TWC honors years of service
Zachariah Bryan | The Tundra Drums
Annie Kinegak talks about how important it is to teach respect to children.
Last weekend, The Tundra Women's Coalition honored three outstanding community members for their lifelong service: Nels Alexie of Bethel, Annie Kinegak of Akiachak and Andrew Jasper of Akiak and Bethel.
Each person was selected for their commitment both to their families and to their communities. Each has left an indelible mark in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
These three people were honored as part of the The Tundra Women's Coalition's 12th Annual Yukegtaaraat Celebration, the organization's largest banquet and fundraiser.
Nels Alexie was born at his family's spring camp on May 15, 1943, according to TWC's biography of him. His parents Willie and Anna raised he and his siblings in Napakiak and later Tuntutuliak, where Alexie met his classmate and future wife, Katy Green.
In his younger years, he was a man of the land, trapping and fishing and dog mushing, but it wasn't long before he realized that he should pursue a degree and work a full-time job. He enrolled in the Anchorage Community College and went on to become a teacher's aide at the BIA School in Tuntutuliak. In the 1970s, he took educational courses through Teacher Corps, where he began school with a 2.5 reading level in English and no high school background. He pushed on though and graduated with a bachelor's degree and began traveling to villages to teach small engine repair classes as an instructor for Kuskokwim Community College.
In the 1990s, Alexie worked full-time at the Bethel Regional High School, where he started as "the detention man" and later became a Yup'ik teacher. Every time he stood in front of his students to teach, he remembered his father's words, "Speak not what you cannot do. Speak not what you have not done." Alexie believed that you can only teach things that you have learned from your own experiences.
At the banquet, Alexie told a story of when he was a child and had to give up his prized rubber boots to a visiting military officer at the end of World War II. Rubber was a much sought-after commodity because Japan had occupied the bulk of rubber trees in Southeast Asia and the military needed it for war supplies.
Projected on the screen behind Alexie was a giant photo of him as a child, not smiling, but glaring at the camera.
"At that time I make up my mind. I say to myself, I'll work for my people. I don't know why I said that at that time, but I worked for my people, and I'm glad I did," he said. "If he didn't (take my boots), I think I wouldn't be the way I am."
Alexie retired in 2010. When invited, he and his wife Katy speak with participants of Healthy Families, offering guidance about living healthier, better lives. Alexie is also well known for his leadership of the annual Kuskokwim 300, of which he is the race marshal.
Miissaq Andrew Jasper was born on July 3, 1944 in Akiak to Willie and Agnes Jasper. Throughout his life, Jasper has carried his mother's advice, taught to him while growing up in Akiak: Keep confidentiality and don't gossip about anyone. Instead, answer inquiries about others with three simple words, "I don't know."
Jasper attended the Chemawa Indian School and Mount Edgecumbe. In the 1960s, he graduated from the Alaskan Moravian Bible Seminary before earning his GED in 1981 and his Rural Human Services degree in 2000.
Jasper's career has been one of service and of caring for others. He served as Akiak's mayor for 10 years and then became a tribal chief in 2000. He also worked as a behavioral health aid in Akiak from 1995 to 2009 and was later employed by Yupiit School District, working as a janitor and a bilingual teacher.
More recently, he has worked as family support for ONC, was a Healthy Families facilitator for AVCP and then returned to ONC as a rural child welfare worker. He cites home visits and having the opportunity to facilitate Healthy Families as two of the most rewarding aspects of his work.
"This is what I do all my life, trying to help people. It's what I do best, help people to overcome domestic violence," Jasper said at the banquet.
Annie "Paniluk" Kinegak was born Oct. 31, 1945 at fall camp in "Tundra, AK," to Wassillie and Helena George. She is the oldest of five brothers and four sisters and grew up in Akiachak with them.
When Kinegak was growing up in Akiachak she was taught wisdom by her elders and her parents. Her mother told her that no matter who she saw, never pass judgment, because she could not know what was in their heart.
Zachariah Bryan | The Tundra Drums
Nels Alexie recounts a story of when he was a child and had to give up his prized rubber boots to a military officer. That event made him who he is today, he said.
After Kinegak graduated from Mt. Edgecombe in Sitka, she came back to Akiachak and worked at the Alaskan Department of Health, where she met Ralph Kinegak. They married in 1967 and had five children together who are all grown with families of their own.
In 1980, she graduated from the Oregon College of Education with a degree in teaching and went on to teach at the Akiachak School for over 30 years. Kinegak said the best thing about teaching is when kids have the "ah-ha" moments after they come to understand something. She retired in 2011 after working a year in the front office of the school.
"I taught kids how to respect. I told them respect is not given to you. You earn it, through your character, through your speech, through your actions," she said at the banquet.
Kinegak continues to be active at her Moravian Church, where she is sometimes asked to counsel couples before they get married.
The Tundra Women's Coalition contributed biography notes to this article