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Marie Qaqaun (Adams) Carroll

Photo of Marie Qaqaun (Adams) Carroll
1953
Biography

Marie Qaqaun Carroll, Iñupiaq Eskimo from Utqiaġvik, Alaska, is the daughter of Baxter and Rebecca (Aiken) Adams and the oldest girl in a family of twelve children. As the oldest girl, Marie mostly grew up with her older brothers, tagging along wherever they went, something she admits turned her into a tomboy, which she credits for giving her thick skin and left her not easily intimidated, traits she relied on in many situations later in life. Marie has been an active member of the North Slope community since her time home from high school and college, but it was growing up in a large family dependent on hunting and fishing that would influence her life the most. Marie’s uncle, Whitlam Adams, lived with the family and was a whaling captain. With that comes the many responsibilities of working throughout the year to make the hunt of the enormous animal possible: sacrificing time away from family to help the larger community, harvesting other animals to make the skin boat, working with your crew and other captains to ensure maximum benefit to the community, and above all being aware of the risks and potential problems that can occur throughout the hunt. The lessons learned by these activities would remain vital components of Marie’s life, particularly when outsiders made efforts to constrain rights to practice traditions the Iñupiat have done for generations.

When statehood came in 1959, Native communities were shifting away from a seminomadic lifestyle following the animals, to one centered around schools and the church. The one constant in a world of change would be hunting and subsistence activities. Marie came of age during this time, and as communities increasingly focused around schools, she became one of the thousands of Alaska Native children who had to leave home to obtain schooling beyond primary education, and like most from her region, she found herself at Mt. Edgecumbe in Sitka, Alaska. At a young age, Marie was encouraged by her teachers to pursue education and value the academic life, and she looked up to the early leaders who left Utqiaġvik for college like Edna Ahgeak, Rex Okakok, and the late James Nageak. She also found motivation competing with her school peers in trying to outdo each other with high grades. All of this set Marie up to be a hard worker and to achieve the goals she made for herself. She was determined to be the first in her family to attend and graduate from college and she knew that was only possible through hard work and getting out of the comfort zone of her small village. 

During her summer’s home from Mt. Edgecumbe, Marie worked various jobs to help her large family including delivering water and ice and working briefly as a ticket agent for Wien Airlines. Around the same time, she started working for the North Slope Borough (NSB), the recently formed municipal government for the region. Her first few positions with the NSB included time as a Borough Clerk recording assembly meetings and working directly under Finance Director, Lloyd Ahvakana. This exposure to the Borough politics and community issues discussed at assembly meetings would be Marie’s first taste of government and politics. In the summer of 1977, working as a counselor at a nearby youth camp, Marie heard news that would change not only her life, but also the lives of everyone who depends on bowhead whaling for survival. A meeting of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was being broadcast over the radio and they were sharing news of a new moratorium imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on subsistence whaling. Marie recalls hearing grown men cry in despair over the news, a heart wrenching reality of what whaling means to the people who find identity and life in the traditional hunt. 

The coastal Iñupiat of northern Alaska had subsisted off the bowhead for thousands of years, and in one fell swoop it was taken away because of IWC’s decision, a decision based off western science that claimed the bowhead population was dwindling toward extinction. As one of the few community members with any education beyond high school, Marie was recruited by her brother Jacob Adams, a whaler, and other captains to do whatever she could to overturn the IWC’s ban. Her brother knew that she wasn’t easily intimidated and thought that would serve her well in the negotiations –  many times where she was the only female in the room – bringing her back to childhood of following her brothers around.

Subsistence whaling had been allowed by the IWC due to the immense cultural, social, and nutritional value that the bowhead provided for many Iñupiat groups. So indignant with the decision that they considered a violation of the Arctic people’s basic human rights, Marie and others quickly acted to overturn the moratorium. At that point, there was no funding to fight this ban, and a minimal organization of whalers, so Marie was hired by the NSB to consolidate the captains across northern Alaska, eventually forming the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) as a non-profit organization of independent whaling captains. Marie worked with lawyers, federal regulators, and marine biologists – stressing the importance of traditional knowledge – to show the world that the Iñupiat people knew the animals and the environment better than any western scientist. Through the steady determination of Marie and others, the ban was eventually lifted, ensuring that whaling would continue for the people and communities that rely on the animal for survival. 

