Click on the Alumnae’s name for a further details.
As a Young Peace Corps volunteer, Audrey Aanes was inspired by the animation and gumption of Ethiopian children who were injured by land mines. Physical disabilities were not a barrier to their energy and enthusiasm to learn. When she came to Alaska she embarked on a career devoted to education, advocacy and action for and with youth and adults who experience substantial physical disabilities (e.g. spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, etc.).
When she started teaching in Anchorage in the early seventies, kids with disabilities were segregated in a special school. She initially had 12 students with physical disabilities from 5 to 16 years old in her classroom. Through the years she saw many bright, mentally capable disabled students graduate with limited options after high school, often placed in a nursing home surrounded by seniors experiencing dementia and alzheimer’s disease.
Motivated to change the status quo, Audrey quit her tenured teaching job and set out to help those young people on the path of independent living. Her challenge was to promote awareness and acceptance of disabled persons in order to accomplish the goals of being respected, accepted, and integrated into the communities of their able-bodied neighbors. At the time there was no accessible housing, transportation, restrooms, restaurants, theaters, or parking. There were few vocational training opportunities or jobs for adults who experienced a substantial physically disability.
With inspiration from some national leaders, such as Ed Roberts, the “Father of Independent Living” from California, Audrey initiated Alaska’s first independent living program, which became Access Alaska. She wrote proposals, solicited funding and letters of support, talked with legislators and governors about changing laws, and learned to speak up at public hearings. Her Minnesota upbringing taught her to be respectfully soft spoken. However, the frustration of her experience asking politely for basic rights for people who experience disabilities taught her how to grow her own voice.
In 1980 they received their first state grant funds for an accessible van, a part-time driver and independent-living-skills training. They developed the first attendant-care program and worked with the Alaska State Housing Authority to set up accessible housing, which was achieved in 1982 when eight young adults moved out of nursing homes and into four accessible two-bedroom apartments in downtown Anchorage!
Services were expanded to a Fairbanks office and the program thrived. Audrey also recruited international volunteers and people with disabilities to participate in adaptive wilderness and sports activities throughout Alaska, including kayaking, skiing and camping. In 1993 Audrey proceeded to develop Arctic Access, the independent living program in northwest Alaska serving Nome and Kotzebue and the surrounding villages where she continues to work today.
By following her passion, hundreds of mentally competent adults who experience physical disabilities are living successful independent lives. Today there are Centers for Independent Living throughout the state with outreach to many sites in rural Alaska. There are accessible housing modification programs, flexible transit programs, on-the-job training programs, home-based care services directed by the person with the disability, state laws that require access to public facilities, and political advocacy efforts managed by people with disabilities.
Audrey Aanes is often referred to as the Mother of the Independent Living movement in Alaska. She says there were many passionate people involved. She continues to be inspired by the elders and people with disabilities who strive to live independent lives today. Audrey grew her voice and all Alaskans are the beneficiary.
Elaine was born in Yakutat of the Raven moiety, the clan of Copper River, and from the Shaman’s Owl House, and is the daughter of the Brown Bear. Mount St. Elias is her clan crest. Her mother was Susie Bremmer, whose grandfather was John James Bremmer from Scotland, the guide for Lt. Allen who explored the Copper River area. Because of his assistance with mapping, Bremmer river, valley, glacier and mine were named in Bremmer’s honor. Elaine’s father was a Tlingit chief from Yakutat from the Brown Bear moiety. Her mother read to the children from the bible and her father introduced them to the world through National Geographic magazines.
Yakutat did not have a high school, so Elaine went to boarding school at Sheldon Jackson High School/ College. After graduation, she went to the school of nursing at Ganado, Ariz., graduated and returned to Alaska as the first Tlingit registered nurse. She worked with the Indian Health Service in Bethel and Sitka during diphtheria and tuberculosis epidemics. While working in Sitka, she served as the school board president during the desegregation of the village school; established the Southeast Alaska Native Health Aide Program — which became the model for the statewide Alaska Native Health Aide Program — and organized the Southeast Native Board of Health. Later, Elaine was instrumental in the creation of the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.
