Alaska virtual awards recognize excellence, courage and leadership

Joaqlin Estus

‘It’s an honor and pleasure to be able to run for my people and to pray for them to be there for each other’

Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

Societies honor people and actions that exemplify cultural values. The Alaska Federation of Natives annually offers ten awards to recognize dedicated service to Native people and the public. The awards go to people who demonstrate courage, leadership, excellence, competence, and sensitivity. They're recognized for making improvements in their field and for strengthening Indigenous cultures. On Oct. 17, 2020, day 2 of the Native federation’s annual convention, a virtual award ceremony included recipients’ video acceptance speeches.

The 2020 Alaska Federation of Natives President’s award recipients are as follows.

The AFN Health award went to Neurology Sleep Medicine Dr. Christina Darby (Anagick), Yup’ik, who helped start and heads the sleep clinic and sleep lab at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.

The recipient of the 2020 Alaska Federation of Natives President's Health Award is Neurology Sleep Medicine Dr. Christina Darby (Anagick), Yup’ik. She helped start and heads the sleep clinic and sleep lab at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives.)
2020 AFN Health award recipent is Neurology Sleep Medicine Dr. Christina Darby (Anagick), Yup’ik. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives.)

After thanking family, mentors, and colleagues, Darby said, “and last, but certainly not least, thank you to my patients. There is no doctor without the patient, and I dedicate this award to you. Thank you for allowing me into your lives, giving me a way to give back, shaping me into the doctor I am now and inspiring me to be a better one tomorrow.” She added, “this is a wonderful opportunity to say, sleep is so important to whole body health.”

The Eileen Panigeo MacLean Education award is named after a former state legislator and bilingual teacher. It went to Paałuk Reid Magdanz and Qiġñaaq Cordelia Kellie, the founders of Iḷisaqativut, a self-funded two-week language intensive study of Iñupiaq.

The Alaska Federation of Natives Eileen Panigeo MacLean Education award is named after a former state legislator and bilingual teacher. The 2020 award went to Paałuk Reid Magdanz and Qiġñaaq Cordelia Kellie, the founders of Iḷisaqativut, a self-funded two-week language intensive study of Iñupiaq. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives.)
The 2020 AFN Eileen Panigeo MacLean Education award went to Paałuk Reid Magdanz and Qiġñaaq Cordelia Kellie, the founders of Iḷisaqativut, a self-funded two-week language intensive study of Iñupiaq. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives.)

The two said they work to create a space where making mistakes while learning languages is celebrated as progress. “For years we allow children to practice speech sounds, make mistakes and improve over time. Adults should be afforded the same privilege.”

The Hannah Paul Solomon “Woman of Courage” award is named after an Athabascan woman who served in leadership roles in several Interior Alaska Native organizations. This award recognizes an Alaska Native woman who demonstrates through her life and work the strengths of Native culture and values and tremendous courage.

This year the Woman of Courage award went to Carol Seppilu, Siberian Yupik, who is working with a friend on a project called Kilgaaqu Run Series where they will run all three roads in Nome. Kilgaaqu means “a long-distance run” in Siberian Yupik. Seppilu survived a near-fatal suicide attempt at the age of 16. She now runs long distances to tell her story of overcoming depression and to raise awareness for suicide prevention.

The 2020 recipient of the Alaska Federation of Natives Hannah Paul Solomon “Woman of Courage”award is Carol Seppilu, Siberian Yupik. Seppilu survived a near-fatal suicide attempt at the age of 16. She now runs long distances to tell her story of overcoming depression and to raise awareness for suicide prevention. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives).
The 2020 recipient of the AFN Hannah Paul Solomon Woman of Courage award is Carol Seppilu, Siberian Yupik. She now runs long distances to tell her story of overcoming depression and to raise awareness for suicide prevention. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives).

“It’s an honor and pleasure to be able to run for my people and to pray for them to be there for each other.” She said she had a tough life but “I’m still here and grateful to be alive and to hopefully inspire other people to keep going no matter how difficult it gets.”

Like this story? Support our work with a $5 or $10 contribution today. Contribute to the nonprofit Indian Country Today.

The Katie John Hunter Fisher award, named after an Athabascan champion of subsistence rights, goes to an Alaska Native who exemplifies and preserves the spirit of successful subsistence hunting, trapping and sharing, and the Native way of life. It recognizes people who work to ensure future generations of providers will carry on the traditions and customs in harmony and peace to sustain their extended families.

