Denise Statz was born in Kanakanak/Dillingham, Alaska in 1957 to Roy and Harriet Smith. She grew up in Dillingham, Ekwok, and South Naknek where her parents worked for canneries. Her father was a fisherman and later a pilot, and her mother worked in the Egg House. As a teenager, Denise worked alongside her mother in the Egg House and then was a waitress in the cannery mess hall. After leaving for college, Denise returned to the Bristol Bay region to work in the canneries in the summer and later worked for the local Native health corporation. She currently lives in Palmer, Alaska where she owns and operates, NonEssentials, a kitchen and home goods supply and locally sourced food store.