Marie was instrumental in assisting captains during the first few years of the Commission; she helped negotiate a co-management agreement between hunters and the federal government and worked to resolve a plan for a subsistence quota. Marie remembers snow machining between whaling camps to educate each crew about the importance of following the guidelines and agreements made between the whalers and the government to prove that the Iñupiat people could manage their own subsistence hunts. Marie also helped on the operational side of AEWC, developing an agreement between tribal organizations and the local borough government to support AEWC programs.

Marie accomplished all of this before graduating from college. She could have easily stayed in the village and found work, but she had a personal goal of pursuing higher education, so she returned to school at George Washington University (GW), graduating with a degree in Elementary Education with a minor in Human Development in 1980. During her time at GW, she interned at the law offices of VanNess Feldman and continued acting as a resource to AEWC, consulting on whaling issues, offshore oil and gas projects, and coordinating communications between the NSB on issues involving residents on the North Slope. After graduation, Marie returned home and became the Executive Director of AEWC. As Executive Director, she implemented a formal adoption of the Commission bylaws and managed the day-to-day affairs, while continuing to educate decisions makers in D.C. through educational videos and brochures.  

After Marie got the AEWC in working order and the controversial minimal quota was secured, she was ready for a new challenge and began working for the local government during the highpoint of oil and gas activity in Prudhoe Bay, helping to manage the large influx of revenue and bring modern infrastructure to northern Alaska. Hired as the City Manager for the City of Barrow, Marie used National Petroleum Reserve Impact Grant funds to construct Piuraaġvik, the recreation center in Barrow, and helped resolve land issues between the City and other stakeholders before going to work for the North Slope Borough under Mayor George Ahmaogak Sr. as a Public Information Officer. 

As Public Information Officer, Marie hosted a weekly radio show to keep the community informed on local concerns and to talk about difficult social issues like drug and alcohol abuse. She eventually became the Division Manager of the Public Information Office, and when a story broke of grey whales stuck in the ice north of Utqiaġvik, Marie was responsible for updating the press. The story began getting international coverage and Marie helped manage the swarm of reporters descending on Utqiaġvik, even shutting out CBS’s 60 Minutes anchor Steve Kroft when he tried calling on her husband, a biologist for the Borough who was monitoring the stuck whales, in the middle of the night for an interview.   

After working in the Public Information Office, Marie became Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to Borough Mayor Ben Nageak, for whom she had been a campaign chair. As CAO, Marie implemented means to reduce spending through changes in internal policies, helped to balance the Borough budget, worked with residents to establish a new water and sewer programs reducing capital costs, and coordinated with federal, state, and local officials on matters related to oil and gas development, promoting the interest of the local governments and residents.  

After over a decade of working directly in government, Marie was again ready for a new challenge and switched gears, beginning work at the regional health organization, Arctic Slope Native Association (ASNA) in 1999. Marie began working for ASNA as the Health Director when the price of oil was high and the U.S. economy was still booming after the dotcom craze of the 2000’s, but as oil prices declined, challenges would trickle down to even the most remote parts of the country, including Utqiaġvik. 

Marie began her tenure as President and CEO of ASNA in 2007, right before the national recession hit in 2008. She remembers her first few years leading and managing the regional tribal hospital as the most difficult, as a strained economy stifled most large scale projects even as the ASNA Board of Directors prioritized replacing the aging hospital.  Difficult times required creative methods, and Marie was able to successfully advocate on behalf of the people of the North Slope by developing relationships with lawmakers in D.C. to secure funding for a new modern healthcare facility. Working closely with Senator Ted Stevens, Marie dedicated her time to facilitating the relationships needed to secure funding, knowing that acting as your own advocate is the most effective way of achieving your goals. She did not shy away from doing the homework needed for the monumental project, hiring experts to do costs estimates and making sure the “powers that be” heard directly from her and North Slope residents on why a new facility was needed. After Senator Stevens’  passing, she worked with Senator Murkowski and brought the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Harry Reid, to Utqiaġvik for a site visit – Reid later supported funding the much needed project.  All of Marie’s dedicated efforts eventually paid off when a new 109,000 square foot hospital was completed in 2013, bringing modern healthcare to North Slope residents. 