The 2020 Katie John Hunter-Fisher award went to Donna Folger, Athabascan. In 1994, Donna and her friend the late Patti Hyslop coordinated the first 16 Mile Spirit Camp, a week-long culture camp located upriver from the Yukon River village of Tanana. Still in operation today, camp attendees learn and participate in activities such as subsistence fishing, survival skills, and traditional songs.

The 2020 Katie John Hunter-Fisher award went to Donna Folger, Athabascan. In 1994, Donna and her friend the late Patti Hyslop coordinated the first 16 Mile Spirit Camp, a week-long culture camp located upriver from the Yukon River village of Tanana. Still in operation today, camp attendees learn and participate in activities such as subsistence fishing, survival skills, and traditional songs. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives.)
The 2020 AFN Katie John Hunter-Fisher award went to Donna Folger, Athabascan. A co-founder of the first 16 Mile Spirit Camp, an annual week-long culture camp located upriver from the Yukon River village of Tanana. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives.)

She said “My message is to keep teaching our kids where to hunt, where to fish. Parents, drag your kids out there. Children, listen to your parents and grandparents; learn where you're gonna go to go fishing and hunting. That way we're gonna keep living forever.”

Like this story? Support our work with a $5 or $10 contribution today. Contribute to the nonprofit Indian Country Today.

The Roger Lang Youth Leadership award is named after a Tsimpshian former AFN president who encouraged young people to expand their horizons and challenge themselves to become future leaders. The 2020 Roger Lang award went to Samuel Schimmel, St. Lawrence Island Siberian Yupik and Kenaitze Indian.

Growing up subsistence hunting and fishing, Schimmel experienced firsthand how climate change impacts Arctic communities. Appointed by Governor Bill Walker, he served on the State of Alaska’s Climate Action Leadership Team. Schimmel continues to support climate awareness and education as an Arctic Youth Ambassador for Alaska. He is in his second year at Stanford University.

The Roger Lang Youth Leadership award is named for the late Roger Lang, Tsimpishain, former AFN President, who encouraged young people to expand their horizons and challenge themselves to become future leaders. The 2020 award went to Samuel Schimmel, St. Lawrence Island Siberian Yupik and Kenaitze Indian. Growing up subsistence hunting and fishing, he experienced firsthand how climate change impacts Arctic communities. Appointed by Governor Bill Walker, he served on the State of Alaska’s Climate Action Leadership Team. Schimmel continues to support climate awareness and education as an Arctic Youth Ambassador for Alaska. He is in his second year at Stanford University. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives.)
The 2020 AFN Roger Lang Youth Leadership award went to Samuel Schimmel, St. Lawrence Island Siberian Yupik and Kenaitze Indian. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives.)

Schimmel challenged others to work together and collaborate on issues Alaska Natives have in common, such as climate change and economic security.

He also said he wanted “to recognize and to honor those who aren't up here today, Native youth all around Alaska who work every day to better their communities, be it through subsistence hunting and bringing food to their families and neighbors, or through speaking out when they see something wrong and advocating on behalf of their community.”

The AFN Business award went to Sew Yup'ik, a small sewing business owned by Nikki Corbett, Yup’ik. She sews and teaches others how to make qaspeqs, or light cotton pullovers made in the style of a traditional parka, as well as cup cozies and makeup bags. She has donated over 350 masks to healthcare workers.

The Alaska Federation of Natives Business award went to Sew Yup'ik, a small sewing business owned by Nikki Corbett, Yup’ik. She sews and teaches others how to make qaspeqs, or light cotton pullovers made in the style of a traditional parka, as well as cup cozies and makeup bags. She has donated over 350 masks to healthcare workers. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives).
The 2020 AFN Business award went to Sew Yup'ik, a small sewing business owned by Nikki Corbett, Yup’ik. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives).

“When the pandemic first happened in March, I was noticing a need for face masks and just started making them and donating them to health care workers around the state. I was also very thankful that I had a skill where I could share it amongst others,” said Corbett

The Gin’tith (Richard Frank) Military Service award went to Walter Hotch-Hill, Tlingit. He has been with the Alaska Army National Guard since 2002. He has held numerous ranks including infantry battalion action officer, battalion operations officer, and obtained requirements as a jumpmaster. In 2003 he earned the distinction of the Alaska Soldier of the Year. He’s served in Kosovo, and is a proud Iraqi Freedom veteran.

