Elder of the Year
Elders are a vital part of Sitnasuak's heritage and their valuable experiences and knowledge impart life lessons that will enrich Shareholders for years to come. As the Corporation moves ahead, Sitnasuak's elders provide an enduring example of dignity and wisdom that will serve as a touchstone for future generations.
2011 Elder of the Year -- Jacob Ahwinona
Sitnasuak Native Corporation is pleased to honor Jacob Ahwinona as Elder of the Year. Throughout his 89 years, Mr. Ahwinona has been a model of living one’s life in accordance with traditional Inupiaq values.
Mr. Ahwinona was born April 10, 1923, in Death Valley, 50 miles northeast of White Mountain, to Joshua and Nora (Apok) Ahwinona. He speaks the White Mountain sub-dialect of Qawiaraq Iñupiaq.He was raised in White Mountain and attended school there, graduating after the 8th grade. Mr. Ahwinona moved to Nome to work on gold dredges for the U.S. Mining Company and as a maintenance mechanic and equipment operator for the Nome public schools.
He has lived in Nome for more than 60 years. He was married to the late Hannah (Anagick) Ahwinona from Unalakleet on February 20, 1950 in Unalakleet.
Since his retirement, Mr. Ahwinona has remained active in the community. He has served on the boards of Sitnasuak Native Corporation and Kawerak, and on Kawerak’s Human and Family Services Committee, the Head Start Curriculum Committee, and the Elders Advisory Committee. He has served as guest elder to the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group and to the Smithsonian’s Alaska Native Collections. In 2003, the former Nome receiving home was named “Jacob’s House” in recognition of his volunteer efforts to improve the lives of children and families in the Bering Straits region.
Mr. Ahwinona has been an articulate culture bearer, sharing stories of his childhood, of knowledge passed from generation to generation, in the Inupiaq tradition. It was Mr. Ahwinona who corrected the historical record about the role of two local Eskimo boys – including one of his own ancestors – in leading the Three Lucky Swedes to the “discovery” of gold in Nome. He speaks often of the old ways, of learning to hunt caribou as a child. But Mr. Ahwinona is a man of the modern world, too. He counsels youth to stay in school, to become educated and to avoid the perils of alcohol and drugs.
In one of his many talks to youth, this one in 1997 to the Nome Native Youth Leadership, Mr. Ahwinona said "We were young once and our parents taught us. There was no such thing as welfare. There was no TV, radio, telephone. Everyone helped the less fortunate ones. That's the most rewarding thing you can co. I know. I lived through it. It's never a mistake to listen to Elders. Never give up on life."
Sitnasuak Native Corporation is grateful for his advice, his wisdom and his example.
2010 Elder of the Year -- Myrtle Johnson
Myrtle Johnson is the embodiment of regional pride and a great representation of Sitnasuak’s core values. Born in 1924 and raised in Golovin until she was 14 years old, Myrtle moved to Nome to attend high school (there wasn’t a high school in Golovin) and helped run Ma Whaley’s boarding house. While there, she met Fred Chambers, a young pilot from Pennsylvania and before long they were married. Her marriage to Fred took her all over the country. For 12 years, the two, along with their four children, moved to six different states.
It seems, however, Myrtle was happiest when she was close to home. Two years after she and Fred Chambers separated, she moved her children back to Nome. Her parents, John and Minnie Fagerstrom, lived in Nome and were a great help to Myrtle as she raised her children. During this period, she learned about the power and support a village can have on one’s life.
Myrtle’s two grandmothers were Inupiaq and Siberian Yup’ik, one grandfather was Irish and the other was Swedish. Myrtle experienced a great amount of prejudice as an Eskimo while growing up in Nome and while traveling all over the Continental U.S. with her first husband. She did not truly celebrate and share her traditional values until she met her second husband, Thomas John Johnson, who was of Yup’ik descent. Once she opened her life back up to traditional values, she wasted no time championing them.
By recognizing her cultural pride, Myrtle was able to use her knowledge to represent the needs of Alaska Natives on a state and national level. In the mid 1970s, Alaska Governor Jay Hammond chose Myrtle to be the Governor’s special assistant to Nome. The Alaska Congressional Delegation also hired Myrtle to represent them. Senators Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski, and Representative Don Young enjoyed her hospitality while staying with her during visits; she organized pot luck dinners and other social gatherings for them, especially during elections. In 1977 she was appointed to serve on the governor’s Manpower Planning Council. In the 1977/1978 issue of Alaska Women magazine, Myrtle was recognized for her cultural integration efforts and for her passionate representation of the villages. The magazine noted how well Myrtle was able to integrate both cultures with ease. During those years, she served on the Board of Directors of Community Economic Development Corporation, renamed: Alaska Village Initiatives.
Myrtle also worked with the Boundary Commission and served as treasurer for the Bering Straits Native Corporation. According to the Sitnasuak Articles of Incorporation, she, along with four others, were the incorporators and interim Board of Directors.
As an extraordinarily accomplished woman who has done tremendous work for the people of her region, Myrtle is an excellent example for future generations.
2009 Elder of the Year -- Lucie Trigg
Lucie Trigg's remarkable life has taken her all around the country, but her humble nature and soft-spoken voice reflect a proud heritage that is deeply rooted in Native values. She was raised in the traditional ways, and her parents and grandparents taught her many valuable lessons that she has carried with her in her travels.
Lucie's family moved to Nome from Little Diomede in 1938 - their belongings packed in a skinboat - to seek medical treatment for her father; then decided to stay so the children could attend school. Even at a young age Lucie knew she wanted to help people, so she left Nome to attend nursing school in Pennsylvania. She worked in healthcare around the country before coming home to Nome where she worked as a nurse, and later a mental health clinician, until she retired in 2000.
Lucie jokes that she and her husband Darryl made one whole Eskimo (Darryl is 1/4 Eskimo and Lucie is 3/4 Eskimo). The couple had three children together, and they made sure their family learned about Native values. Lucie says it was difficult to consistently set a positive example for her kids, but it was worthwhile to teach them responsibility for their own actions.
As she has grown older, Lucie has held fast to her Inupiaq values. She says that Elders hold a special place in the community, and Lucie is proud to see young people showing them the respect they deserve. A proud, independent woman, Lucie Trigg is truly an example for future generations.
2008 Elder of the Year -- Esther Aggunaut Koweluk Bourdon
Esther Aggunaut Koweluk Bourdon is a dynamic 79-year-old from the village of Wales. She is the daughter of the late Michael and Josephine Koweluk. Esther and her family moved to Nome in 1957 in search of a better future with all of their belongings packed in a skin boat.
Inupiaq is Esther's first language and she has taught her traditional language to high school students as well as to the Nome Native Youth Organization. Esther often translates the Bible for services at her church, and takes great joy in translating and teaching the hymns to others.
Esther enjoys spending time with family, both at her fish camp and at home in Nome. She and her husband, David raised five children together and she is a proud grandmother of nine. An excellent seamstress, Esther hand-sews sealskin slippers, beautiful kuspuks and parkas, and creates colorful beadwork designs for wall hangings and slipper and mukluk tops.