After her career as a nurse, Elaine initiated her career in education at Sheldon Jackson University and the University of Alaska. She earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources development from Alaska Pacific University; a master of arts in teaching from APU; and is currently a doctoral student pursuing a a degree in natural health. At Sheldon Jackson College, she served as Associate Dean of Students, Director of Social Services, and Vice President for Institutional Development. At the University of Alaska, she co-founded the Alaska Native Language Center. In 1976 Elaine became the Vice President for Rural Education Affairs of the University of Alaska statewide system— she was both the first Native American and the first woman to hold a senior position in the statewide administration. She created innovative programs for recruiting and retaining Alaska Native students in higher education and made path-breaking initiatives to build bridges between Alaska Native communities and the university. She brought new educational opportunities to Alaskans throughout the state by establishing community colleges in Nome, Barrow, Tanana, Kotzebue, Sitka, Ketchikan, Valdez, Aleutians, and Kodiak.
Currently, Elaine is building bridges between Alaska Natives and scientists, promoting cutting-edge approaches to understanding climate change around the globe as the chair of the Alaska Native Science Commission. The commission supports scientific research that ensures the protection of indigenous cultures and builds bridges between western science and traditional ways of knowing.
Throughout Elaine’s life, she has understood the relationship between the local and the global and she is respected and influential on village, state, national, and international levels. Her messages have global significance and have helped garner respect for indigenous knowledge and the rights of indigenous peoples. While Elaine’s impact has been global and her accomplishments numerous, they only tell part of the story. She is slight in stature but when Elaine speaks, she captivates her listeners with her messages, her humility and her enthusiasm. Forever looking for opportunities to broaden her own knowledge, Elaine has traveled to far-flung places to meet with indigenous peoples in their native lands to help them and exchange teachings. She has helped many people see that traditional observations are critically important to western scientific analysis.
Elaine is a mentor and role model because she lives her life according to her own teachings, whether she is interacting with her own family or serving, sometimes as the only woman, on a commission or board. Elaine could be described as:
- respectful, honest, kind, intelligent, humble, witty;
- an individual with strong character who stands up for her convictions;
- applying her positive attributes to professional and personal relationships;
- a role model who has demonstrated that you are never too old to expand your own knowledge base by learning from others
- a woman of valor who is generous with her knowledge and compassion toward others.
She is well known throughout the world as a revered Tlingit elder. She is the recipient of the American Indian Achievement Award, Indian Council Fire (1973). Elaine was the first Alaska Native and the seventh American Indian woman to receive this award. It was the only award of national stature given to an American Indian. She also received the Meritorious Service Award, University of Alaska Anchorage (1996): Citizen of the Year Award, Cook Inlet Native Association (1984); Alaska Native/American Indian Education Advocate Award, Johnson O’Malley Parent Committee (1978); State of Alaska Distinguished Alaskan Title (1974).
As a teenager, Alberta Schenck knew segregation was wrong and she set out to do something about it. After being removed from a segregated movie theater in Nome, she was jailed because the theater’s policies forbade Natives and ‘half-breeds’ from sitting with whites. She subsequently spoke out in an historical essay that appeared in the Nome Nugget in 1944 and she followed up by writing to elected officials expressing the sentiment that was echoed later in the civil rights movement of the 1950s: “I only truthfully know that I am one of God’s children regardless of race, color or creed.” She directly helped to bring about the Alaska Civil Rights Act passed by the Territorial Legislature 10 years before the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision.
Much of Alberta’s advocacy was linked to her family, in particular her Aunt Frances Longley and Frances’ partner, Territorial Senator O.D. Cochran, their children, and friend, Ernest Gruening. Alberta’s unique family relationships allowed her to share her ideas with people directly involved in voting on the Alaska Civil Rights Act. Alberta’s aunt was a member of the Arctic Native Sisterhood in Nome which provided the connection with Roy and Elizabeth Peratrovich. Alberta was able to provide crucial testimony from Northwestern Alaska that directly contributed to the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill.
Throughout her life Alberta Daisy Schenck Adams believed it is not possible to hold moral norms without practical compassion for the very people to whom Truth is spoken with love, even if they disagree.