The 2020 Alaska Federation of Natives Gin’tith (Richard Frank) Military Service went to Walter Hotch-Hill, Tlingit. He has been with the Alaska Army National Guard since 2002. He has held numerous ranks including infantry battalion action officer, battalion operations officer, and obtained requirements as a jump master. In 2003 he earned the distinction of the Alaska Soldier of the Year. He’s served in Kosovo, and is a proud Iraqi Freedom veteran. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives).
The 2020 Alaska Federation of Natives Gin’tith (Richard Frank) Military Service went to Walter Hotch-Hill, Tlingit. He has been with the Alaska Army National Guard since 2002. He has held numerous ranks including infantry battalion action officer, battalion operations officer, and obtained requirements as a jump master. In 2003 he earned the distinction of the Alaska Soldier of the Year. He’s served in Kosovo, and is a proud Iraqi Freedom veteran. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives).

“One thing that drives me and my service in the Alaska Army National Guard is that it provides an opportunity to serve our country and remain here in our great state. I would love to see the National Guard grow in rural Alaska. I truly believe that the training and experience that service in the National Guard provides can help enrich the lives of our young people, and to provide support, leadership and expertise to our communities. I hope that in sharing my story, more of our young men and women will look to the opportunities and rewarding experience that the Alaska Army National Guard has to offer,” said Hotch-Hill.

The Glenn Godfrey Law Enforcement award is named for the late Glenn Godfrey, Colonel and Director of the Alaska State Troopers and Alaska Commissioner of Public Safety. This year’s award went to State Trooper Anne Sears, Yup’ik.

The Alaska Federation of Natives Glenn Godfrey Law Enforcement award is named for the late Glenn Godfrey, Colonel and Director of the Alaska State Troopers and Alaska Commissioner of Public Safety. This year’s award went to State Trooper Anne Sears, Yup’ik, the first Alaska Native state trooper. When Sears retires in 2021 she’ll have been in public service for 30 years, 21 of them in law enforcement. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives).
The 2020 AFN Glenn Godfrey Law Enforcement award went to State Trooper Anne Sears, Yup’ik, the first Alaska Native state trooper. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Federation of Natives).

When Sears retires next year she’ll have been in public service for 30 years, 21 of them in law enforcement.

“I have met some of the nicest kindest people and have gotten to see a lot of this state through my work with the Alaska State Troopers. I am the first Alaska Native female trooper. And I am also the first female trooper that has been posted in Kotzebue. I would like to thank all the strong female influences in my life. They are, they are all, they are the shoulders that I stand on. I accept this award for their strong influence and support as well. I couldn't have done it without them,” Sears said.

The AFN board of directors also gives two awards. Its Citizen of the Year award is to recognize a Native person who has demonstrated strong commitment, dedication, and service to the Alaska Native Community and to rural Alaska. The 2020 Citizen of the Year award went to Katherine Gottlieb, Sugpia. She recently resigned her position as president and CEO of the nonprofit health organization Southcentral Foundation after overseeing a period of massive growth and change in one of Alaska’s main Native health care providers.

The Alaska Federation of Natives 2020 Citizen of the Year award went to Katherine Gottlieb, president and CEO of the Southcentral Foundation. She's shown here speaking at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage, Alaska Thursday Oct. 26, 2006. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
Katherine Gottlieb delivers a keynote speech at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage, Alaska, on Oct. 26, 2006. (AP Photo/Al Grillo, File)

During her 30 years with the foundation, all but four at the helm, the organization grew more than a hundred-fold and transformed primary care services for Native Americans in the Anchorage area and other parts of Alaska. It has become an international model for patient-centered care. Gottlieb was the recipient of a McArthur “genius” award, and is widely recognized for her innovations in tribal health care.

The AFN Denali award goes to a non-Native person who has demonstrated strong commitment, dedication, and service to the Alaska Native community and to rural Alaska. The 2020 AFN Denali award went to Lisa Reiger, vice president and chief legal officer for the Cook Inlet Tribal Council (no photo available).

According to the agency’s website, during her tenure on the executive team, the council has grown into one of the nation’s leading culturally responsive service organizations. “Individuals and families who come to CITIC looking for help finding a job, for example, might also walk away with child care resources, recovery help, after-school tutoring for their kids, and more. Each time an individual reaches their potential through partnering with us, that’s another person who will ensure that Alaska Native people will continue to thrive and design their own future.”

ICT Smartphone Logo for ARTICLES

Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today, and a long-time Alaska journalist.

Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. And we have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10.

Comments

News

FEATURED
COMMUNITY