Dr. Navitsky provided many lectures and public presentations about her experiences making her aspirations a reality. She was the commencement speaker for the University of Alaska Southeast- Sitka campus in 1990. She was a constant support for others to recognize their abilities and work toward their goals. Her experiences provided guidelines for everyone she encountered, and her talks were inspirational to many. She was the consummate role model for all who had the privilege of knowing her and hearing of her journey.
In one of Dr. Navitsky’s interviews with Raven Radio in 1994, she made some comments that provide insight on how exceptional she was and what we all could learn from her journey in this life.
My estimation is that most people undershoot their ability tremendously. Most are afraid to think about what they would like to do because we haven’t taught our children to shoot for the highest star, and I think it’s essential because I discovered who I was by the challenges I met. I was revealed to myself very gradually. Almost like an onion; you unpeel it. Each time you come to a new layer and it’s new and different and you discover who you are. You discover where your lines are; where your standards are. And the trick is, can you hold onto your humanity at the same time, and I am still challenged- almost daily.
In-Person Interview with husband, Jack Navitsky
In Memoriam: Mary Anne Navitsky. www.akdental.org
Dental Student Encourages Others to Pursue Goals. UA Magazine, March, 1985
Sitka Woman is Named Winner of State Award. Daily Sitka Sentinel, Sitka, Alaska, Friday, December 7, 1990
Education and Training:
Diploma, Sitka High School; Sitka, Alaska, 1966
Licensed Practical Nurse, E.C. Goodwin Technical Institute; New Britain, Connecticut, 1971
Class work; University of Alaska; Sitka, Alaska, 1974
Associate of Arts; Sheldon Jackson College, Sitka, Alaska, 1978
Harvard Health Careers Program; Harvard University; Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1978, 1979
Bachelor of Science; University of Washington; Seattle, Washington, 1981
Doctor of Dental Surgery; University of Iowa; Iowa City, Iowa, 1985
Sheldon Jackson Incentive Award; Sheldon Jackson College, Sitka, Alaska 1975-1976
Alaska Federation of Natives Externship Award; Anchorage, Alaska 1975 and 1977
Health Professional School Workshop; Association of American Indians Physicians; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 1979
Harvard Health Careers Program; Harvard University; Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1978 and 1979
Sealaska Heritage Foundation Award; Sealaska Corporation; Juneau, Alaska 1981
Don Bassett Award; University of Washington; Seattle, Washington 1984
Indian Fellowship Award; United States Government 1981-1985
Earnest Carmichael Memorial Award; University of Iowa; Iowa City, Iowa 1985
American Fund for Dental Health; American Dental Association; Chicago, Illinois 1985
Hazardous Duty Ribbon; United States Public Health, United States Government 1987
Alaska Dental Prevention Program In Appreciation and Recognition For Outstanding Effort in Dental Prevention 1989
Achievement Medal; United States Public Health, United States Government 1991
Board Member; Rural Health Program; Fairbanks, Alaska 1989-1991
Eight Stars of Gold Citizenship Award; Governor Steve Cowper, State of Alaska 1990
Second Place in the State of Alaska Governor’s Committee Design for Access
Project Head Start Volunteer Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service to Project Head Start 1991
Campus Advisory Council Member; University of Alaska Southeast Alaska 1992-2013
Board Member; Center for Community; Sitka, Alaska 1993-2013
Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, Certificate of Appreciation to Mary Anne Navitsky For Her Outstanding Efforts in Service to Alaskans with Disabilities, Governor Walter J. Hickel 1993