Healer, Charismatic Leader and Advocate
Annie was born, in 1925, the daughter of Horst and Olga Akeya. She was born in Savoonga, a Yupik village on St. Lawrence Island located in the northern Bering Sea forty miles from Russia. She grew up there with 5 sisters and 3 brothers – Agatha Mokiyuk (nee Akeya), Barbara Kogassagoon (nee Akeya), Helen Kiyukhook (nee Akeya), Lila Akeya, Sarah Tate (nee Akeya), Alexander Akeya, Calvin Akeya and David Akeya. She married in 1944 to Jackson. He died 1 year later. In 1945 she married Nelson Alowa. Their children are Christina, Jeannette, Julius, Richard, Roland, Rose, Sheldon and Timothy.
During the summer the family spent most of their time at their hunting and trapping camp, known as Tamniq. Alowa loved to cook and was always cooking, for everyone. Picking berries and sewing were two of her favorite pastimes. She was known for her skill as a traditional skin sewer and as an artist for her doll making.
Education was very important to Alowa and always made her children take their school work to camp. Her daughter Christine said, “She was a hard teacher”.
During the period 1955-1956, Alowa became a midwife, tending women in childbirth. She was first trained by Harriet Penayah, another healer in her Savoonga community. Her first training was at the hospital in Kotzebue. Beginning in 1971 she received training by the Norton Sound Health Corporation in Nome through the Community Health Aide Program (CHAP). At first village healers on St. Lawrence Island worked largely on their own as midwives. They were first responders for all health issues. They identified tuberculosis and treated accidental injuries and other health problems suffered in the community. Later when telephone service was installed, the health aides received more immediate support from physicians in Nome.
Alowa moved to Northeast Cape, St. Lawrence Island from 1963 to 1970 and continued her work as a community health aide, while maintaining a paying job at the Air Force base. She received no compensation for being a health aide. Annie worked as a health aide for thirteen years. First she served as a volunteer traditional healer; and (later) as a Village Health Aide for Savoonga.
In 1952, the U.S. Air Force established a base at Northeast Cape on the Island. When the military vacated Northeast Cape in 1972, they left at least thirty-four polluted sites in a nine-mile-square area which included a building complex, transformers, and large bales of copper wire left behind on the surface. She later learned other hazardous materials were buried at the site, including asbestos, PCBs, pesticides, solvents, lead-based paint, fuel tanks, and barrels full of lubricants and fuel. Two decades later Alowa began to notice serious health problems among Island residents who lived, worked, and harvested marine mammals, greens, berries, fish, and reindeer from the Northeast Cape area. For the first time, she began to see cancer among her people as well as significant increases in low birth-weight infants and miscarriages.
She became concerned these hazardous materials posed a long-term health risk for island residents and began to address these concerns with the Alaska delegation. Alowa attempted for twenty years to get the military to clean up Northeast Cape to no avail. When she visited friends and family in Anchorage, she went to the government for assistance to appeal for help. She was repeatedly sent from one state and federal agency to another without a hearing. Eventually Alowa met Pamela Miller in spring of 1997 at a Greenpeace-sponsored environmental health conference. That summer, Greenpeace flew her and Pam from Savoonga by helicopter to Northeast Cape to examine the abandoned military site and to take environmental samples and photographs.
In 1982, government contractors noted that one of several barrel dumps contained more than 29,500 rusted drums; they reported miles of wire littering the landscape which had trapped and killed reindeer by starvation. Much of the contamination at Northeast Cape was caused by transformers and fuels, including large volume spills from accidental puncturing of above ground storage tanks. The government contractors reported at least 220,000 gallons of spilt fuels, as well as heavy metals, asbestos, solvents, and PCBs (a known carcinogen).
In 1998, after Miller founded Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), Alowa went with Miller to meet with a colonel of the Army Corps of Engineers to urge him to clean up the site. Seventy-three year old Alowa spoke quietly but eloquently about the thirteen people in her village who died of cancer in the past few years, all of whom had lived and gathered wild foods from the Northeast Cape area. But the colonel was inattentive and rudely dismissed her concerns. As he rushed them out the door, he stated that St. Lawrence Island was low on the list for cleanup. Before Alowa returned home to Savoonga, she and Miller discussed strategies to get the abandoned site cleaned up. Following her year of work to raise attention and awareness the Northeast Cape sure went from near the bottom of the priorities list for cleanup to the top. Although there is much yet to be done to restore the lands and waters at Northeast Cape, the Corps has spent $123 million on the cleanup thus far. This would not have been done without Alowa’s work.