Since the opening of the Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital, the challenges Marie has faced haven’t slowed and she continues to work to make good use of the facility and maximize benefits to North Slope residents by increasing the number of services provided, urging patients to use insurance to help drive down costs, and something Marie is most proud of, increasing cancer screening right in the community. Now, North Slope residents can get breast, colorectal, and lung cancer screening right in the community and through early detection, the survival rate greatly increases. Marie’s vision and clarity in knowing what was needed to build a new hospital and her determination to follow it through brought better care on the North Slope and the region and its residents are all the more healthy because of it. As one colleague describes, Marie has always been like a beating drum working for the region: strong, steady, consistent, and grounded. Because of her hard work, thousands of lives have been positively impacted, from the whaler who is able to continue his subsistence lifestyle and provide food to his community, to the child who dreams of attending medical school so he can return home to and save lives in his hometown, to the young woman who is working to be an important and respected leader of her people. 

When asked what her biggest achievements are, Marie responded humbly by saying it was a privilege to be able work on issues to help maintain the culture and spirit of her community, and that while buildings and healthcare are important, the spirit that ties the Iñupiat people together are what’s most important. So although we are gather to celebrate and honor Marie’s lifelong dedication to her community and the Iñupiat people, Marie makes it clear that the accomplishments that she is the most proud of are her children and the life she has built in her home community with her husband, Geoff. 

Education

  • George Washington University, Washington D.C. 1980
    • Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education with a Minor in Human Development
    • Prior to graduation at GW, studied at Evangel College and the University of Alaska Fairbanks
    • Graduated from Mount Edgecumbe High School, Sitka, Alaska 1972

Public Service Organization and board memberships

  • KBRW – Silaquagvik Communications Board Member
  • Alaska Beluga Whale Committee (1988-96) Charter member
  • International Porcupine Commission
  • National Science Foundation
  • BP Advisory Group
  • Assembly of God Sunday School Teacher
  • Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium 
  • Alaska Native Health Board 

 

Notes

 

Marie Qaqaun Carroll, an Inupiaq Eskimo from Utqiagvik, Alaska, has been an active member of the North Slope community since her summers home from high school and college, but it was growing up in a large family dependent on hunting and fishing that would influence her life the most. When the International Whaling Commission put a prohibition on subsistence bowhead whaling by Alaska Natives, Carroll was instrumental in using traditional knowledge to show the international community and the federal government that subsistence whaling is critical to the Inupiat people and their culture. As the first in her family to graduate from college, Carroll, as Executive Director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, worked with lawyers, federal regulators and marine biologists to prove that the Inupiat people know the animals and the environment better than any western scientist, eventually helping to overturn the ban and ensure whaling would continue for those who rely on the animal for survival. 

Carroll would work for the local government during the peak of oil and gas activity in Prudhoe Bay, helping to manage the large influx of revenue and bring modern infrastructure to northern Alaska. Working as a Public Information Officer, she hosted a weekly radio show to keep the community informed on local concerns and talking about social issues like drug and alcohol abuse. After working as a Chief Advisor to the North Slope Borough Mayor, Carroll switched gears and began work at the regional health nonprofit, Arctic Slope Native Association (ASNA) in 1999.

Carroll was appointed to the role of President and CEO of ASNA in 2007, and since then has helped effectively manage all affairs of the Association. She advocated and secured funding through the Indian Health Services to construct a new 109,000 square foot hospital in Utqiagvik that opened in 2013.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/rAy2etAcAvY