Oregon State University faculty member Deanna Kingston, an anthropologist, died Friday (Dec. 2) after a long battle with metastatic breast cancer. She was 47.
Kingston’s family is Inupiat from King Island, Alaska, and she dedicated her career to studying and honoring the culture of her ancestors, including exploring their rich traditional ecological knowledge. She was an associate professor at OSU.
Her work included research on traditional kinship patterns, songs, and hunting dances. She interned at the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center, and worked on a film collection of last-century King Island life, now housed at the National Museum of Natural History. In 2003 she received a National Science Foundation grant to document and compare scientific knowledge with traditional knowledge of King Island.
Kingston was also a devoted mother to her son Eddie, and outspoken about the trials and tribulations of breast cancer treatments. Her blog on the subject became a source of humor, hope and important medical information to many others fighting breast cancer, and when she recently decided to end her treatment, she was also frank about her decision.
“I’ve decided that’s not the kind of life I want to end with,” she wrote in her blog. “It’s a hard decision because I wanted to do everything possible to fight to be around for Eddie as long as I could. But apparently that’s not in the cards.”
Kingston worked with State Rep. Sara Gelser on a prescription drug repository bill. She was concerned that many uninsured cancer patients couldn’t afford to purchase prescription drugs, while many unused and unopened cancer drugs were thrown away by those whose diagnosis had changed or their treatment been altered.
In 2010, Kingston received the Phyllis S. Lee Award from OSU for her dedication to social justice. In a nominating letter, her department chair David McMurray highlighted the many ways that Kingston fought to make the voices of indigenous people heard.
Wrote McMurray: “Because of her unique status as a Native person and academic/research community member, Professor Kingston can clearly see the way groups with vastly differing worldviews fail to communicate even when they are speaking directly to each other and she struggles to find ways to bridge that chasm.”
“I admire Professor Kingston’s ability to be both a leader and a supporting member of projects addressing human rights and social justice issues,” McMurray said. “Her continuing effort to provide a way for marginalized people to speak for themselves is not the most glamorous or visible platform for self-promotion. And that is the way Professor Kingston wants it. Her focus is on helping others and not on helping herself.”
Friends remember Deanna
For more tributes to Deanna by friends and colleagues, click here.
When Angelo Gomez, interim director of the OSU Office of Equity and Inclusion, was tasked with transferring Native American items from OSU’s Horner Collection back to their tribes of origin, he turned to Kingston for advice on the delicate process.
“Deanna was such a peaceful, kind and thoughtful person,” Gomez said. “I could always trust her judgment about what I should be doing in my work with tribes. She was deeply dedicated to the welfare of native people.”
Gomez said even during her darkest struggles with cancer, Kingston retained her kindness.
“I think of her is as someone who stepped softly on the earth yet left such a deep impression because of the effect she had on others,” he said. “She certainly had such an effect on me.”
Mirabelle Fernandes-Paul, director of the OSU Women’s Center and an instructor in anthropology, became friends with Kingston through their mutual academic interests. She said Kingston was unforgettable.
“A respected colleague, incredibly passionate about students, social justice and her work,” she said. “A patient friend, always eager to listen. Above all, a devoted and selfless mother to Eddie.”
Former student and friend Samantha Chisholm Hatfield recently blogged about her admiration of Kingston and her frustration at a life cut short.
“Her light radiated through all of us, and went far beyond research and academics,” she said following news of Kingston’s death. “I had written to her recently that she was a Warrior, her strength and grace was (is, and will continue to be) an inspiration to us all.”
Colleague Bryan Tilt said he cherished her friendship as well as her academic contributions.
“In addition to being a solid scholar and colleague, Deanna was a great friend,” Tilt said. “She had so many connections around Corvallis, the Pacific Northwest, and beyond, and so many people cared about her.”
Kingston received a master of arts in interdisciplinary studies from OSU in 1993 (with a focus on anthropology) and a Ph.D. from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in 1999.
~ Theresa Hogue
(Lee Sherman contributed to this article)