As part of their strategy, she participated in a December 1998 conference at a Mat-Su Valley venue sponsored by the Alaska Women’s Environmental Network (AWEN). She described the plight of her people. During the conference, she became seriously ill and had to leave. A week later at an Anchorage hospital, Alowa was diagnosed with liver cancer; her previously diagnosed breast cancer was still in remission. Preparing to go home to die surrounded by family, she realized she probably would never return to Anchorage; so she asked Miller to interview her about her concerns. Miller videotaped her as she sat at a kitchen table sipping tea and telling her story. Alowa listed the names of the families who were dying of cancer—those who hunted and fished at Northeast Cape. She asked that the agencies come to Northeast Cape and clean it up, but warned that her people and agency officials should avoid conflict and work together to make things right. She acknowledged that she had cancer, as her family was one of those who are from the Northeast Cape area, but she did not give up trying to get help for her community, even though she knew that she was dying. She said to Miller during the interview, “I will fight until I melt.”
Miller was unwilling to accept that Alowa was going to die so she put the videotape in her top desk drawer. The next two months, she kept contact with Alowa by calling on the phone to her in Savoonga. When Miller called two weeks before Alowa died, she said, “I was just thinking of you.” Miller asked “What were you thinking? Alowa replied, “Keep it up, Miller!”
Alowa’s spiritual faith, perseverance, and hope even in the face of overwhelming odds served as a catalyst for her community, and Miller, to move to protect the people of St. Lawrence Island and other Alaska Native villages from the effects of environmental contaminants. Alowa continues to serve as an impetus for action, both during unrelenting challenges and through joyful successes, as her spirit lives on in people’s hearts.
She serves as a role model to her daughter Chris (Alowa) Seppilu. When Chris learned that her mother was being considered for the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame, she said, “My brothers and I want the work of my mother to continue on. We are grateful that word got around about the need for a cleanup. She fought hard for this and got it going. In my mother’s own words, ‘I will fight until I melt.’”
Alowa is a role model of faith, perseverance, and hope to other Indigenous women because her story and video have been passed on to Alaska Natives, Native Americans, and First Nations in Canada, as well as to Indigenous women in Greenland, South and Central America, the Pacific Islands, Russia, Europe, and Africa. Representatives from all of these groups have participated in gatherings where her story was told, and they have taken that story to their communities. These empowered Indigenous women are making changes for good in their own communities, regions, and countries while they also prompt officials of the United Nations to protect the health and wellbeing of Indigenous communities throughout the world.
Alowa continues to have an impact on women of all ages in her community—even those women who were too young to know her before she died. Those who have been empowered directly or indirectly by her have taken up her mantle to work toward justice, health, and wellbeing for their people now and for future generations. They are members of the St. Lawrence Island Restoration and Advisory Board that provides counsel to the Army Corps of Engineers concerning the Corps’ mandate to clean up the military toxics on the Island. They serve on the Working Group that advises ACAT’s research team. Some are employed by ACAT as Community Health Researchers on St. Lawrence Island, and others serve as staff members in Anchorage for ACAT. They participate in women’s talking circles that focus on justice and human rights issue. To seek justice, health, and wellbeing for their people, the women in Alowa’s community have traveled to speak with policymakers and other activists in Juneau, Washington D.C., New York City and Europe for United Nations meetings, and Vieques (Puerto Rico). During peaceful demonstrations in Anchorage, the women from her community sometimes hold up signs that say “I will fight until I melt.”
Vi Waghiyi is from Savoonga. She works for ACAT in Anchorage as the Environmental Health and Justice Program Director. Vi said, “It’s an honor to continue Annie’s work. What keeps me going is that she fought hard for our people. She still inspires all of us.”
