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Laura Mae Bergt

Photo of Laura Mae Bergt
19401984
Categories: 2015 Alumnae, Native Leader

Biography

Achievement in: Alaska Native Politics to include Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA)

Born Laura Mae Beltz, daughter of Frederica “Rica” and Bert Beltz, Sr. on Oct. 1, 1940, in a small mining town, she grew up in Kotzebue with one sister and two brothers. Beltz was a graduate of Mount Edgecombe High School, where she enjoyed school and extracurricular activities such as cheerleading and acting. After high school Beltz married prominent Alaska businessman Neil Bergt in 1958 and they had four children, two daughters and two sons. Divorced in 1977, she was then married to William Crockett, a lawyer from Hawaii for about two years and spent most of her winters in Hawaii and summers in Alaska.

Bergt had an eclectic professional history that included many national and local political and policy positions in an era when women were not relevant in politics. Governor Walter Hickel appointed her a member of the Native Claims Task Force. President Richard Nixon appointed her to the National Council on Indian Opportunity, where she testified in Congress on several occasions in support of securing Alaska Native traditions, subsistence lifestyle and self-determination through the corporate model that is at the foundation of ANCSA. In these roles, Bergt established a friendship with Vice President Spiro Agnew, which paved the way to introducing the Alaska Federation of Natives Leadership to the Nixon administration. Bergt was the person who set up the initial meeting between the Alaska Federation of Native’s (AFN) president Don Wright and the Nixon administration (March 12, 1970) and it was this meeting that resulted in President Nixon’s support of the AFN position on ANCSA (December 18, 1971).

Bergt was also extensively involved in various capacities with the Republican Party in Alaska and in 1973 was appointed to fill the unexpired Alaska State Senate seat of U.S. Congressman Don Young. Unfortunately, she did not receive party endorsement for confirmation and a special election was held instead. In 1976 she was appointed by President Gerald Ford as a distinguished member to the American Revolution Bicentennial Council, which planned the 200th birthday celebration of the United States.

Bergt was also a member of numerous other commissions, councils and/or boards including the Native American Council of Regents of the Institute of American Indian Arts, the University of Alaska Village Arts and Crafts Upgrade Committee, the Alaska State Rural Affairs Commission, the Indian Art and Crafts Board for the Department of the Interior, Alaska Reapportionment Advisory Board, State Tourism Advisory Board, State Commission for Employment of the Handicapped, State Native Foods Advisory Council, State Task Force on Hard of Hearing, Alaska Crippled Children’s Association Board, Arctic Association for Retarded Children Board, the Breast Cancer Detection Center for Alaska Board, the Alaska Remote Housing Committee, the Alaska Plan Policy Board, and Cook Inlet Native Association. She was also the secretary for the Alaska Federation of Natives, the director of Tundra Times newspaper, the president of Musk Ox Producers Co-Op, and organizer and chair of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.

In addition to her civic and public service, the acting skills learned in high school were evident in many national promotional activities she did on behalf of Alaska and Alaska Native people. She appeared on the cover of Holiday Magazine and numerous national television programs, including the Donald O’Connor Show, Jackie Joseph Show, Ed Sullivan Show, and Lowell Thomas “High Adventure” series, as well as three times on the Johnny Carson Show.

Among all of her distinguished professional, political, and community accomplishments, Bergt is also a gold medalist in the Eskimo blanket toss and is remembered through many publications and meetings dedicated to her and her ability to give women a voice during a time when women were not relevant in politics.

Resources
Department of the Interior, Office of the Secretary, News Release June 1, 1976.
Tundra Times, March 21, 1984, p. 16
Tundra Times, March 28, 1984, p. 4
Daily News-Miner, March 15, 1984
Interviews with Laura Beltz Bergt