Miller said, “It’s like Annie is sitting on my shoulder and urging me on. ‘Keep it up, Miller! What an inspiration. Yes, I can still see her eyes all lit up with energy and sometimes with just a touch of mischief; like when she saw that I was having trouble keeping up with her when we were walking across the tundra at Northeast Cape.”
Alowa serves also as a role model to the professional women of ACAT, AWEN, and other organizations; she demonstrated how a combination of quiet perseverance, spiritual faith, and inner strength is an effective method for advocacy in the face of overwhelming resistance.
When asked about Alowa, Lorraine Eckstein, ACAT’s Research Anthropologist, said, “I remember her well! I only met her three times; she was soft spoken and unpretentious. A couple of times when she came to Anchorage, we took her to eat at a Mongolian barbeque, and I sat across from her at the table. I found I was hanging on her every word. She reminded me of a certain nun (Sister of Mercy) who taught my college psychology classes. Now I know that Annie was a wife and mother of eight children, but both of these women – in spite of their unassuming manners – made me want to sit up, pay close attention, and go change the world. Not many people have that effect on me”.
In spring 1999, ACAT produced a short video of Annie’s interview entitled “I Will Fight Until I Melt.” By 2001, ACAT had disturbed 350 copies of the tape and ACAT spoke to members of a variety of federal agency staff members in Washington D.C. using the video to get attention to environmental health and justice issues in Alaska. As a result:
1) The people of St. Lawrence Island were galvanized by Annie’s work, after watching her two-decade effort to help her people that culminated in success at the time of her premature death. As they grieved for her, they actively supported the community-based research and advocacy inspired by Alowa and initiated by ACAT;
2) The Army Corps of Engineers prioritized the military sites on St. Lawrence Island to be cleaned up;
3) Other Alaska Native communities sought assistance from ACAT with military toxics;
4) The Special Assistant to Secretary of the Interior was inspired to support the United Nations’ treaty to identify specific persistent organic pollutants for global elimination; and
5) Leslie Campbell of the Centers for Disease Control used the video to train agency staff about environmental health and justice issues;
In autumn of 1999, ACAT staff was inspired by Alowa’s legacy to initiate community-based research and in 2000 ACAT received a four-year grant to collaborate with the people of St. Lawrence Island under the NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) program entitled Environmental Justice Partnerships for Communications. Since that time, the NIEHS has supported the community-based participatory research with Annie’s people. ACAT’s current five-year project (Protecting the Health of Future Generations) addresses endocrine-disrupting chemicals in collaboration with the St. Lawrence Island community and faculty at two universities. ACAT’s research team includes residents of the Island community and faculty at two universities.
YouTube video of Annie during interview and the responses she elicited in her people, community researchers, university researchers, and /ACAT’s staff and board. https://youtu.be/CvhEfxLE9A0
CLEANING UP A LEGACY OF POLLUTION ON AN ALASKAN ISLAND (August 3, 2015; by Kirk Johnson. The New York Times. The article gives an overview of the clean up work on St. Lawrence Island with helpful photos, and mentions Annie Alowa as a crusader who succeeded in getting attention to the contaminated sites by “refusing to be quiet about it.” Here is a quote from the article:
“Annie Alowa, who lived in Savoonga and died of cancer in 1999, led a one-woman crusade to clean up Northeast Cape, mainly by refusing to be quiet about it. When newer technology made the old listening devices obsolete and the base closed in 1972, barrels of chemicals sat in the elements for decades or were simply plowed under. Ms. Alowa’s rallying cry helped spur the creation in 1997 of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, which works to clean up military sites by involving residents like Ms. Waghiyi, the group’s environmental health and justice program director.”
As part of the article in the New York Times, a slide show is included and a 4-1/2 minute video entitled Science at the End of the Earth by Jim Wilson, Kirk Johnson, and Channon Hodge.
The link to the article, slide show, and video is below:
Eleanor Andrews has been building the human infrastructure capacity of Alaska for nearly five decades. She has flourished in both the private and the public sectors, but is most widely known as a “civic entrepreneur” – that is a person who inspires institutions, businesses and individuals to excel in their work and at the same time to invest in the community. She led others in the understanding that it is good business to develop quality schools, affordable housing, accessible economic opportunities, safe neighborhoods and a just and fair city and state. She has given her own time, money and talents for decades, but has also inspired and cajoled an army of others to participate in advancing our communities.
Professionally, Andrews has owned a successful management company for 20 years and has employed thousands of people in the fulfillment of federal contracts. She also guided human resource public policy for the state as the Commissioner of Administration and for Anchorage as the Director of Human Resources for the Municipality.
During both her private-sector and public-sector careers, Andrews has been giving back to Alaska in a multitude of ways. For example, she gave her time to review and deliberate the application of all judges applying to serve in the Alaska court system for a decade on the Judicial Council. She served on boards which initiated the Foraker Group, the ATHENA program of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and the Anchorage Urban League.Andrews raised and contributed funds for organizations in order to build the Fairview School, to strengthen the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Clinic and to develop affordable housing programs in the state. She has also given her time and talents to the advisory boards for the University of Alaska Anchorage, Providence Alaska Foundation and Commonwealth North and she currently serves on the Anchorage Parks Foundation Board and the Providence Alaska Region Ministry Board. In honor of her service she has received many awards including an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Alaska Anchorage and the ATHENA Award.
Andrews has lived in Alaska since 1965, arriving in Fairbanks as a young college student from Los Angeles. She learned invaluable skills by working in the public sector first as a counselor at McLaughlin Youth detention facility and then as an employee representative for the Alaska Public Employees Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. All these experiences assisted her when she was appointed the Director of Human Resources for the Municipality of Anchorage.
In 1982 Andrews accepted an appointment to work for the State of Alaska as the deputy and then commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration. There she managed diverse activities, including the divisions of Labor, Finance and Motor Vehicles as well as the Pioneers Homes. Advocacy for fairness in access to employment, a living wage and safe working conditions have been principles that have guided Andrews throughout her career.
When Andrews completed her public service, she developed the Andrews Group, a successful Alaska management services company, which was engaged primarily in U.S. government service contracting across the United States. She assisted numerous women-owned and Native-owned businesses with guidance and partnerships to bid and fulfill federal government service contracts through what became the 8(a) procurement program of the government’s Small Business Administration.
Andrews has learned a great deal from these diverse and rewarding work experiences. She also has never forgotten the stories about the pain of discrimination her parents experienced growing up in the south in the 1930s. When she was a girl her father told her she could accomplish whatever she could imagine. In junior high, she attended a school composed of low-income children and she vividly recalls the poor condition of the building and supplies. Disgusted by the low quality of food in the lunch room and knowing that better food was offered in other schools, she organized and led a student boycott of the cafeteria food until the quality of the food measured up to the other public schools in the district. The principal threatened to suspend her for being a “militant.” The injustice of being reprimanded by an authority figure for standing up for her rights has remained a life lesson. She has consistently raised her voice in opposition to injustice her entire life.
Andrews has been an active Rotarian since women were “admitted” and has participated in numerous service projects in Alaska. That and her commitment to community prepared her for the latest chapter of her career. During the past five years Andrews has led a dedicated group of locals to form the National Urban League affiliate in Alaska, which became Urban Works. As she began to engage in fewer business activities, she devoted more time to Urban Works. For the past two years she has personally managed Urban Works, a program for 20 low-income young people of color who at age 18 have “aged out” of the foster care program and needed to learn how to work to support themselves. She created a work environment, taught them how to manage their time and their money and how to be responsible adults in our complex society. Her behavior has been consistent with her values. She creates opportunities for people to experience success, empowers them to manage challenges and then inspires them to treat others with respect and generosity.
Andrews brings people together to solve community problems and to equalize the playing field for all people, particularly those disadvantaged by poverty, racism or institutional bias. She has done this with major institutions such as school districts and state agencies, with professional organizations, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and individuals.
She is known as a successful African American business woman, a gifted and fair public servant, an accomplished person of integrity, a tireless volunteer, a generous philanthropist, a strategic mentor, a hard-working board member, a loyal friend and a loving mother and grandmother. She relishes cooking for and sharing time with her adult children and grown grandchildren.
Andrews, however, believes her greatest legacy is to have inspired others to generously give back – to invest time, talents, money and energy ino making our communities as healthy and supportive of families and with as much social and economic justice as is possible. She deeply values being regarded as a civic entrepreneur.
Changunak Antisarlook Andrewuk, known as Sinrock Mary, Queen of Reindeer, was Russian and Inupiaq and spoke Russian, English and her Native language. After her first husband succumbed to the measles epidemic in 1900, she was disqualified from owning property both as a woman and Native, but she fought to keep her half of the reindeer herd and eventually became one of the richest women in Alaska. A savvy businesswoman, she sold meat to local businesses and the Army station. Her second husband wasnt interested in herding, but Mary trained some of her children and many other Inupiaq to become reindeer herders. She is remembered as a hero for her tenacity, generosity and friendship.
Jane Angvik has lived in Alaska for 40 years where she has been a force who brings people together to create better, more open and inclusive communities. She has had great jobs that taught her the power of giving people a voice in decisions about their neighborhoods, their villages, their regions and their state.
She found that when the values of people are solicited and heard, government decision making is enhanced and trust is possible. Additionally, she observed that when people are empowered to participate, they take on personal responsibility to create community; and, when communities become “we” instead of “them and us” our society is strengthened.
Angvik was raised by a conservative Norwegian, Republican father and a liberal Irish, Democratic mother who discussed current affairs at dinner. Her parents told her that she and her siblings could accomplish whatever they dreamt of with hard work and education.
“Giving back” to the community was a practice she observed regularly in her mother. Political discourse was learned at the family dinner table. She grew up hearing an issue respectfully debated from at least two points of view nightly.
Her father advised her to be verbally persuasive and not emotional when expressing a point of view which was a lesson she took to heart. She learned to express a thought, but also to become proficient at summarizing the comments of many people and synthesizing the points of agreement among them. This is one of the skills that make her a great facilitator.
Motivated by the civil rights movement of the late 1960s, Angvik went to work after college for the Minneapolis Model Cities program. There, “maximum feasible citizen participation” was not only the law but was practiced as a precept to enhance community development. She came to Alaska in 1973 and started working for the Greater Anchorage Area Borough on the development of the comprehensive plan. She brought her commitment to citizen participation to her new community and subsequently worked across Alaska over the decades to build opportunities for community dialogues and collaboration.
Angvik has worked for state and local government, Native organizations, nonprofit organizations and consulting firms. She has managed state agencies, coordinated a foundation, planned and built facilities and assisted communities across Alaska in planning their infrastructure and long-range economic strategies. She is a skilled communicator and strategist on a multitude of Alaska issues. She has managed nonprofit and government agencies, coordinated public involvement programs, conducted research projects and advocated for community empowerment in both urban and rural Alaska.
She also has served in elected public office in Anchorage on the local Municipal Assembly and the Charter Commission.
Highlights of her Professional work include: Becoming a community planner for the Alaska Federation of Natives in 1974 where she provided technical assistance to rural villages and organizations to plan for housing and water systems. Her respect for the Alaska Native people continued to grow in community gatherings across the state.
In 1976 Angvik moved to State government and combined her knowledge of urban and rural Alaska when she worked for the Alaska Public Forum created by Governor Hammond. She and her colleagues created town meetings across the state to discuss issues such as the creation of the Permanent Fund, education funding and access to fish and game resources for subsistence. The Public Forum also created the first statewide live television town meetings about the state’s capital budget. The Public Forum was an innovative experiment in public participation that concluded in 1980 due to a lack of funding.
In 1982 Angvik managed the statewide campaign to maintain the Alaska state subsistence law, which provided for a preference for rural residents for access to fish and wildlife to feed their families. It is the only time Alaskans have voted on the question of who should have priority in a time of shortage, and urban Alaskans voted to support rural residents.
From 1983-86 Angvik managed the Alaska Native Foundation (predecessor to First Alaskans Institute) and re-established the leadership training programs for young Alaska Native people. The Foundation also produced a television series about the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which is still used in schools today as a part of Alaska studies classes.
In 1988 Angvik managed the Alaska pavilion in Expo 88 in Brisbane, Australia. There 50 business volunteers recruited through the State Chamber of Commerce greeted 15,000 visitors per day for six months. From Expo Angvik was recruited as the Deputy and then the Commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Economic Development. She pursued business leads developed in Australia and was responsible for oversight of the Division of Tourism and Small Business Development. The implementation of the ARDOR program provided connection to many rural communities.
In her next role, Angvik helped plan and develop the Alaska Native Heritage Center from 1990-95. With a statewide committee of Native culture bearers and a consultant, the team designed a facility where people could come together to celebrate Alaska Native cultures. She managed the planning for the project as well as the land-use and political process to site the center at its current location.
After a year of living in Moscow, Russia, with her husband and daughter, Angvik returned to Alaska and was appointed the Director of the Division of Land for the Department of Natural Resources in the Knowles administration. As the “Land Lady” of Alaska’s 103,000 acres, she worked with adjacent land owners to resolve disputes and planned the use of State lands with community involvement. Following DNR, Angvik established her own consulting firm that worked with communities and nonprofit organizations on research projects as well as facilitation of community meetings.
In 1975, at the age of 26, Angvik was elected one of 11 people to serve on the Anchorage Charter Commission which wrote the charter, or the constitution, that unified the city and borough into the unified Municipality of Anchorage. She learned a great deal about politics from her more experienced colleagues and in return, she shared techniques for inviting community participation. To improve communication between neighborhoods and elected officials, the charter sets out the community council structure that has been in place since unification.
In 1979 Angvik was elected to the Anchorage Municipal Assembly. She served the community in that capacity for six years and was the first woman elected Chair of the Assembly. Her experience, competence and expertise in community planning resulted in many forward-thinking policies needed by a growing city. Conversely, Angvik said she thinks the experience of serving was akin to receiving a Ph.D. in applied public administration because of the diversity of topics that came before them for consideration.
In 1986 Angvik was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in Alaska’s Democratic primary. Although an Anchorage resident, she was well known politically in rural Alaska. In campaigns the ability to raise funds to advertise one’s candidacy with TV, radio and newspaper ads is a significant challenge for many female candidates. Angvik was able to raise the funds to support her campaign and, although she lost to the incumbent, hers was regarded as a very credible campaign.
She followed this campaign with increased involvement with the Alaska Women’s Political Caucus and has trained hundreds of women candidates in methods of fundraising and managing political campaigns to get more women elected to political office. She thinks the female half of the population needs to be represented in decision-making structures and that women strengthen collaborative ways of making decisions.
A strong advocate of women’s rights, Angvik has dedicated herself to the development of girls and women and their protection against abuse and discrimination. In the past decade she has become a leader of the Girl Scouts of Alaska, being convinced of the importance of starting early to build strong and independent women.
Her legacy associated with these efforts is that she has hired, trained, guided, mentored and encouraged women to seek and accomplish their own goals with skills that enable them to participate in decision making. Additionally the foundation has been laid for the development of the new facilities at Camp Singing Hill for a science, technology, engineering and math program for Girl Scouts.
Angvik a happy and welcoming person. When people inquire how she is, she responds with, words such as: “joyful, terrific and grateful.” She inspires people to counter the hatred and fear of the radio airways with hope, courage and commitment.
She is joyfully married to Vic Fischer, who shares her enthusiasm for social and economic justice, public affairs and entertaining friends and family. They have raised a successful daughter, Ruth, who graduated from the University of Alaska and is married to a member of the armed services and together, they are raising their children to be givers.
She has taught many people you can debate, disagree, find common ground and break bread together. Then, together you can go do what is right. She also believes that people can hear one another better if they share stories and a meal together.
Jane loves Alaska and is happy to share insights about the place with locals and visitors alike… She knows what it is made of and knows how everything got to be how it is. She can break it down and tie it together in a way that anyone can understand.
Evangeline Atwood, a third-generation Alaskan, was very important in the fight for statehood, organizing the group “Operation Statehood.” In 1950, she started the Anchorage League of Voters and then the Alaska Statehood Association, with a mission of bringing a favorable popular vote on statehood by informing the public of the pros and cons of territorial status vs. statehood. In addition to authoring many books about Alaska, Evangeline was instrumental in establishing the Alaska World Affairs Council, the Parent-Teacher Council in Anchorage, and the Cook Inlet Historical Society.